Style / April 2017

How Ray-Ban Invented Sunglasses And Framed 20th Century Style

The story of Ray-Ban’s most iconic styles starts in the military, but the signature designs quickly transcended their original purpose.

Like so many men’s style staples — the blazer, trench coat, bomber jacket, desert boots, chinos, even the suit itself — sunglasses in general, and Ray-Bans in particular, are rooted in the military.

Ray-Ban’s parent company, Bausch & Lomb was founded in New York in 1863 by John Jacob Bausch, a German immigrant, and his American backer Henry Lomb. Specialising in the import and manufacture of eyeglasses, microscopes, binoculars and telescopes, and soon expanding into photographic lenses, by the time the First World War arrived, Bausch & Lomb was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the skyrocketing demand for military optical instruments — weapons sights, periscopes and such.

Having become a trusted supplier to the US armed forces during the Great War, it was Bausch & Lomb that the American military called upon in the 1930s when pilots asked for protective eyewear to shield their vision from the damaging sunlight encountered during high-altitude sorties. The company developed dark-green, plastic-framed glasses — teardrop-shaped, to protect the areas of a pilot’s face not covered by his helmet and mask from sunburn — which they dubbed the ‘Anti-Glare’. The following year, 1937, wire-framed iterations of these ‘Aviator-style’ glasses were launched, ‘Anti-Glare’ replaced by the catchier brand-name ‘Ray-Ban’ when the product was made available to the general public. A legend was born.

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.