Style and Substance: The History of Sunglasses

At out Burnaby optical store we’re always conscious that our customers seek two vastly different things from sunglasses. They want to protect their eyes. And they want to look good doing it. The history of sunglasses is long and eclectic. It stretches back into the ancient world. Although we know the Emperor Nero watched gladiatorial combats through emerald green gemstones, historians differ on their purpose. Was he protecting his eyes from the sun or enhancing his optical experience? Or was it all about style? It may well have been a combination of all three.

Style-and-Substance-The-History-of-Sunglasses

Chinese judges as early as the 12th century wore smoky quartz glasses to hide their facial expressions. Unlike the sunglasses you’ll find in our Burnaby optical store, these ancient Chinese lenses offered zero protection from UV rays. However they probably did add to the theatre of the court.

Modern sunglasses have their origins in the 18th century when Hames Ayscough began to experiment with the idea that tinted lenses could have possible corrective benefits for people with seeing impairments. Throughout the next century tinted glasses were commonly prescribed to patients who exhibited sensitivity to light. They were affected as style statements by certain urban cliques e.g. the Russian anarchists of the 1870s.

The real explosion of sunglasses happened in the US in the 20th century when a man named Forster Grants sold them to passersby on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. Throughout the following decades, movie stars and pop icons would play a core role in the popularity of countless makes of sunglasses, from aviators (first developed for pilots in the 1930s) to the classic Wayfarers of the 1950s and beyond. At our Burnaby optical store, you’ll find styles of shades from every era. Optimum protection or optimum style? Choose both.

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