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A Journey Into the History of Sunglasses

From ancient civilizations to modern fashion runways, sunglasses have transcended mere utility to become iconic symbols of style and functionality. Today, they play a vital role in protecting our eyes from harmful UV rays while also serving as fashion statements and cultural symbols. In this article, we'll embark on a fascinating journey through the annals of history to explore the evolution of sunglasses, from their humble beginnings to their status as a fashion staple. Join us as we delve into the fascinating history and enduring allure of these timeless accessories.


Evolution of sunglasses takes us back to ancient times where its use was not only a fashion choice, but a means to help the people survive.



ANCIENT ARCTIC ORIGINS


Sunglasses have ancient roots, with early forms of eye protection dating back thousands of years. The Inuit people of the Arctic, also known as Eskimos, developed ingenious snow goggles to protect their eyes from the intense glare of sunlight reflecting off snow and ice. These snow goggles, known as "iggaak" in Inuktitut, were crafted from readily available materials like bone, wood, and leather. The goggles featured narrow slits carved into the material, allowing the wearer to see while shielding their eyes from harmful UV rays. This design not only protected against snow blindness but also improved visibility in the bright Arctic landscape.



Inuit sunglasses history of sunglasses
Inuit Sunglasses. Photo: Knud Rasmussen

Snow goggles were not merely functional tools for the Inuit; they held significant cultural and spiritual importance. They were often intricately decorated with symbolic carvings and designs, reflecting the wearer's connection to the natural world and their ancestral traditions. The craftsmanship involved in creating snow goggles was passed down through generations, with each pair embodying a unique blend of practicality and artistic expression.


Crafting snow goggles required a high level of skill and precision. Inuit artisans carefully selected materials such as caribou antler or walrus ivory, which were lightweight yet durable enough to withstand the harsh Arctic conditions. The goggles were meticulously carved and shaped to fit the contours of the wearer's face, ensuring a snug and comfortable fit. Some designs featured intricate carvings and inlays, showcasing the artisan's creativity and attention to detail.


The design of Inuit snow goggles evolved over time as materials and techniques improved. Early goggles were often simple and utilitarian, designed primarily for function. However, as trade with European settlers increased, the Inuit gained access to new materials such as glass and metal, which were sometimes incorporated into their designs. Despite these changes, the basic concept of narrow slits remained consistent, demonstrating the timeless effectiveness of the Inuit's ingenuity.



HISTORY OF SUNGLASSES IN ANCIENT CHINA


Records suggest that various forms of eyewear, including tinted lenses made from smoky quartz or other minerals, were used by scholars, travelers, and nobility to shield their eyes from harsh sunlight while engaging in outdoor activities or traveling long distances.


These early sunglasses were often simple in design, consisting of tinted lenses mounted in frames made from materials such as bamboo or metal. While primarily functional, they also carried cultural significance, representing a desire for comfort, practicality, and status in ancient Chinese society. The widespread use of sunglasses-like eyewear in ancient China underscores the importance of eye protection and visual comfort in daily life, reflecting a deep understanding of the relationship between human health and the natural environment.


However, in ancient China, judges held significant authority and were responsible for administering justice and maintaining order in society. These judges often presided over court proceedings outdoors, where they were exposed to the glaring sunlight. To address this issue and maintain a dignified appearance, ancient Chinese judges developed innovative eyewear solutions that combined functionality with symbolism. 


history of sunglasses
Ancient Chinese Judges With Sunglasses

Sunglasses-like eyewear worn by ancient Chinese judges served multiple purposes. These eyewear pieces, often made from darkened lenses crafted from smoky quartz or other translucent materials, were designed to shield the judges' eyes from the harsh sunlight while allowing them to maintain a clear view of the proceedings. The dark lenses also helped obscure the judges' facial expressions, adding an element of impartiality and mystery to their demeanor.


Beyond their practical function, sunglasses worn by Chinese judges held symbolic significance. The judges' adoption of sunglasses-like eyewear conveyed a sense of authority, wisdom, and impartiality to those appearing before them. The darkened lenses obscured the judges' eyes, making it difficult for observers to discern their thoughts or emotions, thereby reinforcing their role as impartial arbiters of justice.


Ancient sunglasses history of sunglasses
Ancient Chinese Sunglasses

The use of sunglasses-like eyewear by ancient Chinese judges reflects broader cultural attitudes towards vision and perception in traditional Chinese society. In Confucian philosophy, the eyes were considered the windows to the soul, and maintaining a composed and inscrutable appearance was highly valued, particularly among those in positions of authority. Sunglasses served as a practical tool for achieving this ideal, allowing judges to project an air of dignity and impartiality while performing their duties.


These early examples demonstrate humanity's early awareness of the need to protect the eyes from harsh environmental conditions.



EUROPE & THE MIDDLE AGES


During the Middle Ages in Europe, there's scant evidence of sunglasses as we know them today. However, tinted lenses made from smoky quartz or other minerals may have been used by individuals with specific visual impairments or sensitivity to light. These lenses were often handcrafted by skilled artisans but were not widely available to the general population.


history of sunglasses
Medieval Eyeglasses


THE ARAB WORLD & PERSIA


In the Arab world and Persia, there were advancements in optics and lens-making during the medieval period. Scholars such as Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) made significant contributions to the understanding of light and vision. While there's no direct evidence of sunglasses usage, the knowledge of optics could have influenced the development of eyewear with tinted lenses for specific purposes.


Alhazen history of sunglasses
Scholar Alhazen

RENAISSANCE & EARLY MODERN ERA


During the Renaissance, sunglasses took on new significance as symbols of wealth, status, and fashion. In Italy, Venetian merchants sported sunglasses with dark tinted lenses made from smoky quartz or glass to shield their eyes from the intense Mediterranean sun while exuding an air of sophistication. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the emergence of tinted lenses for medical purposes, with blue and green-tinted glasses used to alleviate symptoms of conditions such as syphilis-induced photophobia. Sunglass frames became increasingly ornate, featuring intricate designs adorned with gold, silver, and precious gems, reflecting the wearer's social standing and taste.



history of sunglasses
Renaissance Sunglasses


INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION & THE BIRTH OF MODERN SUNGLASSES


The Industrial Revolution revolutionized sunglass production, making them more affordable and accessible to the general populace. In the late 18th century, James Ayscough, an English optician, experimented with tinted lenses made from various materials, including tinted glass and colored resin, to correct vision impairments and protect the eyes from sunlight.


However, it wasn't until the early 20th century that sunglasses gained widespread popularity, thanks to technological advancements in lens manufacturing and the advent of mass production techniques. In 1929, Sam Foster introduced affordable sunglasses to America, marking the beginning of sunglasses as a fashion accessory for the masses.



history of sunglasses audrey hepburn
Audrey Hepburn

The 20th century saw sunglasses become firmly entrenched in popular culture, thanks in part to their association with Hollywood glamour and the rise of iconic celebrities. During World War II, sunglasses were issued to soldiers to protect their eyes from sun, wind, and dust, leading to their widespread adoption by civilians after the war. Hollywood icons like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant popularized sunglasses as fashion accessories, with styles like the cat-eye and aviator frames becoming synonymous with elegance and sophistication.


In 1952, Ray-Ban introduced the Wayfarer, a revolutionary design that captured the spirit of the era with its bold, plastic frames and timeless appeal. However at what cost?


history of sunglasses ray ban
Ray Ban Wayfarer


MASS PRODUCTION IN THE GLOBAL SUNGLASSES MARKET


China has emerged as a dominant player in the global sunglasses market, producing vast quantities of eyewear to meet the demands of consumers worldwide. While this has led to greater accessibility and affordability of sunglasses, it has also brought environmental concerns.


Cheap sunglasses made from plastic have become ubiquitous, flooding markets and contributing to plastic pollution. The production, use, and disposal of these plastic sunglasses have detrimental effects on the environment, from the extraction of fossil fuels for plastic production to the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste in landfills and oceans. This is where the sunglasses production took a very negative turn.



history of sunglasses mass production
Plastic Sunglasses Mass Production

As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of their choices, there's a growing demand for sustainable alternatives that prioritize eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes.



EMBRACING NATURAL MATERIALS


In response to growing environmental awareness, there's been a resurgence of interest in natural materials for sunglasses, with hemp emerging as a sustainable alternative. Hemp, derived from the cannabis plant, offers several environmental advantages over traditional materials like plastic. Hemp is biodegradable, renewable, and requires fewer resources to cultivate compared to traditional plastics. Sunglasses made from hemp-based materials not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels but also promote sustainable agriculture practices.




Additionally, hemp sunglasses offer durability and UV protection, making them a practical and eco-friendly choice for consumers concerned about the environmental impact of their eyewear. As the demand for sustainable products continues to rise, hemp sunglasses represent a promising step towards a more environmentally conscious future.


I guess future requires us going back to our roots


Learn more about how hemp sunglasses are made here.




DragonWear Team



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