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A Look Back at History’s Classic Sunglasses

A Look Back at History’s Classic Sunglasses


Here at GR8, we are passionate about all things designer eyewear. To us, nothing is more exciting than tracing the history of all things optical and discovering how we got to where we are today. 

Whether you prefer vintage-style sunglasses or more contemporary lenses, if, like us, you’re a bit of a fashion history nerd, follow along as we discover the origin of sunglasses. 

The Start of Summer Eyewear 

It might surprise you to learn that sunglasses weren't initially produced to shield our eyes from harmful UV rays but rather to shield facial expressions from the public.

During the 12th century, the Inuits and Ancient Chinese cultures invented the first sunglasses. Chinese lenses used smoky quartz to conceal facial expressions from public opinion, and the Inuits carved goggles from walrus tusks as the ivory was robust enough to be crafted into eyewear with small slits to protect against the sun’s glare from the snow and ice.

However, the sunglasses we know and love today were created in the 18th century by James Ayscough, who designed tinted lenses to improve the vision of those who had to wear regular eyeglasses. 

Vintage Sunglasses Through the Era 

In 1929 Foster Grant founder Sam Foster mass-produced affordable sunglasses for the people. Foster originally sold his eyewear on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and quickly gained widespread popularity among celebrities and people. 

Celebs enjoyed the privacy they felt behind the eyewear, and others began to buy them in imitation of their favourite heroes.

Let’s find out which styles dominated across the decades.


Bette Davis’ obsession with wearing glasses to complete her laid-back style brought widespread attention to round frames in the ‘30s, and people began to purchase and enjoy these lenses. 

The decade's focus was not to create new trends but to gain attention for eyewear in general. 

Today round frames are resurgent in popularity and are renowned for their vintage style. For a true touch of thirties flair, we like Amie Victoria Robertson.


During the 1930s, the Army Air Corps commissioned Rochester-based Bausch & Lomb to develop sunglasses that could protect pilots' eyes from glare. 

The company, now known as Ray-Ban (named as an amalgamation of “banning the sun’s rays”), crafted the classic aviator for WWII air pilots. However, it would be a while before this design became popular in contemporary life.

Instead, designers added decor to their round frames, thick colourful arms, or even small design features like petals, becoming the norm in eyewear to stand out from the crowd. 

In the modern day, to add 40’s flair to your wardrobe, shop David David for a twist on the classic round lenses.


When you think of fifties fashion, you think of full skirts, hourglass silhouettes and style icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Both stepped out in a brand new shape of eyewear; the cat-eye. 

Perhaps the most vintage style of lenses in the market, wearing cat-eye glasses is sure to make you feel glamorous in the way only old Hollywood can. 

Remembering the gents of the era, think super slimline ties, bowling shirts and thick chunky lenses. Famous figures like Malcolm X were often seen sporting heavy-brow-lined eyewear, known in the modern world as the club master. 


The decades of peace and love brought about new shapes and colours in eyewear, with models like Twiggy stepping out in bright white square frames; women of the era began to drop the round style and opt for something bold and different.  

Within the decade came some of the biggest bands in history; The Beatles, The Doors and Led Zepplin, to name a few. Their leading front men made eyewear history (notably Lennon) for small round glasses, becoming popular among males with tea-shade lenses instead of previously thought “masculine” black. 


At the turn of the decade, off the back of Woodstock, lenses became oversized and produced in softer colours to match the air of hippie everybody was embracing. Jackie Kennedy also started wearing larger frames, meaning the trend took flight quickly. 

In the modern world, thanks to programmes like Daisy Jones and The Six, oversized square frames are set to become a trend again. 


Enter Top Gun. Enter Tom Cruise. Enter Aviators

Although the eyewear had been around for over 40 years, thanks to a certain Mr Pete Mitchell, the aviators took off during the era, with men everywhere seeking the sought-after frames. 

Aside from this, the people’s Princess or Lady Diana began to match loud eyewear to big hair that was trending at the time, and women began to look for colourful arms and funky shapes in their glasses thanks to the production of Optyl. This era even saw the beginnings of the ever-popular tortoise shell frames. 


When we think of 90’s fashion, it's hard not to think of Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston’s signature high-waisted jeans, white trainers and small oval sunglasses with wired frames and dark lenses. 

A staple in the current y2k trend. These lenses look perfect with cami dresses, baby braids and mom jeans. 


What’s in— is bling. The era of Paris Hilton saw blingy shades decorated with designer labels and crystal embellishments. 

If you feel like embracing all things noughties, brands like Agent Provocateur add a touch of sparkle to any wardrobe. 

The Modern Day

Today, trends in eyewear take note from all eras. 

What is apparent is people are reaching more and more for vintage-style eyewear to revive the love of specific shapes and hues in sunglasses. With this in mind, let's explore the staples of the industry.

History’s Hall of Fame 

The icons of all icons, here are history's best sunglasses that always remain on the best-seller list.

Ray-Ban Aviators: Iconic since the first Top Gun film and the reason for Ray-Ban’s success. These glasses have stood the test of time since their first release. 

Wayfarers: Following suit from Ray-Ban, brands began to ditch metal in favour of plastic frames. 

Carrera Boeing: The secrets in the name, these sunglasses have been popular among pilots for years thanks to their anti-glare lenses.  

Cazal 968: Famous due to a certain Al Pacino, these lenses were made for only the most affluent. Worn by the likes of Brad Pitt and P Diddy, wearing these sunglasses means always being in style. 

The John Lennon Collection: Finally, Lennon curated his own collection of eyewear that has become world-famous. Never without a round pair of spectacles, Lennon’s taste in eyewear is still trending today. 

Our love for eyewear stands strong all year round. Contact us if you have any questions about our products; we will gladly help.

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