The History of Aviator Glasses

Test pilot and NASA astronaut James Buchli wearing HGU4/P sunglasses (1998)

The iconic aviator glasses were originally designed in the 1930s by Bausch & Lomb, a specialist in eye care and sold under the ‘Ray-Ban’ name. The aviator glasses were designed, as the name would suggest, to ban sun rays from blinding pilots in the US Air Force while flying. What began as an essential uniform item for thousands of pilots in the military has become a cultural icon and one of the most popular styles of frames both for sunglasses and optical prescription glasses. If you want to add a military-inspired look to your everyday style, you can purchase vintage-inspired optical aviator glasses from Blikvision’s curated collection.

The first pairs of aviator glasses were created as sunglasses with the help of America test-pilot John Macready, whose friend had suffered eye damage during a test-flight when his biplane broke the 33,000ft barrier. Before aviator glasses were created, pilots had goggles which would regularly become fogged up and reduce their visibility at higher altitudes which would result in injury to the pilot. Macready and Bausch & Lamb set out to find a solution to protect the pilot’s eyes from the elements during flights, especially at higher altitudes. The glasses were originally known as ‘flying sun glasses’ before they became known as aviators, with the name inspired by the pilots who wore the glasses.

Aviator glasses went on sale to the pubic in 1937 with metal frames and were officially branded as the ‘ray-ban aviator’, becoming one of the first types of frames to become a common glasses style in the industry. The frames were designed in such a way as to be fit under headgear such as a helmet which convex large lenses that cover the whole field of vision to prevent UV rays affecting your eyes in the sunglasses variation. Aviator glasses traditionally feature a metal temple bar and thin metal legs, although these key features are incorporated differently depending on the brand and designer.

The aviator sunglasses entered the public consciousness as a fashion style in the 1950s when they began to appear frequently in advertising campaigns and started to be featured in films and television shows. The original 1950s aviator style, with their semi-round lenses and metal bar frames, are still as popular as ever before thanks to Tom Cruise’s Top Gun film in 1986 and their continuous appearance in the glasses collections of every major fashion house and designer.

Aviator glasses are particularly synonymous with the 1970s, when they became a hallmark style for public figures and celebrities like Gloria Steinem who wore her hair tucked into the frames for a unique look, and Freddie Mercury who regularly performed wearing the polarised aviator glasses. Today the aviator glasses are considered a timeless classic, with a cult-following and are available as both sunglasses and optical glasses. The style of glasses is regularly seen on celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Lisa Kudrow, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. The Times has branded the aviator glasses as the “shades of 2020”.