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The History of Aviator Sunglasses
Bausch & Lomb is well known today for their eye health products such as contact lenses, and some even consider them to be the brains behind aviator style sunglasses. Like many of Bausch & Lomb products, aviators started as a medical necessity for pilots flying combat planes during the First World War, but the actual aviator shape as we know it today was not developed until 1936.
At the time, the military had many contractors and American Optical developed sunglasses for pilots in August 1935. Through more testing ergonomic discomforts were removed and in 1941 the more popular teardrop or aviator shape AN 6531. Interestingly the company Fischer Spring produced most of the aviators for the military but just like so often in fashion history, it didn’t matter who was first, but who marketed them the best.
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As pilots landed after seeing conflict, many of them complained about strain from the effects of the sun at high altitudes. The intense strain on their eyes caused them to have to land early and often remain grounded until they were able to recover from eye strain and exhaustion. Since there was just a small contingent of men able to fly, the Army Air Corp commissioned their optics manufacturer, Bausch & Lomb, to develop a pair of glasses the pilots could wear that would help to block the intensity of the sun. As Bausch & Lomb worked to create the perfect pair of sunglasses, they came back with a tear drop style which they determined was the only attractive way to completely cover the entire eye and protect it from the sun. As these glasses were issued, they quickly became known as “Aviators” and soon, every pilot was wearing them. Soon outdoor sportsmen began to purchase these sunglasses as a luxury item to take while hunting and fishing. They found that due to the shape of the sunglasses it didn’t seem to matter what direction they were looking in — their eyes remained shaded.
General MacArthur surveys the beachhead on Leyte Island, soon after American forces swept ashore from a gigantic liberation armada into the central Philippines, at the historic moment when the General made good his promise “I shall return”. 1944. (Coast Guard)
By World War II the aviators became iconic. They quickly became known as the face of aviation and not only did military pilots wear them, but so did commercial and private pilots. As the U.S. retook the Philippines, pictures were taken of General Douglas MacArthur wearing his issued aviators as he smoked his corn cob pipe. The image went viral. Hollywood picked up on it and leading men began to wear them in motion pictures about the war. When the pilots came home in 1945, they brought their issued aviator sunglasses with them. Soon, police officers began to adopt the sunglasses as an official item around North America. Not only did the aviators allow them to keep their eyes protected from the sun, but it also prevented those they were arresting from being able to see their eyes and helped to allow their eyes to adjust from the natural outdoor light to darker rooms when they entered buildings. This prevented shock to their eyes which caused momentary blindness and put the police at a disadvantage when storming a building. Again, Hollywood picked up on this and television shows and films about police officers began using the aviators.
Tom Cruise wearing aviators in Top Gun
Liking the style, many of Hollywood’s leading men and women began to wear aviators off the set and at award shows or just out on the town. Then, in 1986, the aviator style became a hardened part of Americana with the blockbuster release of Top Gun with Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in the lead, aviator-wearing roles. Since then, the style has become synonymous with American sunglass culture. Although there have been some peaks and valleys in the trend, the glasses are just as popular today as they ever have been.
Today, the aviators that were trademarked as “Ray-Bans” by Bausch & Lomb are now owned by the Italian conglomerate Luxottica. Although they remain the most popular aviator sunglasses sold today, there are many other brands that have adopted the same style. They come in nearly every imaginable combination of shape, size and color.
Lieutenant “Mike” Hunter, Army pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.
Hallmarks of the Aviator Design
Known for their dark and reflective lenses, today there are many lenses used for this particular style. All aviators, however, will have the following characteristics:
- A lens area that is two to three times larger than the eye socket.
- Thin metal frames with a double or triple bridge.
- Cable or bayonet earpiece style temples that hook behind the ears.
- Large convex lenses that aren’t flat and cover the entire range the human eye
- Teardrop shape that curves along the cheekbone on the inside of the nose
- Adjustable nose pads
Oliver Peoples Benedict Aviators
How to Wear Aviator Sunglasses
Aviators don’t necessarily look good on everyone. Thankfully, they will work on most face shapes and are ideal for those with oval, square and heart-shaped faces. Considering that there are only six face shapes, that’s not bad. To learn more about how to pick sunglasses for your face shape and skin tone, click here.
To wear a pair of aviator sunglasses doesn’t take much effort. The trick with them is to look like you’re not trying too hard, which can be easily achieved by choosing a classic looking frame and then pairing them with clothes that suit your style. They go just as well with a white t-shirt and jeans as they do with a suit, though we would argue that since they originated with active professions, they are best paired with more casual attire. So, pair a more elegant frame such as round acetate with three-piece business suits and wear your aviators with just about everything else.
In terms of who can wear them, they are versatile, to say the least! Younger men or distinguished older men alike can wear them. Tom Cruise’s cocky turn in Top Gun has made aviators attractive to those seeking a bad boy reputation — so long as you don’t actively play into that stereotype, you should be fine. Here are some tips so you don’t come across like the goofball wearing sunglasses to the bar.
Aviators work well with casual or even business casual attire
- Take your sunglasses off when speaking to someone. Most aviators are reflective, so removing them is a good first step to being a gentleman and not a jerk. If you will be dining outdoors or spending more time outside with them, take the glasses off when you first meet and then put them back on after you have greeted them.
- Avoid wearing them at night or indoors; it will make you look like you’re trying too hard.
- Choose classic finishes. A gold frame with dark or greenish lenses is the original combination, but they also come in cool gunmetal tones if that suits you better.
- Don’t pile on the accessories and jewelry when you wear aviators. The gold frames are already bold, so gold necklaces, bracelets and chunky rings will look flashy.
- Aviators look best with traditional or reflective lenses. Over the years, it has become trendy to wear aviators with colourful lenses in green, blue or pink. However, for the true sartorialist, we suggest more subtle and refined classic options.
- Don’t feel like you have to wear the original shape. If the traditional aviators feel too large for your face, there are many smaller profile frames out there to choose from.
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What Clothing to Wear Aviators With
Here are a few tips for what to wear and not to wear aviators with:
- Aviators work very well with casual wear. Consider a pair of chinos and a button-down oxford.
- They also work well with most business attire that isn’t too flashy or formal. In other words, a blazer or odd combination with a casual flair.
- Avoid flashy suits. Aviators can come across as garish with paired with a bold pinstriped suit or a jacket with peak lapels. Since aviators are quite bold, consider more subtle attire to pair them with.
- They don’t work well for formal affairs. This means anything black or white tie, as well as weddings and funerals. For a funeral or outdoor wedding, consider a different pair of sunglasses that isn’t quite so bold.
|SUNGLASS MODEL||BRAND||GOOD FOR FACE SHAPE||PRICE|
|Aviator RB3025||Ray Ban||oval, square,heart-shaped||$$|
|Unisex Aviator Polarized Sunglasses||Randolph Engineering||oval, square,heart-shaped||$$|
|Gradient DG2099-10818G-61 Gold Aviator||Dolce & Gabbana||oval, square,heart-shaped||$$$|
|Benedict||Oliver Peoples||oval, square,heart-shaped||$$|
|Porsche 8478C 66||Porsche||oval, square,heart-shaped||$$$|
|Vintage Classic Fashion Aviator||MLC Eyewear||oval, square,heart-shaped||$|
|Premium Full Mirrored Aviator||Duduma||oval, square,heart-shaped||$|
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Classic RayBan Aviator Sunglasses
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the original Ray-Ban aviators which started the style and trend. These are the quintessential aviators and they come in a range of styles and colors with multiple options for lenses.
The Randolph Engineering HGU-4/P Aviator Sunglasses
Randolph Engineering Aviators
Although Ray-Ban started the relationship between the military and aviator sunglasses, Randolph Engineering has been providing the U.S. Military with aviator sunglasses since 1978. In 1982 they started producing the style HGU-4/P seen here. This is the same pair that’s worn by the U.S. Army and Navy as well as many allied Air Forces from around the world.
Dolce & Gabbana Aviators
If you do want a more fashionable and trendy pair of aviators in gold, we suggest this pair from Dolce & Gabbana.
Inexpensive Aviators from Etsy
If you’re one of those guys who loses your sunglasses, constantly breaks them or just doesn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of aviators, consider this pair of classic aviators from Etsy. They cost just $25 and look just as nice as any of the other pairs listed above.
Oliver Peoples Benedict Aviators from the front
Oliver Peoples Benedict Aviators
Slightly more expensive, Oliver Peoples is a brand known for the quality of their craftsmanship, as well as the quality of the lenses. Our favorite pair, the Benedict aviators, are understated and about as elegant as this style can get.
Aviators are a must-have for any sunglass enthusiast. They work well on most face shapes and they are more versatile than most styles. Do you enjoy aviator sunglasses? Which ones do you wear?
How to Wear Aviator Sunglasses
13 November, 2018HOW TO WEAR IT
Now that the summer sun is finally shining, why not style up your look with a pair of aviator sunglasses? Flip through this handy guide before you find your frames, and pair those classic shades with the perfect outfit combination. After all they are some of the best sunglasses for men on the market!Read more Men’s Style Guide features and check out our store.
Aviators have remained a highly popular brand since their invention in the 1930s. A cool classic, they add a masculine touch to your look. However, this fashion staple is versatile enough to accompany all kinds of outfit combinations. As they’re a good all-rounder, aviator sunglasses will work well with smart or casual outfits. Before you head over to the sunglasses rack though, take some time to consider the best aviators for men. You’ll need to choose wisely as there are loads of styles, and colours available.
What Does Aviator Mean?
The name “Aviator” is perhaps as well known (and instantly iconic) as the style itself, and hints at wartime origins. Bausch and Lomb invented these particular sunglasses in 1932. Aviators were also called “pilot glasses”, and were primarily designed for pilots to wear to keep the sun from their eyes while flying. These sunglasses were an improvement over the traditional wraparound goggles with thinner frames; they were lighter to wear for extended periods of time, but also more elegantly designed. The thin metal frame design was patented as “Ray-Ban Aviators” and the name stuck.
Although initially only a military item of clothing, aviators became entrenched in popular culture after American General Douglas MacArthur was photographed wearing these sunglasses during World War Two. He became so associated with the glasses that Bausch and Lomb dedicated a line to MacArthur in the late 1980’s. Like lots of military inspired clothing from the post-war era, big and small Aviators quickly became part of mainstream fashion. They consisted of dark, often reflective lenses, which provided wide cover for the eyes to prevent light coming in from any angle. Aviators gradually blended into civilian fashion and by the 1970’s, Aviator sunglasses had captured the attention of the masses. Elvis Presley famously wore Aviators, rimmed with gold and a selection of pink and red lenses. Dipping in popularity during the 1980s, they were saved from the scrapheap by Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun”.
How to Wear Aviators?
To make sure you get mileage out of your pair of Aviators, invest in a high-quality brand. The price might be a little higher, but it’ll ensure that they last a long time, and don’t get bent out of shape when you inevitably sit on them on the train.
Aviator Lens Colour
Aviators come in loads of different tinted lenses, so it’s important to study the merits of each colour to suit your character and outfit, but don’t forget they must still be practical. It’s good to remember that how the lens is tinted will change the way you see the world.
Black Aviator Sunglasses
Black is the most common shade, and it’s good for general purpose sunglasses. It reduces light and glare to keep you from squinting and also has the bonus effect of helping you perceive all colours correctly. While this is always handy on those sunny summer afternoons, remember that dark lenses provide the darkest tint with the largest visible light reduction.
Black is also one of those colours that suit a wide variety of outfits. Try pairing them with a classic combination of a plain white t-shirt and dark jeans for some easy style points. Black lenses also look good with an ultra-smart business suit, and will add to a whole new edge to your professional (and super serious) outfit.
Blue Aviator Sunglasses
If you want to try something a little different, how about heading for some cool blue lenses? Blue aviators (or any colour in actual fact) will set you apart from the crowd, and will compliment a more casual outfit well. Perhaps try pairing them with bright coloured contrasting clothes. But remember, a clean white shirt and jeans will go with your blue Aviators to create a slick, crisp, casual look. Perhaps you’re spending your sunny day at the office? If so, inject some style into your work wear by selecting a pair of blue aviators to go with your smart suit. Light or dark blue suits work well with blue lenses. They’ll also go nicely alongside a grey suit to create a bit of contrast. As well as being very stylish, a blue tinted lens will help reduce glare and make the contours of objects more defined, making them a perfect colour to wear when driving.
Gold Aviator Sunglasses
If you fancy going all the way, how about pushing the boat out with a pair of gold or yellow tinted Aviators? Although it may seem a little “out there”, if paired with the right outfit, they’ll look great. As well as looking cool, these colours also have a more practical side. Yellow is an extremely useful tint especially as it increases visibility on an overcast day. If you spend your time glued to your phone, a yellow tint will help filter out the blue light and could prevent you from suffering from eye strain. Gold lenses are quite eye-catching, therefore, pair them with a simple outfit and avoid lots of patterns or prints. If you’re wearing other accessories, such as a watch, be sure to pick gold rather than silver to tie in with the rest of your outfit. If lenses like that just don’t gel with your personal style, how about trying an ordinary black tinted pair with gold frames and arms.
To add an edge of mystique to your summer outfit, try wearing a pair of mirrored aviators. The fully reflective silver lenses will keep all the errant sun out of your eyes, providing full protection from the light. Mirrored lenses are also a very classic accessory, often sported by old movie stars like Robert Redford, so try pairing them with striking and timeless clothes, like a black leather jacket and jeans. They are also smart and classy, and would be a great accompaniment to a dark grey suit, especially if you’re heading for a high-powered business meeting.
Gold Frame Aviator Sunglasses
A gold frame will add a touch of movie star swagger to an otherwise ordinary outfit, and their subtlety will make sure that you don’t come across as too over the top. As the frames and arms of Aviators are very thin, the gold will only take up a small amount, and so don’t worry, they won’t look too flashy. Gold frames will add an element of polish to otherwise black lens aviators and can be worn with a variety of outfits. Gold frame aviators work with a relaxed look such as a blazer and black skinny jeans. They’ll work wonders with an ordinary suit, elevating it above simple work wear, and making you look both sophisticated and confident. After all, who doesn’t love a man in a pair of shining sunglasses?
Plastic Frame Aviator Sunglasses
If you want to add a twist to the classic aviator sunglasses, then why not try a plastic frame. Aviator sunglasses usually have a thin metal frame, but, a plastic frame may add greater durability. What’s more, they are a great way of combining the aviator and wayfarer styles. Plastic frame aviator sunglasses would look great with skinny jeans and a statement t-shirt or a plain shirt.
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