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An In Depth History of Sunglasses

Sunglasses are cool. Sure, they protect our eyesight from glare, harmful ultraviolet rays, and the general brightness of the sun. In that way, the darkened, tinted, and treated lenses are one of the many tools that humans have designed to assist us with certain activities and our everyday lives. Wearing shades helps enhance human vision while driving, boating, flying planes, and performing any outdoor activities. Yet countless hours and dollars have gone into designing the frames in which those protective lenses are placed. Not to enhance sun-blocking efficiency but to make them look cooler. In that way, the history and evolution of sunglasses is the story of the most fashionable tool humanity has ever invented.

Sunglasses were first worn as fashionable accessories in the ‘60s – that being the 1760s. As glass and frame technology advanced through the 1800s, those who could afford it commissioned shades from highly skilled craftsmen. The first Hollywood stars wore them to block artificial lights on early 1900s movie sets. Yet, they became a fashion trend all the same. When the first commercially mass-produced sunglasses were released on the Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk in 1929, opaque eyewear became an instant phenomenon that has never gone away. So let’s take a look at the history of sunglasses and how they became our coolest accessory.

Man vs Sun


An Inuit man wearing traditional snow goggles. Image via Wikimedia.

Mankind has always had a complicated relationship with sunlight. It is warm and comforting until it burns our skin. It nourishes our crops until it dries them to death on the vine. It illuminates our world until it blinds us with glare. Much of human history has been spent finding ways to utilize the benefits of sunlight while limiting its harm. Humans were creating accessories to obscure sunlight from our eyes for thousands of years before we knew how to make glass lenses.

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