When Were Sunglasses Invented?

When Were Sunglasses Invented?


Sunglasses have become an essential accessory in our lives, protecting our eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and providing style and comfort. But have you ever wondered when sunglasses were first invented? In this article, we will dive into the fascinating history of sunglasses, exploring their origins, evolution, and their significance in modern society. So, put on your shades and let's embark on this enlightening journey!

When Were Sunglasses Invented?

Sunglasses, in some form or another, have been around for thousands of years. The earliest evidence of sun protection dates back to ancient civilisations, where people utilised various methods to shield their eyes from the sun's glare. However, the concept of sunglasses as we know them today emerged much later in history.

Ancient Beginnings: Early Sun Protection

In ancient times, people used primitive methods to protect their eyes from the sun. The Inuit people of the Arctic region, for example, carved goggles from walrus ivory with narrow slits to reduce the amount of sunlight entering their eyes. Similarly, the Roman emperor Nero is said to have watched gladiator fights through polished gems, which acted as a crude form of sunglasses.

18th Century: The First Tinted Lenses

The 18th century marked a significant milestone in the development of sunglasses. James Ayscough, an English optician, experimented with tinted lenses to improve vision impairments caused by certain medical conditions. Ayscough believed that blue or green-tinted lenses could correct specific vision problems, but their primary purpose was not to protect against the sun.

19th Century: The Rise of Sunglasses

It was not until the 19th century that sunglasses started to gain popularity as a fashion statement and sun protection tool. In the early 1800s, tinted glasses began to be prescribed by doctors to individuals with syphilis, a disease that often resulted in sensitivity to light. These glasses, known as "therapeutic lenses," had a tinted or shaded lens that helped reduce discomfort caused by sunlight.

20th Century: The Golden Age of Sunglasses

The 20th century witnessed the emergence of sunglasses as a symbol of fashion and sophistication. In the early 1900s, advancements in lens manufacturing and frame design led to the mass production of sunglasses. In 1929, Sam Foster introduced inexpensive mass-produced sunglasses in America, marking the birth of the modern sunglasses industry.

The Iconic Aviator Style

One of the most iconic sunglasses styles of the 20th century is the aviator style. Initially developed by Bausch & Lomb for pilots in the 1930s, aviator sunglasses featured large, teardrop-shaped lenses that provided ample coverage and reduced glare. These sunglasses gained widespread popularity and were later embraced by the general public as a stylish accessory.

Hollywood Glamour and Sunglasses

The glamour of Hollywood in the mid-20th century played a crucial role in popularising sunglasses. Movie stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe often donned sunglasses, elevating them to a fashion must-have. This association of sunglasses with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood solidified their status as a desirable fashion accessory.

Sunglasses in the Modern Era

In the modern era, sunglasses have become an integral part of our daily lives. The advancements in lens technology, including polarised and photochromic lenses, have made sunglasses more effective in protecting our eyes from harmful UV rays. Additionally, various styles and designs cater to diverse fashion preferences, ensuring that sunglasses are not just functional but also fashionable.


From their humble beginnings in ancient civilisations to their current status as a must-have accessory, sunglasses have come a long way. The invention of sunglasses has not only protected our eyes from the sun but also transformed into a fashion statement. As we continue to prioritise eye health and style, sunglasses will undoubtedly remain an indispensable part of our lives. So, the next time you slip on your favourite pair of shades, remember the rich history and innovation behind this essential accessory.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When were the first sunglasses used?

The concept of sunglasses can be traced back to ancient civilisations, but the earliest recorded use of tinted lenses specifically designed to protect against sunlight dates back to the 18th century.

2. Who invented sunglasses?

While the concept of sunglasses evolved over time, it was James Ayscough, an English optician in the 18th century, who experimented with tinted lenses for vision correction and laid the foundation for modern sunglasses.

3. Were sunglasses always associated with fashion?

No, sunglasses initially served therapeutic purposes for individuals with specific medical conditions. It was in the 20th century, particularly with the rise of Hollywood, that sunglasses became synonymous with fashion and style.

4. When did sunglasses become widely available?

Sunglasses became more accessible and affordable in the early 20th century, thanks to the introduction of mass production techniques by Sam Foster in 1929. This marked a turning point in the availability and popularity of sunglasses.

5. What are some popular sunglasses styles from history?

The aviator style, made famous in the 1930s and associated with pilots, is a timeless and iconic sunglasses style. Other notable styles include cat-eye, wayfarer, and round frames, each representing different eras and fashion trends.

6. How have sunglasses evolved in the modern era?

Sunglasses have evolved significantly in terms of lens technology, offering better protection against UV rays and glare. Additionally, diverse frame styles, materials, and lens options cater to individual preferences and needs, making sunglasses both functional and fashionable.

7. Were sunglasses popular in the 70s?

Yes, sunglasses were indeed popular in the 70s. The 1970s saw a variety of fashionable sunglass styles, including oversized frames, aviator sunglasses, and round-shaped frames. Celebrities like Elton John and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis popularised iconic sunglass looks during this era, contributing to their widespread popularity.

8. What are Y2K sunglasses?

Y2K sunglasses, also known as millennium sunglasses or futuristic sunglasses, refer to the eyewear trends that emerged around the turn of the millennium, particularly in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These sunglasses often featured sleek, futuristic designs, such as narrow frames, shield lenses, and reflective coatings. They represented a bold and avant-garde fashion statement during that time.

9. What were the first sunglasses made of?

The first sunglasses were made of various materials. The earliest recorded sunglasses date back to ancient Rome and China, where they were crafted using flat panels of smoky quartz to reduce glare. However, in the 18th century, sunglasses with tinted lenses made of glass became more common. Over time, materials like celluloid, early forms of plastic, and then modern plastics like acetate and polycarbonate were used to make sunglass frames.

10. Were sunglasses popular in the 80s?

Sunglasses were incredibly popular in the 80s. This era witnessed the rise of bold, vibrant fashion trends, and sunglasses played a significant role in completing the iconic looks of the time. Styles such as oversized frames, mirrored lenses, and neon-coloured sunglasses were highly fashionable during the 1980s, reflecting the spirit of the decade.

11. How were sunglasses made?

The manufacturing process of sunglasses involves several steps. Initially, the frame material, such as acetate or metal, is selected and cut into the desired shape. Then, the frames are moulded or shaped using specialised tools and machinery. Lenses, often made of materials like polycarbonate or glass, are created separately and fitted into the frames. Finally, the sunglasses undergo quality checks, including inspections for lens clarity, frame alignment, and overall durability before being packaged and distributed to retailers.

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