Time Travel – A History of Sunglasses

It’s National Sunglasses Day- celebrating the importance of wearing shades to protect the eyes from the sun’s harsh UV rays. B Sunglasses are delighted to join the movement by dedicating our Travel Tuesday to time travel by delving into the history of sunglasses.

Sunglasses are unique. They’re functional and protective but they also succeed in making absolutley everyone look cool. National Sunglasses Day is, of course, the most important date in our calendar. Following the overwhelming success of the 2016 campaign (which went viral, trending on social media), we’re hoping this year National Sunglasses Day will be ever bigger. Get tagging: #NationalSunglassesDay

The Romans were masters of innovation. Their period is famous for bringing us numerals, concrete, newspapers, roads, renowned theatre, aqueducts, arches and other things we can’t imagine life without today. But did you know that the Romans also brought us sunglasses? The earliest historical reference to sunglasses dates back to Roman Emperor Nero watching gladiator fights through polished emerald gems held up to his eyes. Later, in 12th Century China, another surprising use came of sunglasses as judges in ancient courts would use crystal sunglasses to hide their facial expressions when they interrogated witnesses.

Wouters, Gomar da Cornelius Meyer (1689).
“Glasses for all kinds of eye sight problems.”

By the 1600’s the motto “A Blessing to the Aged” came into action as people began to realise the benefits of prescription glasses in improving the elderly’s’ sight. Prescription lenses were developed further by James Ayscough in the 18th Century as he created blue and green corrective lenses for optical impairments. However, it wasn’t until the 20th Century that sunglasses began to be used for their primary function today- sun protection. Rapid advancements in the design of sunglasses meant that by 1929 they were beginning to be mass produced for a low rate by Sam Foster on the beaches of Atlantic City and New Jersey under the name Foster Grant.

Sunglasses collided with fashion in the 30’s as the movie stars in Hollywood began to style themselves with statement sunglasses. Ray Ban introduced the aviator style in 1937 as well as developing the anti-glare sunglasses using polarization. Both inventions are essential to the sunglasses market as we know it today. Luxury designers began experimenting with fashionable frame shapes. The 50’s were characterised by the sleek cat-eye frames, popularised by stars like Marilyn Monroe.

John Lennon.
John Lennon. (Photo courtesy of Alynn Gibson)

Jackie Kennedy’s round, over-sized frames became synonymous with the 60’s and now have a line by Ray Ban named after them – “Jackie Ohh.” Vintage round frames we know and love for the festival style became iconic by musicians such as John Lennon. Trends are rapidly advancing as designers not only seek to revolutionise the style and personality of each pair of sunglasses, but also introduce the use of science and technology to maximise the practical performance of eyewear.


Did you know that Elton John has admitted to owning 250,000 pairs of glasses- all vibrant and all fabulous.

What can you say about yourself by slipping on a pair of sunglasses? Elegant, sporty, brave, modern, sexy, adventurous, cheeky: any personality can be created by your choice of eyewear. Evolution of the sunglasses has drastically transformed the use of green gems during gladiator sports spectatorship to fashion and technology to improve the lives of everyone. It’s hard to predict how far the industry will go now, but with brands like Oakley consistently striving forward (introducing the first digital music eyewear), it’s impossible not to be excited for the future of sunglasses.

Explore our huge collection of sunglasses on our site now and grab a bargain to celebrate National Sunglasses Day 2017.

(Cover photo courtesy of E&L Global Communications)