The name Ray-Ban is ubiquitous, an iconic product that has become synonymous with the word eyewear. Ray-Bans have adorned famous faces on and off-screen for decades. In fact, they were one of the defining products in establishing the harmonious relationship between the screen and the economy. Not many people know how the simple, functional designs from Ray-Ban became timeless classics.

Enduring Fashion

Aviators were the first product released by the manufacturers of Ray-Bans, North American optical retailers Bausch & Lomb. These glasses were released in 1937 as the solution to banning the sun’s rays from the vision of U.S. Air Force pilots. Their lightweight metal frames were a revolutionary alternative to the fur-lined goggles that had been worn by aeronauts up until their invention. Soon after, the glasses were released to the public and the rest, as they say, is history.

Eyewear fashion changes with the seasons and some weird and wonderful trends have graced people’s faces over the years. Frames like Wayfarers or Aviators arguably endure because the way they look was never what made them successful in the first place.

Ray-Ban tinted-colored glasses

Eyes Are the Window to a Person’s Soul

Sunglasses were not even originally worn in order to protect people’s eyes from the sun. Chinese judges were the first proponents of rudimentary tinted lenses. These were not used to correct vision either — smoked quartz lenses were worn in 12th Century Chinese courtrooms in order to hide the eyes of the wearers so their facial expressions couldn’t be read.

It’s believed that Italians invented corrective glasses sometime in the 13th century by connecting two reading stones (early magnifying glasses) with a hinge that were balanced on the bridge of the nose. The first known pictures of someone wearing glasses appeared in the 14th Century by Tommaso da Modena. The paintings feature monks wearing pince-nez style eyewear in order to carry out their work.

Consistently Cool in an Ever-Changing Culture

It’s difficult to pin down the age, sex or economic status of a typical Ray-Ban wearer. There’s one word best suited to describe the type of consumer who pays particular attention to the style of protective eyewear they choose — cool. Wayfarers were released by Bausch & Lomb in 1956 as a plastic alternative to the metal frames that were available at the time. They had a slight cats-eye shape that was reminiscent of the Cadillac tailfin and sturdy arms that gave them masculine appeal.

They were popularised on-screen, with Bob Dylan and his rebellious brand of counterculture acting as an early purveyor of the sunglasses. This image of coolness persisted with Leonardo DiCaprio donning the frames in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. 

Sunglasses have become an image statement that transcends an individuals political leanings. They protect the wearer’s eyes from glare while harboring a look of nonchalance and inscrutability echoing the aesthetic of the many famous faces they’ve adorned. The eyewear industry is now estimated as being worth $100 billion. The majority of sunglasses — including Ray-Bans — are now made by Italian luxury brand Luxottica. You’ll have to search far and wide to find frames made by anyone else.