Aviator are a style of glasses that were developed by Bausch & Lomb. The original Bausch & Lomb design is now marketed as Ray-Ban Aviators, although other manufacturers also produce aviator-style eyewear. With their teardrop lens shape and wireframe construction, aviator sunglasses started out as a niche style worn by pilots and military members in the early 1900s. Today, aviator sunglasses are as popular as ever. You’ll feel invincible in a pair of oversized, mirrored, or polarized aviators.
History of Aviators
Ray-Ban, which was behind the world’s first aviator sunglasses, conceived in the 1930s to ban rays from the eyes of US Air Force pilots. Though marketed under the Ray-Ban banner, it was the brand’s parent company, Bausch & Lomb – a US firm specialising in eye health products – that came up with the invention. The aviators were developed as an alternative to the fur-lined goggles worn by pilots in the early 20th-Century – which simply didn’t perform technically. Aviator sunglasses became the perfect solution to protect a pilot’s eyes against the elements, help to avoid headaches and to combat decreased visibility caused by the blinding glare of the sun at high altitude.
According to The New York Times, the true force behind the aviator’s invention was American pilot John Macready, who is said to have been motivated by an incident involving a fellow test-pilot, Shorty Schroeder. During a test flight in 1920, in which he broke the 33,000-ft barrier in his biplane, Schroeder had ripped off his fogged-up goggles, causing his eyes to freeze over. On helping to pull him out of the plane, so shocked was Macready by Schroeder’s state, he set out to find a solution, making contact with Bausch & Lomb.
The aviator was not to remain confined to the cockpit, however. Fitted with green lenses that could cut out the glare without obscuring vision, the first examples, which went on sale to the public in 1937, featured a plastic frame in the now-classic teardrop shape (echoing the form of pilot’s goggles), but was remodelled with a metal frame the following year and rebranded as the Ray-Ban Aviator.
Aviator Rise In Popularity
With their anti-glare lenses, the Ray-Ban Aviator shades became popular with outdoor pursuits enthusiasts from fishermen to golfers, leading to the introduction of new models. The Ray-Ban Shooter – released in 1938 – boasted green or pale yellow Kalichrome lenses designed to sharpen details and minimise haze by filtering out blue light, making them ideal for misty conditions. The model’s signature feature was its so-called ‘cigarette-holder’ middle circle, designed to free the hands of the shooter. The Ray-Ban Outdoorsman, issued the next year, targeted hunting, shooting and fishing enthusiasts.
In the 1940s, World War Two saw American Air Force pilots continue to rely on the Ray-Ban Aviator, with the introduction of a gradient mirror lens with a special coating on the upper part for enhanced protection, but an uncoated lower lens for a clear view of the plane’s instrument panel. The most iconic shots of military in Ray-Ban Aviators during WWII include those of General Douglas MacArthur landing on a beach in the Philippines wearing a pair.
Military style influenced fashion trends and the shades took off with civilians, gaining momentum in the 1950s with the launch of the Ray-Ban Caravan (1957), a squarer version later worn by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976). Thus begun their transition from a functional to an aspirational fashion accessory. “In the 1950s, Ray-Ban started to run advertising campaigns and you started to see them on all the major Hollywood celebrities,” says Sara Beneventi, brand director at Ray-Ban. The Aviators were regularly worn by Elvis Presley, as well as other music stars.
Commercial Design of Aviators
The first advertisements for Ray-Ban aviators stated they would provide “real scientific glare protection” and were sold as sporting equipment. At this time, they had not yet taken on their name of “aviators”, the Second World War having not yet begun. In addition to popularity in the 1950s, aviators were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, with coloured frames, being worn by public figures like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. During the 1950s, aviator sunglasses were a part of the cultural style, mimicking military style.
Popularity of Aviator eyeglasses among women
By the 1970s, aviators already asserted themselves as the ultimate fashion accessory for many cultural icons, but up to this point they had largely been considered a men’s style. However, with an element of colour and femininity now being introduced to both frames and lenses by way of delicate rhinestone details and softer lens colours such as browns and pinks, the glasses started to grace the catwalks and red carpets, becoming synonymous with the glitterati.
If back in the 1950s the market focus was on one aviator style in one lens colour, today Ray-Ban markets a family of products ranging from functional and classic to fashion-forward styles with new colours and materials. The focus, says Beneventi, is always on innovation.
Suitable Face Shapes for Aviator Eyeglasses
Aviators don’t necessarily look good on everyone. Thankfully, they will work on most face shapes and are ideal for those with oval, square and heart-shaped faces. Considering that there are only six face shapes, that’s not bad.
Some argue that aviator sunglasses are best suited for those with an oval face or square face. But, a good case can be made for aviator frames, as they can frame round-shaped faces and help balance the face.
Aviators are typically wider at the top and tapered at the bottom, so they also complement the outline of a heart-shaped face.