Remember how great Tom Cruise looked in Top Gun with those aviator glasses on? That look set many a young girl’s heart aflutter and a few older ones’ too. It’s hard to believe that this style of sunglasses has been around for over 70 years now, but it’s true; and they’re still going strong.
Believe it or not, the idea of tinting eyewear in order to protect eyes from the sun’s harmful rays and dangerous glare is a relatively new concept. The first sunglasses made their debut on the seaside boardwalks of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1929, when an enterprising individual sold them to glare-weary tourists. Tinted eyewear exploded in popularity the next year, taking the country by storm.
In 1937, Bausch & Lomb founded the Ray-Ban company specifically to design and manufacture special sunglasses for military pilots. The aviators faced unique challenges such as the danger of high altitude glare.
Clever physicists and opticians for the company developed a special dark green lens which effectively absorbed the bright light in the yellow band of the spectrum. The pilots wearing these lenses would no longer have to fear sudden temporary blindness from harsh glare, and accidents would be drastically reduced.
Frame design was a concern as well. The polarized lenses were well and good, but they needed to be big enough to protect the pilot’s face properly without being bulky like goggles. Engineers came up with the famous aviator design: frames tilted slightly, drooping down at the corners. Having extra glass at the bottom allowed the pilots to have better visibility when glancing down at their control panels.
This innovative design worked like a charm, and heroic World War II pilots helped to popularize the look with the general public. Who can forget the famous picture of General Douglas MacArthur in profile, smoking his corn cob pipe and looking suave wearing his Ray Ban aviator sunglasses? Suddenly, everyone wanted to get in on this great new look, and people from Midwestern farmers to Hollywood movie stars began wearing the aviators.
Even Bausch & Lomb probably could not have predicted what a sensation their scientists were creating when they produced the first pair.
Today, lenses come in a variety of colors, and other sunglass manufacturers have capitalized on the original design by coming out with their own attempts at the aviator look. But no one can deny that it was Ray Ban who originated this American classic and iconic fashion statement, and aficionados know that it is Ray Ban who still does it right.