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Aviators: A Brief History of These Iconic Sunglasses

Aviator sunglasses have been an icon of cool, calm, and collected celebrities everywhere for decades. We know them by their colored shades, extra-thin frames, and the signature Ray Ban logo tucked away neatly at the edge of the lens. But where did this iconic frame come from? Why do we know them as the international sign that a cool, tough and, most importantly, famous person is coming our way? Let’s take a look at the history and find out a little more.

A Drop From the Top

In the early 20th century, daredevil pilots were on a mission to fly the highest. Commercial flyers these days won’t be able to picture it, but back then, planes came with little insulation and people flying in them could not withstand the temperatures up there in the aerospace. To get to heights higher than Everest, these pilots would don leather hoods and fur-lined goggles. If these goggles fogged up, you were in trouble either way.

Such was the story of Shorty Schroeder, who took a biplane above 33,000 feet and found himself with foggy glasses. He quickly pulled them off, only to find his vision blurred and his eyes frozen over, which must have been a horrifying feeling mid-air. By some miracle, Schroeder landed the plane and was greeted by friend and pilot John Macready, who would never forget seeing his friend deal with frozen eyes after leaving that plane.

The Sunlight Hurts My Eyes

Aside from the fogging issue, early goggles provided no glare protection, so John Macready decided to start working with Bausch & Lomb. His goal? To create glasses that shielded you from the sun while you flew to death-defying heights. His goggles, which were soon to be called “aviators,” began to be advertised in the 1930s. Worth several hundred dollars, these frames were out of reach for the layman, but their scientific glare protection worked for pilots, as well as fishermen and golfers, who often had to deal with glare. Macready reportedly chose the iconic teardrop design and frame that would one day become legendary. For the time being they would be known as sporting equipment, but that soon changed.

Aviators for Everyone

By the 1970s, aviators started to take on somewhat of a fashion edge, with different versions of the sunglasses being developed for different markets. One such market was for women, who could now choose a rather garish-sounding pink frame with rhinestone attachments. As popular culture started to grow around the music and film industries, more and more famous people started to wear the iconic frames. Elvis Presley, Gloria Steinem, and Hunter S Thompson were all seen sporting aviators. Even the Unabomber was seen wearing them.

Through Sepia-Tinted Glasses

By the 1980s, the “Serengeti” brand had erupted and brought sepia-toned lenses with it. Other actors were seen to sport the lenses, but one in particular wore them in a way that harked back to Ray Ban aviators’ roots; that man was Tom Cruise as Maverick in the movie Top Gun.

There you have it—a quick history of aviator sunglasses. Next time you buy a pair of aviators from Imposter City, remember that you’re buying a piece of history!

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