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What are Aviator Sunglasses?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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In 1937, the eyewear company Ray-Ban developed a style of sunglasses known as aviator sunglasses, or “aviators” for short. They are characterized by their thin wire frames, often black or gold in color, and large dark lenses that are approximately three times larger than the average human eye socket. Some versions actually have reflective lenses instead of simply having dark lenses.

Another traditional feature of aviator sunglasses is their bulging lenses. While traditional glasses and sunglasses are fitted with flat lenses, aviators have lenses that bulge outward slightly. This design allows for maximum coverage of the eye area.

The original aviators were designed to mimic the flying goggles that Ray-Ban sold to the Navy and the Army. Although the goggles were effective, serving the purpose of blocking pilots’ eyes from glare and harsh sunlight, they left an undesirable tan on their faces. Their faces would become tanned in the sun as they flew, but the large area around their eyes which were protected by the goggles remained fairer than the rest of their skin. The aviator sunglasses were developed to allow in some sunshine, thus allowing the skin around the eyes to darken so as to match the rest of the face, but to conceal the silly-looking tan in the meantime.

By 1941, the goggles that the aviator sunglasses were designed after were no longer in use. However, these sunglasses had become very popular, especially with Naval aviators. They are still worn by aviators today. Furthermore, they have become popular with law enforcement officials. Many American police officers can be spotted outfitted with these sunglasses. In fact, it seems to have become a stereotype that American policemen and policewomen wear them. On the comedy television show Reno 911, which pokes fun at cops through stereotyping, many of the main characters wear aviators.

After becoming popular within the Army and Navy, aviator sunglasses became very popular within the civilian community. In fact, they are still worn to affect modern fashion statements. Since their development, they have been worn by many celebrities and notables. Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Freddy Mercury, Axl Rose, Kanye West, and Jim Morrison are examples of popular musicians who have been spotted wearing this style of sunglasses, or who have even included them in part of their standard wardrobe.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By anon998540 — On Jun 30, 2017

By the way, what can you say about Alexander Gradsky and Oleg V. Dolgov? Do they wear aviators or something else?

By fify — On Sep 15, 2012

@badaripatil-- Hey, I have designer aviator sunglasses with prescription. You can definitely get the prescription made on the sunglasses but I must tell you that it's very expensive. I paid much more than I expected for it.

It's affordable to get regular aviators without prescription. But as soon as you ask for numbers, the price practically doubles.

By serenesurface — On Sep 14, 2012

1937! Wow! I didn't know that aviators came out so long ago! I seriously thought that this was a fairly new style.

My dad is retired from the Air Force and he also used to wear aviators. I agree with the article that this has sort of become part of the uniform for military personnel and law enforcement. But I have to say, aviators look quite good when matched with a uniform.

By literally45 — On Sep 13, 2012

Aviator style sunglasses were so popular in the 90s. I was a child then and I remember the movie Top Gun had just come out. Tom Cruise was wearing aviators in the movie. It was so hot!

Soon after, everyone started wearing aviator sunglasses and surprisingly, the fashion still continues. These sunglasses have made another come back and now it's really popular among girls. In the nineties, it was mainly worn by men.

By badaripatil — On Mar 31, 2008

I want to buy sun glasses. I am short sighted with a prescription of R.E. -1.5 L.E. -1.25. Can I wear sunglasses with these numbers built in sunglasses? Do i get sunglasses with the same prescription as I would normal glasses? Is there any harm in wearing the prescription sunglasses?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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