As one of the most iconic styles of sunglasses, aviators have become a mark of distinction for many men around the world. In this article, we’ll look at the history of aviator sunglasses, whom they look best on and our recommended picks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
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||$|
|Premium Full Mirrored Aviator||Duduma||oval, square,heart-shaped||$|
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.
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
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?
In case you wonder what happened in 1936, please watch the video.