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In a time before the modern jet fighter helmets, those who operated the planes began to suffer from the new heights they were reaching. Their normal goggles were becoming a bit outdated as well as a bit dangerous. In an attempt to protect the pilots’ eyes, Bausch & Lomb created the first aviator sunglasses in 1936. The product was later taken over by Ray-Ban in the same year. Over time these sunglasses became an important and constant part of the pilot’s uniform and made its way into other branches of the Armed Forces until it became standard issue throughout the entire military. However their origin stuck with them and they were dubbed Pilot Shades, or Aviator Sunglasses.
They got their first taste of popularity outside the army when General Douglas MacArthur was documented wearing them, along with his trademark pipe during the invasion of the Philippines in World War II. With this image aviator sunglasses not only become standard issue in the military but in the civilian world as well. They began to appear perched on the noses of stars and the participants in the fashion industry. They were made available to the public in 1937.
They gained their most popularity in the 70s, 80s, and 90s when they were once again sported by celebrities like Elvis, James Fonda, Michael Jackson and Gloria Steinem as well as worn by the infamous Uni-Bomber. Around this time Ray-Ban produced aviators with some diversity from their original counterparts with the addition of different colored and shaped frames, a wider selection of colored lenses and other new accessories. They also began to appear in action films such as Top Gun which featured Tom Cruise wearing a pair of vintage aviator sunglasses. From there they rode their way into the styles of today.
What allows the aviator sunglasses to persist in modern fashion? It is quite possible that due their shape and framing they are perfect for any face and continue to fulfill their original purpose of keeping the light out of the user’s eyes. They also are perfect to be re-styled without destroying the original design. It can also possibly be their appearance in film and in other media and the favor they curry from A-list celebrities. Whatever the reason they have become an important and iconic part of America and are a useful and visually pleasing accessory to add to anyone’s wardrobe.