When Were Sunglasses First Invented? Exploring Their Origins


Sunglasses are now more than just eye protection; they're a staple accessory, adding flair to our everyday looks. But have you ever thought about the origins and evolution of sunglasses? In this article, we'll delve into the intriguing history of sunglasses, tracing their journey from ancient beginnings to the chic shades we wear today.

The Origins of Sunglasses

Sunglasses have a rich history that stretches back to ancient civilizations. Among the earliest documented use of sunglasses were by the ancient Inuit people, who fashioned protective eyewear from materials like walrus ivory, bone, and leather. These early sunglasses featured narrow slits to shield the eyes from the sun's glare reflecting off snow and ice. 

In 12th century China, a primitive form of sunglasses emerged in the form of flat panels made from smoky quartz. Known as "smoke-colored glasses," these early eyewear pieces were worn by Chinese judges to obscure their facial expressions during court proceedings. 

Sunglasses' evolution wasn't limited to one region. While Chinese judges wore smoke-colored glasses, Inuit people in the Arctic crafted goggles with narrow slits from bone and other materials to shield their eyes from the sun's glare. This suggests that early forms of sun protection were developed simultaneously in various parts of the world, adapted to local conditions and available resources. 

Though the exact year of sunglasses' invention remains uncertain, both the Arctic goggles and Nero's use of gems for eye protection can be traced back approximately 2,000 years ago. These early innovations laid the foundation for the sunglasses we know today.

The Development of Sunglasses

Through Time Throughout history, sunglasses have experienced a remarkable journey of evolution, shaped by various cultures and civilizations worldwide. In 18th century Europe, tinted glass lenses gained popularity among the affluent seeking protection from the sun's glare during outdoor pursuits. 

The renowned Roman Emperor Nero notably used emeralds to shield his eyes while observing gladiator matches, possibly to enhance his vision and assert his authority. Additionally, in 1752, English optician James Ayscough introduced tinted eyeglasses with colored side pieces, primarily for individuals sensitive to light rather than as sunglasses. 

However, it was the gondoliers of Venice, Italy, who are often credited with introducing sunglasses as we recognize them today. These tinted glasses, dubbed Goldoni glasses after playwright Carlo Goldoni, were specifically crafted to combat sun glare and quickly gained widespread popularity. 

Moving into the early 20th century, American entrepreneur Sam Foster seized the growing demand for sunglasses by producing affordable eyewear in Atlantic City. Simultaneously, aviator sunglasses were developed for U.S. Army Air Corps pilots in the 1930s, featuring rose-colored lenses for enhanced sun protection. 

It wasn't until the golden age of Hollywood that sunglasses truly emerged as a fashion icon. Movie stars and celebrities donned sunglasses to shield their eyes from studio lights, with silent film star Harold Lloyd among the earliest to embrace them for their style appeal rather than just practicality.  

In terms of innovation, polarized sunglasses emerged in the 1930s, thanks to inventor Edwin H. Land and the establishment of the Polaroid Corporation. Land's groundbreaking polarized lenses, initially developed in a garage, significantly reduced glare and improved visibility, making outdoor activities safer for everyone.

The Rise of Modern Sunglasses

The modern era of sunglasses dawned in the 1930s with Foster Grant, an American company that revolutionized eyewear by mass-producing sunglasses using celluloid frames and tinted lenses. These affordable sunglasses quickly gained popularity among the masses, laying the foundation for sunglasses to become a fashion essential. 

In 1936, sunglasses underwent a significant transformation with the introduction of iconic aviator sunglasses by Bausch & Lomb. Originally created for US military pilots to shield their eyes during flights, aviator sunglasses soon became a symbol of coolness and masculinity. They were popularized by iconic figures like General Douglas MacArthur and later by Hollywood heartthrobs like Tom Cruise in the movie "Top Gun." 

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the emergence of cat-eye sunglasses, championed by fashion icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. These chic frames epitomized glamour and sophistication, capturing the essence of the era's style. Today, cat-eye sunglasses remain a timeless choice for fashion-forward individuals.

Final Thoughts


Sunglasses have a rich and diverse history, spanning thousands of years. From their origins as simple eye protection to their evolution into a fashion statement, sunglasses have undergone significant changes over time. Whether you prefer classic aviators, trendy wayfarers, or retro cat-eye frames, sunglasses play a crucial role in both eye protection and personal style. When you wear sunglasses, take a moment to appreciate the fascinating history behind this iconic accessory. 

If you're interested in sunglasses or looking to buy a pair, consider checking out OLIVIO&CO store. Our sunglasses for teens and adults inspired from the Mediterranean not only protect your eyes effectively but also enhance your fashion sense.

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