Here’s How Your Favorite Accessory, Sunglasses, Came Into Being!

Just what do you know about the evolution of eyeglasses?

You walk out of your house, rocking a stylish summer outfit, a chic hat, and of course, a pair of badass shades. Have you ever wondered how this item with the ultimate swag factor actually became a thing, and then a trend? 

Their obvious practicability and just how cool they look have allowed this pair to be one of the most ubiquitous accessories ever. Let’s take a look at the evolution of different types of sunglasses – crude slabs of walrus ivory and quartz to the highly sophisticated, delicate frames of today!

Here's How Your Favorite Accessory, Sunglasses, Came Into Being!

Sunglasses through the eyes of the ancients

Pun absolutely intended, of course. The happening history of sunglasses involves the first use of something resembling the shades, known as ‘snow goggles’ by the Inuits, dating back to almost 2,000 years ago. Carving driftwood, bone, or walrus ivory into a strip to be worn across the eyes with thin slits for the user to see through, these people were able to effectively protect themselves from the blinding glare of the sun that reflected off the snow. These were pretty tight-fitted goggles, and apparently, could improve your vision as a result of long hours of focused eyesight. Our ancestors really were something, huh?

The Evolution Of Eyeglasses: Origin, Development And Types
Wikimedia Commons/ Daderot

There is evidence that Roman Emperor Nero also wore shades made from polished gemstones when he watched gladiator fights. Clearly, super-expensive and ineffective as an accessory, but true to the extravagant style we all associate Rome with. Ancient sunglasses would probably cost USD 10,000 now.

However, many credit the official invention of sunglasses to 12th century China, where smoked quartz was crudely shaped and framed to be held up against a face, but these weren’t exactly the most useful objects. They did protect somewhat against sunlight but were not effective against UV rays or vision problems. 

Here's How Your Favorite Accessory, Sunglasses, Came Into Being!

Their primary purpose was unusual- to hide the emotions of the user. Magistrates in Chinese law courts often donned these heavy shades to shield their facial expressions from others and to seem emotionally detached from the proceedings. Does that mean eyeglasses evolved as stoical accesories?

Functionality becomes a priority

After the creation of a basic structure was out of the way, people started thinking about all the possible uses of this new invention. A more familiar, thin-framed form of sunglasses was going around by the 18th century, and a pioneer by the name of James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses in the typical spectacles. With his work in scientific instruments like microscopes, he wanted to correct specific vision impairments by changing the color of the lenses to green or blue tints. A blessing in style, wouldn’t you say?

Wikimedia Commons / Wellcome Library, London

But when did they come up with the use of shades that is actually prevalent today? We’re coming to that.

If the history of sunglasses tells us anything, It was as late as the early 20th century when yellow and brown-tinted spectacles were prescribed to patients of syphilis. It is a severe disease with sensitivity to light being one of the symptoms, which is why darkened glasses would help ease discomfort. 

Wikimedia Commons/ Collins, Tudor Washington, 1898-1970

Then we have the trendsetters themselves- celebrities, media persons, and movie stars in particular. They had a couple of reasons for wearing sunglasses in public- they could better conceal their identity and protect their eyes from the harmful studio lights. And of course, they had to look cool all the time!

The evolved use of sunglasses- a fashion statement

The fashion industry didn’t wait for even a second to mass-produce this dazzling new accessory. Words like polaroid lenses, Ray-Bans, and aviator-style shades were popularized during the 1930s, and the sunglasses trends since then have given us something more creative every decade.

The Evolution Of Eyeglasses: Origin, Development And Types

Varied types of sunglasses now cane into the picture. The 1920s, 30s, and 40s were the era of simple, round shades with the iconic black-and-white Hollywood feel, and people in the 1940s went a little wild experimenting on large, colorful frames. The 1950s gave much love to the cat-eye lenses, while the 1960s were all for thick, neon, square ones. The cottage-core vibe with softer shapes and pastel tints on large, nearly transparent glasses was a thing of the 1970s. 

The Evolution Of Eyeglasses: Origin, Development And Types
Wikimedia Commons/ Trailer screenshot

A more sharp, dark, power-dressing aesthetic applied to the shades of the 1980s, while suddenly smaller shades with vintage looks were all the rage in the 1990s, which didn’t seem to carry on to the next decade, because giant lenses again dominated in the 2000s. The 2010s till present have seen the most fashionable to the most outrageous of styles, and sunglasses are not an exception. 

We’re yet to see what the 2020s have in store for this cool, badass item, but even with the somewhat disappointing start of this decade, we have great hope and one thing is certain- Sunglasses are here to stay. Wouldn’t you agree?

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