A Passion For Eyewear

The History of sunglasses: from gemstones to polarized lenses

The History of sunglasses: from gemstones to polarized lenses

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Fosta Grantly campaign

Since the 1980s the government has released campaign after campaign to warn us about the negative effect the sun can have on our skin. It’s caused some people to forget how important eye protection is as well, having them forego quality sunglasses in favour of cheap products.

It’s especially a shame when we have a look at how long it took us to get from no protection against the sun to polarized sunglasses.

60: When Emperor Nero couldn’t handle the glare anymore during his cherished gladiator matches, he opted for polished green gemstones. This didn’t start the sunglasses revolution however, as the average Roman wasn’t drowning in gemstones.

1300: The Chinese were the next big innovators. While presiding in their courts, many judges wore smoky quartz lenses in order to cover their eyes, making their expressions harder to read.

1352: Italian artist Tommaso Da Modena painted the first recorded image of a man wearing spectacles – an important development in the path to sunglasses.

1430: By this time the first prescription glasses were on the market in Italy and the rich would wear them as status symbols.

1600: The first concave lens was used, just like in today’s glasses, but these items were still not convenient to wear.

1730: Edward Scarlett, a well-regarded optician and instrument maker from London, designed the first solid sidepieces for glasses. They allowed the wearer greater freedom to move their head without fear of the glasses falling off and lenses breaking. Many early glasses had wide circular or spring-shaped appendages that gripped the wearer’s temples. In 1752 James Ayescough invented glasses with blue and red tints that were designed to correct vision problems.

Innovation in sunglasses stalled between the 18th and 20th centuries. Benjamin Franklin invented the first bi-focal glasses, and people with syphilis could be seen walking the streets of London in green tinted glasses – to aid their sensitivity to light – but the next major innovation took place in Atlantic City in the USA.

1920: Although sunglasses became more widespread amongst the rich in the early 20th century, it wasn’t until Sam Foster created affordable sunglasses that the average audience started to catch on. In 1929 he began to sell pairs of sunglasses on the local boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The rest, as they have so often said, is history.

1936: Polarized lenses came to be, thanks to Edwin H. Land who experimented with lenses based on his Polaroid filter. That same year, the Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses were sanctioned for pilots in the army corps in the USA.

1953: Ray-Ban sunglasses were released to a wider audience, and soon the Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses were born. Hollywood stars were happy to ruin snapshots by paparazzi, and the general public had embraced their new fashion accessories. By the 1970s the sunglasses industry was fully established.

The present: Despite polarized lenses having been around for roughly 75 years by now, it’s still quite recent doctors have begun pushing these. Don’t forget to test you have the right thing. What you want to do is hold the polarized sunglasses up against a television or computer screen, and see if the lenses become clear when turning them sideways. If that’s the case then you’ve got the real thing. Polarized sunglasses are worth the extra money; as they keep the image super clear, by cutting out reflected glare. Any sports fan or anyone who spends a lot of time in bright environments should own a pair.

Nowadays, you can look your best wearing mens casual shoes as long as you wear the right pair of sunglasses to go with it.

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