The History of Aviators


Aviators in the modern day are extremely popular glasses. We see them on our favorite athletes, favorite celebrities as well as in our movies. Aviators are undoubtedly an important part of our pop culture in this day and age. However, where did they come from? And what about these sunglasses make them so popular?

There has to be something special about these glasses that have kept them in the mainstream for such an extended period of time. In this article, we will discover where these sunglasses came from and how they have cemented themselves in pop culture over the years.


In World War I, bombers, assault missions, and surveillance aircraft were all utilized for the first time in major combat. In the US, pilots quickly realized that daytime flying might be challenging due to the sun’s brightness and glare at high altitudes. In fact, pilots began to experience eye strain and occasionally had difficulty seeing what they were doing.

In order to find a solution, the US Army Air Corps turned to optics company Bausch & Lomb. They wanted to make sunglasses that shielded the light, with a teardrop shape that covered the entire eye, so that pilots could see when flying in any weather. These glasses later evolved into one of the most well-known and widely used sunglasses brands, Ray-Ban.

Later on brands such as American Optical entered the market with their own AO aviator sunglasses. Modern aviators have innovated from their predecessors. They now have different styles and colors for their shades. They have evolved in small ways so they are still identifiable as aviators yet different from what they began as. Let us look further into this evolution.

Introduction to Fashion

The first civilian adopters of sunglasses were athletes. Since these glasses were so effective at keeping the sun out of one’s eyes, it helps keep glare and other troublesome sun-related issues to a minimum. Fishermen along with hunters who rely on clear vision in the water and in forests were one of the first professions to really take aviators in stride.

General Douglass MacArthur was the one who really turned aviator sunglasses from functional to fashionable. He was captured on camera during the US military’s effort to reclaim the Philippines during World War II wearing his own aviators. The pictures of him with the men on the beach, coupled with his cap and corn cob pipe, were indelible images of this brave general.

These events were very important in bringing the aviators into the public eye. War-time pilots and generals being plastered over the papers gave aviators a lot of national as well as international acclaim. Given how the world war turned out they could be perceived as a symbol of victory as well.

Enter Celebrities

The movie Top Gun (1986), in which Tom Cruise portrays the pilot and dons those fashionable spectacles, may be considered one of the most memorable examples of aviator sunglasses. Additionally, brands like Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Gucci started to develop their own interpretations of the look.

In more modern times, Robert Downey Jr wore the iconic aviator look in the iron man movies. The glasses greatly added to the superhero persona as much as the actor and the suit. The glasses have become a symbol of cool, this has allowed them to really take over the modern superhero craze as well.

Sports athletes are now also huge athletes of aviators. F1 drivers such as Carlos Sainz sport aviators wherever he goes. It becomes a part of the athletes’ brand identity and the athlete becomes part of the aviator’s brand identity. The thrills of life are a big part of the brand. It makes sense why aviators would align themselves with athletes of more extreme sports. Given the origin of the brand image of fighter pilots, maintaining that through sports has kept aviators in the public eye.

Why Aren’t Other Sunglasses As Iconic

While reading that statement, you might think to yourself that other sunglasses are in fact iconic. Saratoga sunglasses for example are in many famous movies such as Sex in the City. However, these do not hold the same pedigree as aviators or pilot sunglasses.

To put it in simpler terms, while other sunglasses have their own levels of popularity, aviators are significantly older and have a bigger historical impact. Very few sunglasses have a role in world war, sports as well as cinema. Other sunglasses cannot compare to the appeal as well as the class aviators automatically bring with them.

There is also the simple fact that not every pair of sunglasses is designed to be a revolutionary fashion statement or a symbol of class. Some sunglasses are just designed to go to the beach or to drive in. They are not a symbol for anything, they’re just sunglasses. That doesn’t make them bad or undesirable it just means that they are not aviators.


There are many reasons to adore aviator sunglasses. They are a summer necessity, especially for those who drive or spend a lot of time outdoors simply because they are useful and do help you shield your eyes from the sun.

Additionally, they exude coolness, having been linked to stars like Michael Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. Men of any face shape or size can wear them perfectly. Thanks to modern technology, they are now even more protective than before.

Aviators are here to stay as an iconic piece of apparel. However, it would do one well to know their origins and history to be able to fully appreciate why they are so coveted in our media. Hopefully, this article has been helpful in doing so.

Written by Megan Taylor
Megan is a beauty expert who is passionate about all things makeup and glam! Her love for makeup has brought her to become a beauty pro at Glamour Garden Cosmetics.