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The Evolution of Sunglasses

A primitive form of sunglasses first appeared in the cold icy arctic circle where the indigenous population carved oval shaped discs out of walrus ivory, flattened them and had slits centrally cut out for the eyes to peep through. They were designed this way to cover the eyeballs, ensuring the harmful rays of the sun were blocked out.

Later reports tell us that sunglasses were seen in the form of emeralds, worn by Roman Emperors as they spectated at gladiator fights and were used to reduce the sun’s glare during these gripping battles. I don’t know about you, but I think these would have put Tiffany and Bulgari sunglasses to shame!

China’s adaptation of sunglasses in the 12th Century involved nothing as opulent as the Romans, with smooth pieces of smoky quartz to protect the eyes.

During the mid-18th Century, James Ayscough experimented with tinted lenses with the aim of helping people who suffered with vision impairments.  To get a good idea of what these looked like, picture the glasses from the cult film ‘The Matrix’ and simply add an eye-popping royal blue or jade green to the lens.

The use of sunglasses became widespread in the 1900’s particularly due to their exposure in world renowned Hollywood movies. Immediately celebrities adopted the trend with a main focus on hiding their identity from unwanted media attention.  In doing so, they led the way, starting a cultural phenomenon with sunglasses now being commercial.

In 1929 Sam Foster made mass-produced sunglasses from celluloid, this saw prices drop making them more accessible to the masses and in 1936 Edwin H. Land created polarized sunglasses by experimenting with polarized filters.

Bausch & Lomb were commissioned by the Armed Forces during WW2 to create glasses protecting pilots from high altitude glare.  After the war these ‘Aviator’ sunglasses were made available to the public under the name Ray Ban.

They quickly became a fashion trend which is still present to this day; shortly after a new moulding technology was generated leading to the creation of the ‘Wayfarer’.

2004 saw Oakley develop a style of sunglasses that has a built in digital audio player. Over time this has multiplied into more designs with the adoption of this technology across other brands.

Nowadays we can see a multitude of designs, shapes, sizes, brands and tints. UV protection is considered to be an industry norm and sunglasses are available across a range of prices.

Where do you see the future of sunglasses? As for me, I am just hoping that walrus ivory sunglasses don’t come back into fashion anytime soon!