When did people start wearing sunglasses?

Fashionable as well as functional - the history of tinted eyewear stretches back centuries

Photo of Ginger Rogers

Experiments with tinted eyewear stretch back for centuries, including lenses made of smoky quartz in 12th-century China and Georgian spectacles designed to correct vision impairment. Silent film stars are also said to have used them to shield their eyes from the harsh, powerful studio lighting.


But the man credited with taking sunglasses from specialist equipment to affordable fashion accessory is founder of the Foster Grant eyewear company, Sam Foster. He began selling his mass-produced shades by the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1929, where they caught on thanks to the practical benefits and the allure of ‘Hollywood glamour’.

Drawing on new technologies pioneered for US pilots, Ray-Ban made their distinctive ‘aviator’ sunglasses eight years later.


By 1938, sunglasses were fashionable enough to be described as a “new fad for wear on city streets” by Life magazine.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine