History & Evolution Of Sunglasses: From Court Trial Accessories To Nudes Now

Divija Jain
·3-min read

Sunglasses weren’t always used as an accessory, they have evolved from prehistoric times when they were used just for dealing with snow blindness. The predecessor for both accessory glasses and visual impairment glasses is the same.

Throughout their evolution they have had diverse uses, from being used in court trials by witnesses to hide their expressions, to aviators for the military, and nude sunglasses for dark skin.

Timeline and evolution:

The first sunglasses- Prehistoric times

With no proper settlement systems, people in the cold regions had trouble seeing in the snow. These sunglasses were made in the Arctic regions, to help Inuits with snow blindness. Inuits are a cultural group of indigenous people who inhabited Canada, Greenland and Alaska.

These prehistoric glasses were not made for fashion purposes but the current fashion items have evolved from here. There are rumours about Roman Emperor Nero being the first one to wear sunglasses to watch gladiator matches but there is no concrete proof of it.

Smoky Quartz lenses of China- 12th Century

For many years there was no progress, but in the 12th century in China, slight progress was made in the form of quartz lenses. They did not serve as protectors from UV rays or blinding lights. Many ancient documents mention the use of crystal glasses being used by witnesses in court.

Coloured tinted glasses- 17-18th Century

But more than glasses for visual impairment, they were used for protection from UV rays, although James Ascough didn’t intend to. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe too contributed to the tinted glasses fashion that went on for quite a few years. These tinted glasses were predecessors to glasses for visual impairment and the fashion accessory we have now.

Read More: Watch: The Interesting History Of Hats And Their Journey Through Time

Tinted glasses for people with Syphilis- 19th Century

By this time sunglasses had started to offer greater protection from light. Syphilis was an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) and one of its symptoms was sensitivity to light, due to which sunglasses came in handy. These glasses were often worn with metal noses, as Syphilis can destroy the nose by changing the bony structure and causing shrinkage in tissues.

Sunglasses as a fashion accessory- post 19th Century

Sam Foster started a trend for this fashion accessory starting around 1929. A few years later, the trend for military aviators followed. Interestingly, glasses were associated with sin by some people and were also used by shady vampires in movies. Movie stars started using them to hide their identity in public.

New trends of nude sunglasses- 20th and 21st Century

By 1938, Life magazine had already featured the “new fad” of sunglasses. Marilyn Monroe by the late 20th century popularized cat-eye shaped glasses.

In an interview with Bustle in October 2020, Marsha Douglas-Syndor says, “I was inspired by the lack of inclusion within the eyewear industry. I needed to change it.” Her main aim was to create sunglasses in nude shades for people with all shades of skin.

Sunglasses are more than just a mere accessory, they have served a variety of purposes over the years. The nude sunglasses in the market these days, signify an inclusive society, which has become more like a small part in a big movement.

Whereas, if one sees the first sunglasses ever made one could never imagine they’d progress to form an accessory today.

Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: Bustle, Ancient origins, Glasses history

Find blogger at: @divijajainn

This post is tagged under: sunglasses, shades, history, evolution, history of sunglasses, goggles, snow blindness, evolution of sunglasses, oldest sunglasses, origin of sunglasses, Inuits, nudes, ray ban, military aviators, american aviators, ray ban originated, fashion, fashionable shades, goggles fashion, tinted glasses, syphilis, STD, sexually transmitted diseases, glasses for people with STD’s, Bausch and Lomb, Marilyn Monroe cat eye glasses, movie stars, sam foster, James Ascough

Other Recommendations: