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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The History of Sunglasses #CaraMarsi #RB4U

The History of Sunglasses

Sunglasses are cool. Think Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

 I love to wear sunglasses, not only because they’re cool, but because my eyes are sensitive to sunlight. Usually, blue eyes are more sensitive to light, but my brown eyes are, so this gives me an excuse to wear sunglasses whenever there’s even a hint of sunshine. Also, sunglasses hide a multitude of sins, like dark circles, bags, bloodshot eyes, droopy eyes.

I thought sunglasses were a modern invention and decided to do a little research. Turns out, sunglasses have been around since earliest times. The ancient Inuit people wore “glasses” made from walrus ivory. These had narrow slits to block the harmful rays of the sun. Here’s a pair below:

The Emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator games wearing glasses with polished emeralds for lenses. Sunglasses made of flat lenses of smoky quartz to protect from glare were used in China in the 12th century or maybe sooner. Judges in ancient Chinese courts wore shaded glasses to conceal their facial expressions while questioning witnesses. Clever people, those Chinese.

None of these ancient glasses were used as corrective lenses. In 1430, vision-correcting tinted glasses were introduced into China from Italy. Around 1752, James Ayscough began experimenting with blue- or green-tinted lenses, believing they could correct some forms of vision impairment. Harmful UV rays weren’t a concern.

Glasses tinted with yellow-amber and brown were prescribed for syphilis sufferers in the 19th and early 20th centuries because those with syphilis were sensitive to light. In the U.S, in the 20th century, the military was at the forefront of sunglass technology.

Movie stars helped spread the popularity of sunglasses in the early 20th century. Some said they wore the glasses to avoid recognition. Another explanation is that they had red eyes from the powerful arc lamps that were used when filming.

Sam Foster introduced inexpensive, mass-produced sunglasses in 1929. He sold them under the name Foster Grant from a Woolworth’s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.  By the 1930’s sunglasses were all the rage.

In the 1930’s the Army Corp of Engineers commissioned Bausch and Lomb to produce lenses that would protect pilots from high-altitude glare. In 1936, Edward Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation, patented polarized lenses. Ray-Ban produced aviator-style glasses using polarized lenses.

In the 1960’s a clever advertising campaign by Foster Grant made sunglasses chic. We’ve also come to realize that sunglasses do more than protect from glare and make a person seem a little mysterious and alluring. The best sunglasses are those that protect against the sun’s harmful rays.

Now you have it—the history of sunglasses.

When I sold my first book, I treated myself to a pair of high-quality Revo brand glasses. Since then, I’ve bought two more pairs of designer glasses from the discount sites Gilt Group and Rue La La. I’ve tried to score a pair of Chanel from those sites, but that’s proved elusive. The Chanel glasses are sold out within minutes of going on sale. Because I now need “corrective” lenses, I have a pair of bifocal sunglasses that I wear most of the time. Since my designer glasses aren’t prescription, I wear them when I’m wearing contacts; otherwise, I might look nice, but I won’t be able to see a darn thing.

What about you? Do you love sunglasses? Do you wear them?

Sources: Wikipedia,,


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R. Ann Siracusa said...

Cara, Thanks for the informative blog. I love information like this, and I also like wearing sunglasses. There are so many things we think were invented recently that turn out to be ancient ideas. Those old guys were pretty smart after all.

Gemma Juliana said...

Awesome blog post, Cara. I especially want a pair of the smoky quartz sunglasses the ancient Chinese wore! I love sunglasses. With my light eyes and fair coloring, I've needed to wear them all my life. Yes, they are glamorous and make a person mysterious.

Rose Anderson said...

Fantastic post, Cara. I love historic tidbits. Thanks for sharing. Best luck! :)

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, R. Ann, Gemma and Rose. I love learning the history of every day things myself.

Judy Baker said...

Interesting post on glasses, things I didn't know.

Tina Donahue said...

Cool post, Cara - love the wooden ones. :)

Melissa Keir said...

I was one of those kids who wore my sunglasses at night. I loved my sunglasses until I got driving glasses. I need them and haven't been able to find a pair of glasses to love since then! I hate switching between the driving glasses and sunglasses. I look silly with two pair of glasses on my head.

Loved your post! Thanks for sharing!

Paris said...

Great post, Cara! I had no idea that sunglasses had been around that long. I've joined the prescription sunglasses crowd recently too, so I'm glad I have more of a choice than wooden or carved ivory glasses with slits (although, I do think those were ingenious). Thanks for the informative blog!

jean hart stewart said...

Interesting stuff...I've got long distance glasses that tint when its needed, and that's almost all the time here in sunny Cal. Would love to wear more glamorous ones but then I couldn't see!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Judy, Melissa, Tina, Paris and Jean. And a special thanks to Melissa for posting this for me when Chrome refused to. My regular bifocals are Transitions lenses which I love. But the Transitions don't work in a car. Something about the glass used in the windshields. So I have to wear my bifocal sunglasses when I drive then switch to my Transitions when I get out.

Carly Carson said...

I'm glad sunglasses are cool. I love wearing them outdoors because the sun does bother me. That history was great as well. I had no idea. Thanks!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks for commenting, Carly!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks for commenting, Carly!

Janice Seagraves said...

Interesting post. I didn't know glasses went back that far.

Don't forget Ben Franklin famously wore glasses in 1776 and earlier.

I used to have a prescription pair of sunglasses, but lost them. I wear clip on shades on my bi-focals, but they make them heavy. I'll have to get a new pair this year.


Dani Jace said...

I'm ultra light sensitive and now that I need script sunglasses they're never dark enough. On the beach I wear a visor too. Interesting post!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Janice and Dani. And Janice, I think Ben Franklin developed the bifocal lens. Dani, my new bifocal sunglasses are very dark, but much as I love my Transitions lenses, they're not dark enough.

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