Ever wonder about the history of sunglasses? Well, me neither! But I just read a research paper that outlined the evolution and history of sunglasses, and I have to say that it was pretty interesting! Thus, since we specialize in Matrix Sunglasses, I thought I’d summarize what I read as the topic for today’s post.
Sunglasses were first seen in the 14th century in China. That’s right: over 600 years ago! They were made from smoke-tinted quartz, and were worn by judges to hide their visual expressions from the individuals on trial. Things like fashion and eye protection were not part of the equation at that point. Chinese judges continued to wear these pseudo-sunglasses in court for a few hundred years.
Then in the mid-1700’s, someone named James Ayscough (hopefully not pronounced “ass-cough”…) started experimenting with these ancient judicial shades to see if certain lens colors could help correct eye problems. But here again, fashion and eye protection were not part of the equation.
It really wasn’t until the 20th century that shades began to look and function like the ones we know and love today. The driving force was the US military, which also helped pioneer modern sunscreen lotions. Then in 1929, someone named Sam Foster began selling sunglasses in his store on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. These “Foster Grant” shades took off like wildfire, but they weren’t that great for UV protection.
Then in the 1930’s Baush & Lomb was commissioned by the US military to develop sunglasses designed to protect pilots from high altitude sunrays and glare, and UV protective lenses were born. Ray Ban came into play in the late 1930’s, developing anti-glare lenses that incorporated new technology from Polaroid. These shades had oversized lenses and were given to pilots for free; thus, Aviator Sunglasses were born.
But it was not until the 1970’s that sunglasses became fashionable and stylish. This popularity was driven in large part by clever advertising campaigns that featured A-list celebrities. From this marketing push, large designer brands emerged. This, coupled with the celebrity influence, has turned the sunglass market into a multi-billion dollar industry, which continues to grow to this day.