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Did You Know Sunglasses Have Been Around Since the Roman Empire?

Who doesn’t love a pair of tinted sunglasses that would complete your beach summer look? Not only would they protect your eyes from the glares of the sun, but they would also make you look cool and trendy. In fact, they have now been considered a fashion staple, but before they turned into that, sunglasses actually had military roots that not many of us are aware of. Here’s the journey of how sunglasses evolved and changed the military.

Started With the Romans

Known as an innovative civilization, it was not a surprise that the Romans came up with the idea of sunglasses. Nero, an ancient Roman emperor from 54 AD until 65 AD, was known to be near-sighted. Not only that, but the glare of the sunlight also gave him trouble from watching fights, and so to solve this, he used emeralds to design and make the very first, and perhaps most expensive, pair of shades. From then on, only the wealthiest of Rome people wore shades because they primarily used concave emeralds.

On the other hand, the Inuits of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland protected their eyes from snow blindness: damage to the eyes caused by snow reflecting the sunlight. They did so by using circular pieces of ivory or antler with tiny slits carved out to see. Not only did these protect their eyes from the glare, but they were also useful in keeping the snowflakes and other teeny tiny debris from getting into their eyes.

An Inuit wearing snow goggles. (Julian Idrobo from Winnipeg, CanadaCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Civil War

Jump forward to the Civil War when the first modern sunglasses were used by soldiers from both the Union and Confederate sides, spending much of their time under the intense heat of the sun as they traveled by foot. At that time, the purpose of these shades was to keep the wearers comfortable and well aware of their surroundings.

The snipers during that time wore shades that had yellow lenses at the very center while the rest of them were frosted. The purpose of this design was to keep off the sun’s rays from the snipers’ eyes and allow them to stay laser-focused on their target.

Lens Development

Pilots were never without their signature sunglasses, and for good reasons. Their green-lenses eyewear was designed to allow the pilots to fly safely without the risk of the sun’s harmful rays getting into their eyes, basically banning the rays o the sun, thus choosing to call them Ray-Bans. Ray-Bans also helped those pilots suffering from airsickness and headaches from the glare.

During World War II, when aerial combats became more common, the Ray-Ban designs continued to develop. With the later models being polarized, the top half of the lenses were dark and gradually became lighter toward the bottom half. But it wasn’t just the pilots who grew to love these sunglasses. If you’re going to picture General Douglas MacArthur, for instance, perhaps you would have an image of him wearing Ray-Bans, which was his “signature look” while in the Philippines.

Sunglasses Today

While shades were not part of the official soldier’s kit, those working as spies were encouraged to wear them to make them less identifiable. Regardless, troops of specific jobs would also often wear shades, like snipers, soldiers in the extremely sunny or cold environments, or maybe those in the dusty and sandy deserts. As the army follows,

Use of sunglasses within a garrison environment, but restricts their wearing during the formation and while indoors. Soldiers are not allowed to wear sunglasses in the field, unless specifically specified otherwise by their commander. In some cases, the commanding officer might instruct the specific use of sunglasses for soldiers on a mission, because of some safety requirements for protection against high glare and other demanding field requirements.

Tactical sunglasses continued to pop out, like the Venture Gear Overwatch ones, for instance, made of polycarbonate lenses paired with an anti-fog coating to keep away mist and water and help the wearers see clearly in the event of thick fogs. Many brands started to appear, too, with different designs aimed to meet the needs of the soldiers deployed on the field.

1968 Ray - Ban Sunglasses Advertisement Sports Afield July 1968
1968 Ray-Ban Sunglasses Advertisement Sports Afield July 1968 (SenseiAlanCC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Not only that, but civilians didn’t have to be a part of the military in order to obtain the glasses used by Navy Seals or maybe Army Ranger. Perhaps, the people couldn’t help but notice the wearers looking sharp with glasses on. Hence, sunglasses made it not only to the civilian world but also to the fashion world, with many other designs and details added to them.

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