There are occasions when a product is so universally known, used and appreciated that we sometimes forget where it came from. One such product is aviator sunglasses - reportedly first developed by Bausch & Lomb back in the mid-thirties as a way to protect the eyes of pilots serving in the US Air Force.
Created as a more suitable replacement for the functional yet cumbersome goggles worn by early 20th century aviators - which incidentally is what gave aviator sunglasses their name – these glasses were the first to give pilots the consistent protection they needed against the sun’s rays. Additionally, the glasses helped to minimize the harsh glare experienced when flying at high altitudes.
Used By All Branches of the US Military
While aviator sunglasses grew in popularity in the world of pilots, they were first sold to the general market some 5 years later. Their unmistakable teardrop design struck a chord with consumers. Ray-Ban, a company founded by Bausch & Lomb inventors, was the first to bring the aviator style into the public domain, introducing a range of different models geared toward outdoor living.
The fact that aviator glasses could minimize glare while also providing clarity of vision proved to be a hit with fishermen and hunters alike. When WWII began, US Airforce pilots came to rely upon them for a clear view of their all-important aircraft instrument panels during combat.
So widespread was their use in the armed forces during this time that even General Douglas MacArthur could be seen sporting a pair on the beaches of the Philippines during a critical period of the war. To call aviators iconic might be something of a misnomer, as it would understates their influence at this time. They were ubiquitous in military circles and becoming increasingly popular with the general public.
Influencing the Catwalk From the Cockpit
It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the military styling of aviator sunglasses really took hold in the public psyche. As the glasses made their way from the cockpit to the catwalk over the next two decades, their popularity grew more and more, further enhanced by their use in major 70s motion pictures like Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver. At this point, the glasses transcended from being a mere functional item to a fully-fledged fashion accessory.
Different models came and went, as other big-name fashion brands like Gucci, D&G and Burberry adopted the style and made it their own. One of the biggest moments for the aviator came during the 1980s, when major stars took them to the highest heights.
Who can forget Michael Jackson wearing mirrored aviators at the Grammys or Tom Cruise rocking a pair in the classic film Top Gun? Aviator sunglasses transformed from fashion item to cultural icon, with their classic shape reaching legendary status.
As Popular Today As Ever
They say that class is permanent, and that seems to be true when it comes to aviator sunglasses. In existence now for some 80+ years, aviators continue to be as popular today as they ever have been, with a wide range of different lenses and coatings now available to suit the needs of the wearer.
The fact that the style still endures today is testament to the influence that it has had not only on the military, but also on Hollywood and global pop culture. In the world of aviation today - where the magic of aviators all began - they’re still being used by pilots across the world to safeguard the vision of flyers of all types of aircraft while also offering an alluring aesthetic.
Will aviators still be worn by the masses in another 80 years? Who knows? But if any style can endure, its track record and undoubted importance to eye safety would point towards it being so.