When we are looking backing at sunglasses history it is amazing to realise just how far back that history goes! So we decided it might be a good idea to do a bit of a timeline on just where sunglasses started and how we got the range of styles we have today.
2,000 Years Ago
It is amazing to realise we have to go this far back but we do! Sunglasses really come down to one thing, protecting your eyes from the sun, both glare and UV rays. This goes all the way back to the first sunglasses which were actually Inuit snow or sun goggles. These were made to protect the Inuit’s eyes from the glare coming off of the snow. These were created using carved walrus ivory, bone, or caribou antlers and they were a thin strip that was worn over the eyes with thin slits over each eye you could see through. This meant that the eyes absorbed less sunlight and were protected from the glare off of the snow.
In the 12th century, Chinese magistrates wore glasses made of flat planes of smoke-tinted quartz but these glasses were not actually for sun protection! These sunglasses were used during court proceedings. These glasses were used to hide the expressions of the magistrates so that people were not influenced by their facial expressions. They were never actually used to protect from the sun but did do what some of the most stylish sunglasses still do to this day, let us judge people!
In the 15th century, specifically in the 1430s, the Chinese had developed vision-correcting sunglasses and these were then brought over to Venice through the shipping routes. Venice was a hub for the spread of new technology as it was a major shipping hub, crossing several major trade routes. Though Europe did have some access to vision-correcting glasses, this was the first example of tinted lenses appearing in correcting lenses.
In the 18th Century, in the 1750s, James Ayscough began to experiment with tinted lenses as he believed that blue or green tinted lenses would be able to help with vision problems but his goal was not to protect against the sun. He never looked at tinted lenses like we see today but rather only at the blue and green tints that were supposedly fixing vision impairments.
Late 19th Century
In the late 19th century and through to the early 20th century we also saw brown and yellowish or amber tinted lenses being used to try to treat people with syphilis. This was because one of the most common symptoms of syphilis is a sensitivity to light. They believed that this light sensitivity could be treated which would, in turn, help with the underlying condition.
In the 20th century, we started to see the use of sunglasses as we know them today, especially with Hollywood Movie stars. The 20th Century is truly when sunglasses came into their own. The mass production of modern sunglasses started with Sam Foster began selling them in 1929 in the USA under the name Foster Grant and they were specifically made to protect people from the sun. He sold them at the beaches of Atlantic City and they were an immediate hit!
We then saw Edwin H. Land realise in the 1930s that he could use his patented Polaroid film to make sunglasses that cut down even more on the sun’s glare!
In World War II, we saw sunglasses play a role in the military with John A. Macready creating anti-glare sunglasses in the 1920s with plastic frames and green lenses that were designed to help pilots whose goggles tended to fog up. These early glasses were first called “Anti-Glare” before taking on the name “Ray-Ban” as they could stop “banned” rays from hitting pilots’ eyes. They then became popular with celebrities and the first pair was sold for public use in 1937 and they were widely used by pilots during WWII.
With the popularity of Aviators during the war, sunglasses took off! Not just for fashion but because they actually protected the eyes! In the 1950s and 60s, large numbers of celebrities began to take on iconic looks with certain styles beginning to be associated with certain actors or actresses.
Since this time, we have continued to see sunglasses improve with designs for fashion, practical use, and even colour-changing lenses! Now, whether you wish to be fashionable with well-known brands like GUCCI sunglasses, a throwback to the classics with Ray-Ban sunglasses, or even protect your eyes while doing extreme sports, there are sunglasses to suit your needs.