This year marks the 75 year anniversary of the public being able to sport aviator sunglasses. Though they actually were developed the year before, in 1936, for pilots by Ray-Ban, they quickly became popular with civilians after their widespread release.
The utilitarian accessory has become a beloved fashion staple for both sexes. It is available in prescription styles, with lenses that darken from clear to black in the sunlight, and a variety of strictly fashion versions.
The slightly oversized lenses, cut into a curved triangular shape, are usually mirrored and rimmed in a frame of thin silver or gold metal, making the specs versatile with a variety of looks. Designed to protect pilots in the military from explosions, smoke and dust, the glasses also are lightweight, so as not to interfere with flying manoeuvres. The distinct silhouette echoes the curve of a pilot’s goggles.
The sunglasses had their first iconic moment in World War II with U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The general, who already cast a memorable image for smoking a long corncob pipe, donned the glasses when he arrived in the Philippines and was photographed by the media. The black and white photos showed a heroic, no-nonsense leader in the face of danger.
MacArthur then went on to receive the Medal of Honour for his leadership in the events leading up to Japan’s surrender in 1945.
Perhaps, because the glasses were born in the military and represented victory in tumultuous times, they became a go-to look for police forces, tough guys, and, like most military uniforms, a popular choice for the counter culture.
The 1970s saw the shades landing on the faces of controversial movie characters. Read a short history of Aviator glasses and celebrities.
The overall effect is effortless glamour.
There have been variations in frames – neon, pastel and white have been popular offerings in recent years. However, the classic silver or gold will always be in style. Lenses also are now available in yellow, coral, brown and colours other than black or silver.
The one thing that will never change, however, is that dramatic shape.