If you purchase a single pair of sunglasses, chances are pretty good that you’re considering a pair from Ray-Ban, one of the most popular and influential brands of eyewear. And if you think of any popular style of sunglasses, chances are also good that you’re picturing a style that was developed by Ray-Ban. But have you ever stopped to think about where the Ray-Ban name came from, or for how many decades stylish men have been wearing the brand’s sunglasses? If not, here’s your crash course in all things Ray-Ban, and a useful overview of the classic styles you should take a look at the next time you’re shopping for a new pair of sunglasses.
Ray-Ban got its start in the 1930s, when U.S. Air Force pilots needed sunglasses to reduce glare (and prevent headaches and altitude sickness). American lens manufacturer Bausch & Lomb was asked for a pair of sunglasses that would reduce the glare at high altitudes, and in 1936 introduced a green lens that cut the glare without obscuring pilots’ vision. According to the history of Ray-Ban by Luxottica (which acquired the Bausch & Lomb frames business in 1999), the prototype featured a plastic frame in the now-classic aviator shape, which followed the contour of the eye socket to reduce light exposure.
When the glasses were introduced to the public in 1937, they featured a metal frame and were branded the Ray-Ban Aviator. In 1938, Bausch & Lomb launched a variation on the style, called the Ray-Ban Shooter, with the now-iconic “cigarette-holder” middle circle. Ray-Ban continued to expand its catalog of styles and lenses, and while they were designed for military use, the original Aviator and WWII-era innovations that followed — like the gradient mirror lens in the 1940s — became popular among civilians as military-issue clothing and accessories influenced fashion. Aviators are still a popular choice today, and we’re partial to the gold and green colors of the original aviator.
In the wake of World War II, Hollywood had an increasingly powerful impact on what people wore. The Ray-Ban Wayfarer model was introduced in 1952, and after James Dean wore the new style in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, the Wayfarer became one of the most recognizable accessories. The style, which was designed by Bausch & Lomb’s Raymond Stegeman, was groundbreaking in both its shape and its method of manufacture, according to JackThreads. Wayfarers were made from molded plastic, instead of metal, which made bolder and brighter frames possible.
By 1969, the Ray-Ban catalog had expanded to 50 different styles, and celebrities and stars of all stripes continued to wear them. Bob Dylan, for instance, was rarely seen without his Wayfarers. In the 1980s, Ray-Bans continued to feature prominently in movies, like 1980’s The Blues Brothers and 1983’s Risky Business for the Wayfarer (and 1986’s Top Gun for the Aviator). Michael Jackson wore Wayfarers for his Bad tour from 1987 to 1989, which became the highest-attended tour in history. While Ray-Ban has introduced a “new Wayfarer” silhouette, we still recommend the classic Wayfarer in black and green.
The style abruptly came back into demand between 1978 and 1980, when an anti-disco backlash sought an alternative to the Aviators and Teashades that were popular on dance floors. Ray-Ban capitalized on the trend with the introduction of its own Browline style, the Clubmaster, which became one of the brand’s best-selling silhouettes of all time — right along with Ray-Ban’s original Aviators and Wayfarers.
The Clubmaster, which Ray-Ban introduced in the mid-1980s, were actually a response to the resurgence of a silhouette that had been popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s: so-called Browline glasses, named for the bold upper line of the frames. The style accounted for half of glasses sold and worn during the 1950s, but their popularity waned in the 1970s with the backlash against the fashion and culture of the 1950s and 1960s.
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