A Short History of Sunglasses

 

We often imagine sunglasses to be a recent invention – a modern way to look cool and avoid making crow’s feet! But our ancestors too, weren’t keen on squinting in sunny weather and came up with the idea a very long time ago: As long as 2,000 years ago, in fact, the Inuits were fashioning what they called sun goggles out of bone or wood. Cut to sit close to the face they had narrow slits in them to limit the amount of light and glare that could reach the eye and would have been an essential item in a world where snow blindness was a real possibility.

The Chinese experimented with the use of flat lenses made of smoky quartz to minimise glare in the 12th century and there are even reports that the covert look created by wearing sunglasses was utilised by magistrates to avoid giving away their facial expressions! James Dean, eat your heart out!

Many believe it was the gondoliers of 18th century Venice who first wore tinted glasses specifically designed to offer protection against the sun’s rays. They were called Goldoni glasses, after the actor and playwright Carlos Goldoni, who, it is said was partial to wearing green sunglasses with green silk shades sewn to the rim! Simultaneously, around 1752 James Ayscough began experimenting with using coloured lenses to correct vision problems – an idea which we now know has much merit.

In 1885 we are told by a military surgeon in his work ‘The Optical Manual’, that British soldiers were given ‘two oval flat pieces of blue-tinted glass, set in front of two boat-shaped fine wire-gauze sides’ to act as ‘eye-protectors’ in countries such as India and Egypt.

The first recorded use of the word ‘sunglasses’, however, was in 1891 when a sports journalist reporting on a baseball game in Chicago, noted that a player ‘had lost his sunglasses and misjudged the ball frightfully’! Numerous American newspaper adverts from the late 19th and early 20th century offered sunglasses in different shades of amber and smoke.

In the golden age of Hollywood actors and actresses made sunglasses the fashion accessory they are today – not only did it make them more mysterious (like the Chinese judges!) but the dark lenses also hid the red eyes caused by late nights and studio lights! The market caught on and mass-produced sunglasses soon made the trend accessible to the man on the street. By 1937, 20 million pairs of sunglasses were being sold per year.

Polarised lenses had been invented in 1936, which provided much greater protection against the sun’s damaging rays, and when Ray Ban began making them into aviator glasses for pilots, the ‘cool factor’ of a stylish pair of sunglasses was guaranteed.

It’s a trend that’s here to stay so whether you simply want to look like a movie star, or need some serious protection against the summer sun, pop into any one of our stores and take your pick!

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