Origins and History of Sunglasses

Since prehistoric times, men have sought ways to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun.  The Innuit people used to “spectacles” out of walrus or caribou ivory.  The spectacles consisted of shields over …


Since prehistoric times, men have sought ways to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun.  The Innuit people used to “spectacles” out of walrus or caribou ivory.  The spectacles consisted of shields over the eyes with narrow slits, which served to cut down the blinding glare of sunlight on snow and ice.  This was particularly important went out hunting for food.

The Roman emperor Nero is reputed to have sat and watched gladiatorial combat through highly polished gem stones such as emeralds, though for what effect one cannot surmise.

Not to be out done by raving mad Italian despots, the Chinese in 12th century or possible earlier formed sunglasses out of lenses made from flat slices of smoky quartz. While offering nothing in the way of UV protection or corrective vision, they did allow the wearer to intimidate others by hiding their expressions.  It appears Judges might have used this to great effect when interrogating witnesses.

Over the years many people have experimented with different materials with varying levels of success and with different objects in mind.  Some scientist sought to correct certain impairments of vision by the use of different colored lenses.

But it was only at the start of the 20th century that the use of sunglasses became more widespread. There use by wealthy exponents, especially among Hollywood movie stars, in conjunction with inexpensive means of mass production, help launch sunglasses on the world stage as an essential must have item.  Not necessarily for the health reasons that people choose to wear sunglasses today, but more for “the Look”.  Who can possibly forget Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief”?  And now we have Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”.

Of course, these days, achieving “the Look” is not the primary reason for wearing sunglasses.  Sunglasses today offer essential protection against excessive exposure to light, particularly ultraviolet radiation, (UV) which is known to cause short-term and long-term sight problems.  For instance, it can snow blindness, the ailment that the Innuit seal hunters were so keen to avoid, cataracts, and various forms of ocular cancer. Click on to review some of the best UV ray protected sunglasses to get “the Look.”

Current medical advice emphasizes the importance of wearing sunglasses with the purpose of protecting the eyes from UV.   For effective protection, the general perceived wisdom is to  recommend sunglasses that reflect or filter out 99% or more of UV light, with wavelengths up to 400 nm. To show that sunglasses meet this requirement they are labeled as “UV400”.

Of course, once this fundamental requirement has been achieved, manufacturers are able to produce sunglasses in an endless variety of shapes, sizes and colors with a range of differently tinted lenses.  So, one can now achieve “the Look” one desires, safe in the knowledge that our eyes are being adequately protected from harmful UV radiation.

Now everybody has sunglasses, from secret agents trying to blend into a crowd, to celebs and popstars, trying not to blend into a crowd.  They come in an endless variety of shapes and colors, from the cheap plastic offerings by the supermarket checkout costing less than a dollar to the heady heights of Chopard, or Dolce and Gabbana costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are special sunglasses for mountaineers and polar explorers, special sunglasses for pilots, special sunglasses for the military, and even special sunglasses for spies with built in cameras and microphones and Wi-Fi connectivity.  There are even extra-special sunglasses for our extra-special four-legged friends.  Yes, even our cats and our dogs can now strut their stuff with Hollywood’s finest.  Lassie, eat your heart out!

One young entrepreneur has even launched a company specializing in supplying sunglasses for people with big heads.  Ben Saperia, the founder of Faded Days, saw an opening in the market.  Initially intending only to sell stylish and affordable sunglasses he became aware of a group of people who had hitherto been overlooked by the mainstream suppliers.  Men and women graced with large heads and broad faces.

What’s next, I wonder?  Sunglasses for race horses.  I imagine that’s a horse that has already left the stable.

Leave a Comment