The aviator sunglasses are one of those examples of something that was created for a practical reason that has become a fashion classic. Having been invented back in the 1930s, the style is consistently one of the most popular even today, top menswear accessories designers like Remo Tulliani are still creating designer sunglasses around this classic shape.
So where did the aviators come from and why are they still so popular?
History of the aviator sunglasses
During World War I, aircraft were used for the first time in a major conflict with bombers and attack missions as well as planes used for reconnaissance. In the US, pilots were quick to realise that flying during the day could be hard work due to the brightness and glare of the sun at high altitudes. In fact, pilots started to suffer from strained eyes and could hardly see what they were doing at some points.
The US Army Air Corps turned to optics manufacturer Bausch & Lomb to come up with a solution. Their idea was to create glasses that blocked the sun – these glasses had a teardrop shape that covered the whole of the eye, so pilots could see when they were flying, no matter how sunny. These glasses later became one of the most famous styles of sunglasses that are still popular today – Ray-Ban.
From practical to fashion
After the war, the useful new sunglasses idea was taken up by sportsmen who realised the benefits of being able to see when the sun was high. Hunters and fishermen were the first to buy these new luxury items.
The person who really made the aviator sunglasses move from practical to fashion was General Douglass MacArthur. During World War II, he was photographed wearing his own aviators during the campaign to retake the Philippines by US forces. The photos showed him with the troops on the beach and forever associated aviator sunglasses with this heroic general – alongside his hat and corn cob pipe!
The 1950s saw the style really take off as more celebrities started to wear aviators and characters in films were shown wearing them. Ray-Ban started to advertise their products and the public started to realise these sunglasses were the perfect balance of style and practicality.
Perhaps one of the most iconic moments for the aviator sunglasses was the film Top Gun (1986) where Tom Cruise plays the part of the pilot and wears those stylish sunglasses. And other brands were starting to create their own version of the style including Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry.
Why we still love them
There’s a lot of to love about aviator sunglasses. They are practical and do help to protect your eyes from the sun and therefore are a summer essential, especially for people driving or spending a lot of time outside. And they have the ‘cool’ factor, being associated with everyone from Robert de Niro in Taxi to Michael Jackson. They work perfectly for men with any face shape or size and now have lots of clever technology to make them more protective than ever.