Whether you're taking a trip to the beach, going hiking, or just spending a sunny day in the city, a reliable pair of shades is a must. Even just driving to work can be a dangerous situation if you've misplaced your sunnies! And they're a stylish necessity for Sunday brunch with the gals. Whatever style and shape are your go-to, having your favorite sunglasses on hand can make or break your day. But sunglasses weren't always a must-have. At one time, they were a luxury only the wealthy could afford! Let's take it all the way back to prehistoric times and dive into the history of your most practical wardrobe staple - and why it might be a good thing your glasses read "Made in China."
B.S. - Before Sunglasses
Eyewear used to block sun glare dates back to prehistoric times, when Inuit hunters would carve slits in pieces of walrus tusks to block the glare of sunlight on the Arctic tundra. It's rumored that in the 500's AD, Emperor Nero watched gladiatorial games through polished emeralds to help his eyesight.
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The History of Sunglasses
The first real lenses created to block light from reaching the eyes were developed by the Chinese in or before the 12th century. Lenses made of smoky quartz were used by judges to conceal their facial expressions while they interrogated wrongdoers, and also decreased glare. I'm sure they looked pretty intimidating - the original "poker face."
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Around the same time, an artisan in Italy was developing the first spectacles, made from two magnifying lenses joined by a bridge. They were meant to be balanced on the nose - the side arms that seem obvious to us today were not developed until around 1728 by Englishman Edward Scarlett. A few years later, London eye doctor James Ayscough began prescribing tinted lenses in various colors for specific vision issues. He prescribed blue and green lenses for the elderly or poor of sight, and darker brown lenses for syphilitic patients who were sensitive to bright sunlight.
True sun-blocking lenses didn't arrive in mass until the 1920s when Sam Foster of Foster Grant began selling sun-protective lenses on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. They soon became popular not only as beachwear but also on the bright streets of Hollywood. Movie stars used shades both to block the California sunshine and to hide from the increasingly invasive paparazzi. Sunnies quickly became not only functional but also stylish.
The first polarized lenses were developed by Edwin Land using his Polaroid filter in 1936, and in World War II, Ray-Ban developed their signature polarized "aviator" sunglasses for fighter pilots, a style that has been popular ever since. Over the decades, the fashionable and the famous have popularized many frame styles: Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn had their signature cat eyes, Jacquie O. favored round, oversized frames, and Tom Cruise brought aviators back into the spotlight in the '80s with Top Gun.
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Whatever your frame of choice, sunglasses are essential for protecting your eyesight, in addition to being a stylistic signature. Sunglass technology has come a long way since it's an invention by the Chinese in the 12th century, and China remains at the forefront of lens-crafting and ray-blocking technology. Often, we associate goods manufactured in China with sub-par work, transplanted overseas to keep labor costs as low as possible. But this isn't true of fine teas, pottery, or other goods that originated in China. So why do we think poorly of Chinese-made shades? When it comes to sunglasses, "Made in China" means made at home.
Check out our selection of expertly-crafted Chinese sunglasses, in frames to suit every style!