The History of Sunglasses

The Chinese began using colored lenses in eyewear in the 1300s, where Chinese judges sometimes wore smoke colored quartz crystal lenses to hide their eye expressions in court. A judge's evaluation of evidence as credible or not was to remain secret until a trial's conclusion. In the 1400s, the Chinese also introduced the concept of smoke tinting to darken eyeglasses. Like earlier quartz lenses, darkened lenses did not correct vision nor were they initially intended to reduce solar glare. Vision correcting darkened lenses also made their way to China, but this time via Italy where that particular innovation originated.


In the 18th century, James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses in spectacles, but the purpose still fell short of the purpose of modern sunglasses; Ayscough believed blue- or green-tinted glass could correct for specific vision impairments. Protection from the sun was still not a concern. Modern sunglasses that are used to block the damaging UV rays of the sun (and to look cool!) were first introduced in 1929 by Sam Foster, founder of the Foster Grant sunglasses company. He first sold his new Foster Grant sunglasses on the Boardwalk of Atlantic City, NJ, and by the early 1930s sunglasses had become the new "must have" fashion accessory of the times.


In America, the U.S. military, which had already played a key role in the development of more advanced sunscreens, was also the impetus for advances in UV protection in sunglasses. In the 1930s, the U.S. Army Air Corps commissioned optical specialists Bausch & Lomb (B&L) to produce a type of sunglasses that would protect pilots from the dangers of high altitude glare. In pursuit of that goal, B&L physicists and opticians perfected a special dark green lens tint that absorbed light in the yellow band of the spectrum. This advance led to the introduction of polarized sunglasses, a technique used to block harmful UV rays from the sun and first introduced by B&L Ray-Ban in 1936. While B&L introduced other design advances in house, the specific polarization innovation they used was licensed from Edwin H. Land of Polaroid camera fame. Polarization is not the only approach to protecting the eyes from harmful sunlight; you can read our thoughts on other techniques and the positives and negatives associated with them on our Polarized vs, Non-Polarized Sunglasses page.


These new B&L became known as aviator sunglasses, featuring a slightly drooping frame perimeter to maximize the shielding of an aviator's eyes. This was both effective and practical, for fliers routinely glanced down toward the plane's instrument panel. Fliers were issued the glasses at no charge by the military, but in 1937 the general public was able to purchase the model that "banned the sun's rays" and became known as Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses.


Since the 1950s, sunglasses have become one of the most popular fashion accessories in the world, stylish and yet practical. Blogs and celebrity sites track and report on the sunglasses worn by celebrities, and more and more these are becoming vintage styles from industry leaders like Revo, Ray-Ban, Carrera, Vuarnet, Armani, and Oakley. In fact, a number of famous names you would recognize have purchased vintage sunglasses right here at the Vintage Sunglasses Shop- but then we don't tell tales on our customers.

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