Primitive sunglasses were worn by the Inuit all the way back in prehistoric times, but these were merely walrus ivory with slits in them — good for helping with snow blindness. The Roman emperor Nero watched gladiator fights through polished gems. In 12th century China they used smoky quartz for lenses, but the specs were used for concealing judges’ facial expressions during interrogations of suspects rather than style or sunlight protecting purposes. In the 1750s, London optician James Ayscough began experimenting with green lenses to help with certain vision problems. He believed that his glasses could correct certain vision impairments yet harmful UV-rays were not a concern at this time.
Glasses tinted with yellow-amber and brown were a commonly-prescribed item for people with syphilis in the 19th and early 20th century because one of the symptoms of the disease was extreme susceptibility to light.
It was only in the 20th century that sunglasses took on the modern form. In the late-1920s Sam Foster began selling the first mass-produced sunglasses using the brand name “Foster Grant”. He began slling these from a Woolworth on the beasches of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Polarized sunglasses became the next evolutionary step available in 1936, when Edwin H. Land began using his patented Polaroid filter when making sunglasses. By 1938, Life magazine wrote of how sunglasses were a “new fad for wear on city streets … a favorite affectation of thousands of women all over the U.S.”
During World War 2 Ray Ban revolutionized sunglasses by creating anti-glare aviator style sunglasses, using polarization. Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses became popular with the celebrities and the public in the post-war years and subsequent improvements over the decades has allowed safety to be married with design and fashion.
Take a look at the wonderful photos of women wearing sunglasses during the 1960s.