A Brief Look at the History of Sunglasses

Sunglasses took their coveted spot as popular culture fashion icons in the 1960s when Foster Grant launched an effective advertising campaign using well-known fashionistas and Hollywood stars as models in order to make their sunglasses seem chic and encourage people to purchase them. However, the notion of looking through colored lenses dates back much further than the Foster Grant craze of the 1960s and 70s. Instead, it dates back prior to 1430 in China.

The Chinese sunglasses were not created to protect the eyes from the sun’s harmful rays or glare, but instead were used in the Chinese judicial system. Smoke was used to tint quartz lenses and then they were built into smoke-tinted cool sunglasses that were worn for centuries by Chinese judges. The purpose of wearing the sunglasses was to hide any eye expression that the judge may use, because the judge’s opinions of evaluations of the evidence was required to remain a secret until a trial had concluded. It was felt that the smoke-tinted glasses accomplished this feat by disguising the eyes of the judge thus keeping his thoughts and opinions secret. In or around 1430, China was introduced to vision correcting eyeglasses by Italy. These sunglasses were also tinted, but again it was mainly for the purposes relating to judicial business.

Throughout the mid-18th Century scientists pursued the belief that blue and green tinted lenses could correct vision problems. And, in fact, it was not until the twentieth century that sunglasses began being considered as a way of protecting delicate eyes from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. The American military played a large role in the development of sunglasses for this purpose when in 1930 they contracted with Bausch & Lamb to design a spectacle that would protect pilots from high-altitude glare. In addition, Edwin Land from Polaroid created and implemented the use of a polarizing filter to cut down on the chances of harmful rays reaching delicate eyes even more.

Since that time, sunglasses have become icons of coolness with Foster Grant, Ray Ban and newer designers like Oakley creating styles that create a perception of coolness and status for the wearer. Designer sunglasses can now hold prescription lenses and new embellishments are constantly being added to up the coolness factor. For example, in 2004 Oakley designed a pair of sunglasses that has a built in MP3 player. Of course, people still use sunglasses to hide their thoughts and emotions, just look at a table of poker players and you will see what I mean.

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