Ray-Ban: A brief history of the brand behind Aviators, Wayfarers, and Clubmasters

Ray-Ban is the biggest dedicated eyewear designer in the world. The brand is famous for its quality craftsmanship and is associated mostly with its three big designs: Aviators, Wayfarers, and Clubmasters. Any history of Ray-Ban should really be a history of its iconic sunglasses, so that’s what we’re focusing on in this article. All of the models we’ll be talking about in this article can be found in our extensive Ray-Ban sunglasses collection.

When Were Aviator Sunglasses Invented?

Classic Aviator design

The history of Aviators is inextricably linked to Ray-Ban. In 1936, a general in the US Army Air Corp commissioned eye-health specialists Bausch & Lomb to develop a pair of sunglasses to replace its pilot flight goggles. These new aviation sunglasses had to protect US pilots’ eyes by preventing as much light as possible from getting to the wearer’s eyes from above, below, and the sides. The now-famous top-heavy Aviator lenses were designed to cover two-to-three times the area of the wearer’s eyes, giving them superior vision compared with goggles and standard sunglasses designs. The lenses were also given a convex shape which allowed them to sit closer to the wearer’s eyes and prevent more light from getting in from the sides. The iconic design had been developed in the 30s, but the name ‘Aviator’ would come much later.

These new pilot sunglasses started out with a very specific, practical function, but Bausch & Lomb soon realised the commercial potential of their design; they had created something truly striking and they would need a fresh commercial brand in order to sell it to the public. Thus Ray-Ban was born in 1937, and these new sunglasses were often just referred to as “Ray Bans” in the early days. Ray-Ban was the new commercial arm of Bausch & Lomb’s more fashionable designs and the brand was an instant success. The name “Aviators” was given to the design during the Second World War.

Famous photograph of General Douglas MacArthur wearing Aviators

Tthere are many examples of Aviators throughout history. Perhaps the moment in history that stands out over any other was the moment General Douglas MacArthur arrived at the Philippines during the Second World War. General McArthur wore Ray-Ban Aviators and exuded an air of confidence and charisma. This tough, relaxed yet style became part of the Ray-Ban brand and photographs of MacArthur’s Philippines visit remain some of the most enduring images of World War II.

Several variations on the classic Aviator (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right)

Today, Aviators are still hugely popular, either in their classic design or in one of their many variations, examples of which are illustrated above. You can browse our entire Ray-Ban Aviator collection today. Ray-Ban built an entire eyewear brand on Bausch & Lomb’s original Aviator design, and they have worked hard over the years to create a combination of classic and contemporary Aviator designs. Ray-Ban owns the copyright for the term Aviators, when referring to sunglasses. This means that the dozens of brands who have designed their own Aviator sunglasses, inspired by Ray-Ban’s original, must refer to their designs as “Avaitor-style” or as “pilot” sunglasses.

When Were Wayfarer Sunglasses Invented?

Original Wayfarer design, in black

There is so much more to Ray-Ban’s story than Aviators alone. While most other eyewear designers might have been content with one entirely original design, Ray-Ban most certainly was not. After several years in development, Ray-Ban brought out the Wayfarer in 1956. The Wayfarer had a never-before-seen design that would become almost as iconic as the Aviator.

Image taken from the US design patent

Design geeks tend to get very excited when asked about Wayfarers, as designer Raymond Stegeman was able to take the recognisable trapezoid shape and soften it slightly, creating a completely new sunglasses style that teeters between geometric uniformity and free form. The overall effect is strong and slightly masculine—especially with the addition of thick arms. Wayfarers’ thick-rimmed design was made possible by brand-new plastic moulding technology at the time.

Image source (The Blues Brothers – fair use)

Wayfarers were an instant hit in the 50s and their initial popularity continued into the 60s. However, they gradually faded from favour in the 70s and it took several iconic films featuring Wayfarers to bring the style back from obscurity. The first was The Blues Brothers in 1980, with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s classic suit-and-Wayfarer combo. The film made such an impact that any man wearing a dark suit and Wayfarers can expect to be asked if he intended to look like one of the blues brothers! Renewed interest in Wayfarers as a result of The Blues Brothers helped Ray-Ban understand the power of product placement in films and TV shows. Accordingly, Ray-Ban put a lot of budget into product placement in films and TV over the next five years, with over 60 product placements in films and TV shows each year between 1982 and 1987. The result was a huge surge of interest in Wayfarers, with movies like Risky Business and The Breakfast Club championing the style as well as TV shows like Miami Vice.

Several variations of the classic Wayfarer design (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right)

Ray-Ban’s product placement campaign ensured that Wayfarer regained its popularity in the 80s, and the style’s placement in many of the 80s’ biggest films gave it a truly iconic status. And, similar to its approach to Aviators, Ray-Ban has managed to maintain many classic Wayfarer designs while also producing dozens of new Wayfarer interpretations, examples of which can be found in the image above. For a full range of Wayfarer designs, see our comprehensive Ray-Ban Wayfarer collection.

When Were Clubmaster Sunglasses Invented?

Modern version of the classic Clubmaster design

The last iconic design we’re looking at today is the Clubmaster. Although Ray-Ban often gets the credit for this style of sunglasses, it didn’t actually invent it; it adopted the style from another designer and came up with the term “Clubmasters”. The original design came from Jack Rohrbach, the vice-president of the eyewear company Shuron Ltd in 1947. The design was initially just for clear glasses, as opposed to sunglasses, and it was designed to make it as easy as possible to tailor the design to a customer’s request, with interchangeable brow, arms, bridge, etc, so that different colour combinations were easy to put together.

The name “browline” came later, and it was used to better describe the emphasised brow on the now-iconic design. Ray-Ban liked the design so much they began putting a lot of work into designing their own collection of Shuron’s browline glasses and sunglasses, and they called their version “Clubmasters”.

Several modern versions of the classic Clubmaster design (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right)

A combination of Ray-Ban’s high-quality craftsmanship and superior marketing has meant that most people — even well-versed eyewear aficionados — often think that Ray-Ban invented the style. While they didn’t invent it, they certainly perfected it. Interest in the Clubmaster style has waxed and waned over the decades, but no one could ever argue that it wasn’t an iconic look. Ray-Ban has developed a wide range of contemporary reimaginings of this classic style, many of which are available from our extensive Ray-Ban Clubmaster collection.

 

Due to its pioneering approach to eyewear design, Ray-Ban carved out a path for itself as the most influential eyewear designer of the 20th century and its design legacy lives on in the numerous new designs coming out of Ray-Ban’s studios each year. Ray-Ban is, undoubtedly, the most iconic sunglasses brand in the world and we’re extremely privileged to offer such a wide range of Ray-Ban glasses and sunglasses here at B Sunglasses. If you have any questions about our Ray-Ban collection, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.