From the Airstrip to Venice Beach: A Brief History of Aviator Sunglasses

TAGS:Designer Sunglasses, Popular Sunglasses, Avoalre Sports Sunglassese

One of the most popular styles of sunglasses, not only in America but around the world, the aviator style of glasses has a deep rooted connection with people for its classic and timeless appeal. This is a brief history of where they originated from, and how they got to where they are today.

Origins

The year is 1936, war is on the horizon and the army is looking to improve many different aspects of its equipment. This included things like new infantry rifles, more powerful artillery, and equipment for pilots. Aviators (the navy’s term for pilot) had been complaining about intense sun glare giving them headaches and altitude sickness while in the cockpit. Bausch & Lomb got the contract to produce these glasses under their subsidiary company Ray-Ban.

The design was pretty straightforward: large dark reflective lenses, a wire frame that hooks behind the ears, and a double bridge between the lenses. All of this done with pilots in mind, making sure these glasses were practical above all else, as lives were literally depended on it.  The army loved them, especially General MacArthur, whose famous photo depicted below started the initial public interest in the product.

800px-DouglasMacArthur

Rise to Fame

When the glasses became available to the public in 1937, they weren’t very popular with civilians. After that photo was taken however, the public certainly took interest and the glasses began to sell. In the 1960’s there was a shift away from plastic rims to metal and this helped propel the old war dogs to mainstream use. Popular throughout the 70’s, Ray-Ban was hit with a rude awakening in the early 80’s when all types of designer sunglasses took a serious hit in sales. This can be attributed to the sort of “anti-disco movement,” that was catching on all over the country. Being that the glasses were heavily embedded in disco culture, they too were receiving backlash. Think of the famous film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” where there are numerous instances where “disco sucks” can be seen spray-painted or written down someplace.

This 1986 film about detective Marrion "Cobra' Cobretti is known for chessy 80's lines, but nevertheless is remembered fondly by many who saw it back in the day.
This 1986 film about detective Marion "Cobra" Cobretti is known for cheesy 80's lines, but nevertheless is remembered fondly by many who saw the film back in the day.
In the role that made Tom Cruise a Hollywood star, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is a cocky, hotshot fighter pilot who is seen by his superiors as talented yet reckless.
In the role that made Tom Cruise a Hollywood star, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is a cocky, hotshot fighter pilot who is seen by his superiors as talented, yet reckless.

Recognizing this trend, in 1982 Bausch & Lomb decided to spend millions of dollars in a product placement deal, which means Ray-Bans will be featured in movies and TV shows alike. While this campaign was moderately successful at first, it wasn’t until the year 1986 that Ray-Ban would truly get the boost it so desperately needed. The films Top Gun and Cobra both prominently featured these aviators, and the public responded with a 40% increase in sales by the end of the year. These two films undoubtedly saved, not only the Aviator design, but Ray-Ban itself. Unfortunately, though, the 1990’s brought about a backlash of 1980’s culture, which Ray-Ban was now associated with. This eventually led to Ray-Ban being sold to Luxottica in 1999. The next wave of popularity came about in the 2000’s when aviators began to lose that 80’s stigma associated with them and sales rose again.

The very popular Jackass series of films can attributed to the revitilization of Ray-Ban aviators, as Johnny Knoxville is frequently seen wearing his pair while filming.

The very popular Jackass series of films can attributed to the revitilization of Ray-Ban aviators, as Johnny Knoxville is frequently seen wearing his pair while filming.

Today

It is clear that the aviator line was very dependent on popular culture, and what consumers perceived as cool. One day they were in style and everyone loved them, the next they were lame and outdated. This is the way the fashion world works, but the thing about the aviator line is that they were never truly intended to be a ‘fashion statement’. These glasses were designed for a practical application, to keep the glare of the sun out of pilots eyes so they can fly more effectively and in this writer’s opinion that underlying fact never goes out of style. This is also coming from someone who wore them regardless if they were ‘cool’ or not. If they are cool enough for General MacArthur, they are definitely cool enough for me.

This article is reposted from https://www.eyecareuniverse.com/blog/from-the-airstrip-to-venice-beach-a-brief-history-of-aviator-sunglasses/

Leave a comment