The History of Sunglasses


It is said that the Roman emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights through polished gems to recreate with the color and image distortion.

1300-Chinese judges wore smoke-colored quartz lenses to conceal their eye expressions in court. The “lenses” of these glasses were flat panes of smoky quartz, which offered no corrective powers but did protect the eyes from glare, and, according to some sources, evil spirits. Contemporary documents describe the use of such glasses by judges in Chinese courts to conceal their facial expressions while questioning witnesses. Compare the representation of “blind Justice” in Western art.

1352 Tommaso da Modena is attributed to painting the first subject wearing eyeglasses with his series of frescoes depicting brothers busily reading or copying manuscripts in 1352. Tommaso’s frescoes quickly set a precedent within the art world and works by other painters soon followed with spectacles appearing on the noses of all sorts of subjects, most likely as a symbol of respect and wisdom.



First Painting with Eyeglasses

1430- Vision-correcting darkened eyeglasses were introduced into China from Italy

1600’s- People began to realize the benefits of prescription glasses as helping the elderly to see better and the motto “A Blessing to the Aged” came into being in 1629

1700’s -James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses in spectacles in the mid-18th century. These were not “sunglasses” as such; Ayscough believed blue- or green-tinted glass could correct for specific vision impairments. Protection from the sun’s rays was not a concern of his.

1800’s Yellow/Amber and brown-tinted spectacles were also a commonly-prescribed item for people with syphillis in the 19th and early 20th centuries because of the sensitivity to light that was one of the symptoms of the disease.

1900’s -The early 1900s, the use of sunglasses started to become more widespread, especially among the pioneering stars of silent movies. It is commonly believed that this was to avoid recognition by fans, but the real reason was they often had perennially sore eyes from the powerful arc lights that were needed due to the extremely slow speed film stocks used.

1919: Foster Grant Company Started

1929– Sam Foster sold the first pair of sunglasses (Foster Grants) at the Woolworth on Atlantic City Boardwalk.

1930’s Army Air Corps commissioned the optical firm of Bausch & Lomb to produce a highly effective spectacle that would protect pilots from the dangers of high-altitude glare. Company physicists and opticians perfected a special dark-green tint that absorbed light in the yellow band of the spectrum.

1936, Ray Ban designed anti-glare aviator style sunglasses, using polarized lens technology newly created by Edwin H. Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation. They also designed a slightly drooping frame perimeter to maximally shield an aviator’s eyes, which repeatedly glanced downward toward a plane’s instrument panel. Fliers were issued the glasses at no charge, and the public in

1937 Public was able to purchase Sunglasses  that banned the sun’s rays as Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses.

1939 Trademark filed for Sunglass Reg No.0703527

1953- Wayfarer Introduced- Most Popular Shades: Ray-Ban sunglasses sold 10 million units worldwide in 1998. rReported to be the best-selling style in history. It was made famous by many celebrities including the fictional Blues Brothers.


Wayfarer worn by the Blues Brothers


1960: Sunglasses started to become a fashion item

1960 Elvis Popularized the Nautic



1960 Onassis glasses or “Jackie O’s” are very large sunglasses worn by women. This style of sunglasses is said to mimic the kind most famously worn by Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s.

1960’s ‘Teashades’ (sometimes also called “John Lennon glasses” or “Ozzy Glasses”, after Ozzy Osbourne’) were a type of Psychedelic art wire-rim sunglasses that were often worn, usually for purely aesthetic reasons, by members of the 1960s drug counterculture, as well as by opponents of segregation

Sunglass songs:

“Cheap Sunglasses”, ZZ Top, Deguello, 1979, Billboard #89
“Sunglasses At Night”, Corey Hart, First Offense, 1983, Billboard #7
“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”, Greetings From Timbuk 3, 1986, Billboard #19

Largest personal collection:

  • Singer Elton John, is rumored to have a sunglass collection that is over 1,000 strong!

Most characters from movie The Matrix Wore sunglasses. Interestingly, all of the protagonists wear rounded lenses, while the antagonists wear rectangular lenses.

Modern Developments

  • In 2004, Oakley developed Thump, sunglasses with built-in digital audio player.
  • In 2005, Oakley developed Razrwire, sunglasses with built-in wireless cellphone headset.



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