When did sunglasses become popular?

Sunglasses have emerged as a powerful symbol of glamour, elevating our basic outfits with an edgy element of sass. Some wear sunglasses to shield their eyes from the harsh sun glare, while others sport these eclectic accessories to seal their outfits with voguish chicness. Every fashion lover harbors a unique admiration for sunglasses, but have you ever wondered when did sunglasses become so popular?  

It is interesting to note that tinted glasses first emerged on the horizon back in the 12th century when glass workers in ancient China began experimenting with smoky quartz spectacles to address vision impairments. After centuries of disappearance, sunglasses or tinted spectacles reemerged in Georgian-era Britain as a handy accessory to shield one’s eyes from UV rays.

But how did sunglasses emerge as a must-have daywear accessory that we simply cannot leave home without? Read on to discover the fascinating story of how sunglasses became such a popular daywear staple.

From Specialist Eyewear to Must-Have Fashion Accessory

Sam Foster, the enigmatic genius behind the Foster Grant eyewear label, is accredited for turning sunglasses from a specialized eyewear tool to an affordable style staple. In 1929, Foster began designing and selling shades and aviators in Atlantic City. It didn’t take long for these quirky “shades” to become a glamorous Hollywood trend.

Interestingly, the late 30s witnessed the production of unique aviators designed with groundbreaking technologies to offer vision support to pilots of the US Army. This led to the emergence of the iconic brand Ray-Ban and its most sought-after product, the aviator.

In 1938, sunglasses emerged as a must-have streetwear staple. According to Life Magazine, they were a “new fad for wear on city streets”, and one simply couldn’t sport a fashionable outfit without stylized shades.

But when you dig deeper into history, you realize that sunglasses have witnessed multiple improvements and enhancements since they first emerged in the 12th century. 20th-century developments allowed sunglasses to emerge as a symbol of sartorial glam, and as shades were being mass-produced, their street presence quadrupled dramatically.

Sunglasses became a must-have staple for breezy beach statements, and chunky shades with oversized logos were associated with Hollywood-style opulence and movie star charm.

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How it All Began

The fashion legacy of sunglasses began in 1929 when Sam Foster began designing and mass-producing protective eyewear in Atlantic City. Travelers began flocking to the boardwalks of Jersey Shore sporting rounded frames with tinted glass. It didn’t take long for Hollywood to catch wind of this chic new trend. As movie stars began adopting Foster Grants and round shades, sunglasses emerged as a hot new accessory everyone had to experiment with!

The 1930s witnessed the undisputed reign of the round sunglasses. This simple yet glamorous accessory was all the rage on the streets, inspired by the style statements of Bette Davis, who flaunted rounded shades with her effortlessly chic daywear outfits.

As the war began to brew in the 1940s, sunglasses took a more functional appeal with fighter pilots sporting aviator glasses to shield their eyes and enhance their vision. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that the aviator emerged as a maximalist symbol of chicness with bold and vibrant frames and eclectic designs.

Here Comes the Cat Eye Sunglasses

The 1950s were an exciting time for people who designed and flaunted sunglasses. These fashion accessories were a powerful symbol of opulence and style in the post-war era, and Hollywood celebrities were experimenting with exciting new looks. Audrey Hepburn’s iconic look allowed the cat eye sunglasses to emerge as the hottest eyewear trend, revered as a true classic for decades to come.

Over the years, the cat eye shades underwent multiple variations, and sunglasses were evolving just as dramatically as the social justice movements, hemlines, and skirts. The 60s witnessed an abundance of hip variations of the cat eye along with the emergence of the square frames.

cat-eye sunglasses

The swinging 60s were a dynamic time for fashion innovation and creativity, and the hippie culture gave way to eccentric trends in bright neon colors and chunky square frames. As the popularity of colorful and chunky sunglasses soared, designers began experimenting with transparent glasses with enormous frames added to softer cuts and subtle shapes.

The 1970s witnessed bell button jeans and messy bedhead waves paired with pastel-tined sunglasses and soft shapes holding chunky lenses. Ray-Ban emerged as the brand du jour during the 70s and 80s, and fashion lovers began turning to maximalism and power suits to reinvent their personalities. Sunglasses underwent a bold maximalist makeover during the 80s, featuring sharper frames and dark lenses.

Madonna’s iconic Wayfarer and Tom Cruise’s glorious look in Top Gun are widely considered the most legendary contributions to the soaring popularity of sunglasses. The 1990s witnessed Hollywood darlings like Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Winona Ryder hopping aboard the sunglasses trend with dark shades and tinted frames.

Final Thoughts

The 2000s and 2010s were an exciting time for innovation and improvement, but sunglasses were already cemented as a definitive must-have staple to flaunt effortlessly chic daywear statements. The functional and fashionable appeal of these accessories makes them a must-have to elevate one’s style and protect oneself from the harshly penetrating UV rays of the sun.

As climate change continues to unfold with dramatic implications, adequate sun protection has emerged as a principal concern prompting us to shield our eyes with dark-tinted shades. Fashion lovers never fail to combine functionality with eclectic and voguish styles that contour their face and compliment their visage.