The History of Sunglasses

Sunglasses History

Photo Credit: Istockphoto


The Who, What, Why, and When of What We Wear To Protect Our Eyes
Who Invented Sunglasses?

Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea for sunglasses? Did they know about UV radiation, or were they simply looking for a way to keep the blaring sun from impairing their vision?

Maybe someone discovered squinting can cause wrinkles, and thus sought a means to reduce the odds one might squint when exposed to bright light. What do you think?

Here is the REAL reason sunglasses came about. At least, our best guess, as no one is entirely certain who deserves the credit for devising the first "official" sunglasses.

Many believe the early Romans, specifically emperor Nero, had a predilection for wearing emeralds while watching gladiator fights in the coliseums of Rome. This is not as odd as you may think. In fact, many gemstones including smoky quartz were crafted into flat and smooth panes one could use to protect the eyes from the glare of the sun in the days of ancient Rome.

Some literature suggests that during the early 12th century, the Chinese explored the use of flat paneled gemstones, to help protect the eyes from the glare and heat of the sun. Clearly people living in earlier times recognized how difficult a time one has "seeing" when the sun rises high into the sky.

Still others believe sun "mirrors" or glasses helped conceal or hid the facial expressions of people questioned in the courtroom, so judges would not find for or against a plaintiff on bias resulting from one's expression.

Tinted lenses, the type of lens most often used to create contemporary sunglasses, came about during the early 1900s. James Ayscough is one of the earlier researchers interested in exploring the use of tinted lenses in spectacles worn for vision correction.

Interestingly, the tints, created in shades of blue, green or violet, were not for protection from the sun, but rather used to help correct very specific vision problems. Some holistic health practitioners still practice this use of tinted lenses today. Some believe colored lenses may correct emotional or other visual problems.

Contemporary Sunglasses
Once tinted sunglasses became popular, more and more people wore them as fashion statement, for visual problems, and more commonly, to help protect the eyes from the glare of the bright sun.

It was not until Edwin H. Land polarized lenses in the mid 1900s that sunglasses took on a new meaning. Following this discovery, newer and better sunglasses became available offering new features, including UV protection.

Today sunglasses for many represent a fashion statement as much as protective wear. For most they are a must have item when out and about on a sunny day. Here is a list of popular "jargon" used when referring to sunglasses. Find out which you like best...

  • Spectacles - usually used to describe corrective lenses, but may represent sunglasses also.
  • Specs - short for sunglasses, commonly used by people in the United States.
  • Shades - this may refer to at attachment one can use to place on top of prescription lenses to offer sun protection.
  • Spekkies - the Australian's tend to refer to their sunglasses using this interesting term.
  • Smoked specs - a term commonly used by blind individuals that use colored spectacles to hid and shade their eyes from the public.

No matter what "word" you use to describe them; sunglasses are a must-have item for anyone that ventures out into the bright light of modern society.

Related Articles


Learn more about the history of sunglasses on our forums!