The first aviator sunglasses were made by Ray-Ban for fighter pilots in World War II. The pilots needed glasses that would eliminate sunlight and glare while also providing the best possible vision amid smoke and flying debris. Thus, Ray-Ban designed the iconic tear-drop frames to mimic the shape of pilot goggles and cover a maximum amount of real estate around each eye.
General Douglas MacArthur put aviators on the map in 1944 when he landed on the beach in the Philippines wearing a pair of the tear-drop shades. MacArthur's photo was featured in nearly every major publication at the time, giving aviator sunglasses for men an unprecedented amount of free press.
Aviators made a resurgence in popularity when Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer sported them in the 1986 action flick Top Gun. In fact, Tom and Val made the iconic frames so well-known that sales of Ray-Ban's aviator-style sunglasses rose 40% in the seven months following the film's release. Since then, aviator sunglasses have been a mainstay in celebrity style and fashion.
Though they've always retained their timeless appeal, aviators have undergone numerous modifications over their 80-year history. While the original aviators were made using metal frames, plastic aviator frames –- which were often much thicker than the thin wire frames of previous decades –- began making an appearance in the 1970s.
The celebrity rebirth of the 1980s brought about further innovations in the classic aviator-style sunglasses. The double- and single-bridge models that were popular in previous decades gave way to one-piece lens shields, as seen on Michael Jackson. A wider selection of lens colors and finishes also began to appear. And the mirrored lenses made famous in Top Gun surged in popularity, due to the sense of mystery created by completely blocking the eyes from view.
Other aviator trends over the years have included rimless and semi-rimless profiles as well as a move away from the classic metallic colors to brighter, bolder hues. Recently, these flashy colors and patterns have even made their way to the lenses of aviator sunglasses for men.
The 1970s brought color and femininity to aviators. Until then, aviators had primarily been considered a men's style. The original aviator sunglasses for women still included the classic tear-drop shape but incorporated more feminine elements, such as rhinestone details and softer lens colors like gradient browns and pinks. Though initially worn by women whose style was casual cool, once they started showing up on runways and red carpets, aviator sunglasses took on a chic, high-fashion appeal as well.
Though the aviator sunglass design was invented by Ray-Ban, many other high-end sunglass companies have produced their own versions of Aviator sunglasses, including Maui Jim, Serengeti, Persol, and Polo. Additionally, many top clothing designers, like Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Burberry, have also developed their own line of aviator-style sunglasses.
Aviators have been a fashion staple for many generations now. So if you're considering purchasing your own pair, you can feel confident that you shades will stay in style for decades to come.