Written by Aimee Roberts
Vintage fashion is very much the in thing these days, with throwback designs and accessories having their time again. One such item are the Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses. When you think of Ray-Ban’s Aviator glasses, your first thought may be Tom Cruise’s 80s US Navy classic film Top Gun. To be fair — that’s not too far off. Top Gun boosted real-life naval recruitments by 500% after the film’s release and increased Ray-Ban’s sunglass sales by a whopping 40%. However, here is a fun fact: Tom Cruise’s connection with Ray-Ban sunglasses dates three years before the navy film’s release. In 1983, Cruise wore Ray-Ban’s Wayfarers in the critical and commercial hit Risky Business. This boosted Ray-Ban’s sales by 50%, saving the chunky Wayfarer glasses from getting discontinued and cementing Cruise’s relationship with the eyewear brand.
Despite the little-known Tom Cruise x Ray-Ban trivia, it’s undeniable that the Aviator glasses remain an iconic fashion item today, especially with the Top Gun sequel released in 2022. In this post, we’ll look at a brief history of Aviator glasses and why they’re still trendy:
The history of the Aviator
The first-ever version of the Aviator glasses hit its planning stages in 1929 when US Air Force pilot J.A. Macready started working on a solution for reducing high-altitude glare. Fogging was a significant issue for pilot’s googles, along with the nearly blinding effect from the thinner atmosphere at heights of more than 10,000 feet.
Macready worked with eye health company Bausch & Lomb for years to address these issues until they marketed the Ray-Ban Aviator in 1939. The glasses’ name was derived from their ability to reduce or eliminate specific wavelengths of light without impacting brightness or detail. In the years leading up to the finalisation of the Aviator’s design, designers switched the frame from plastic to metal between 1937 and 1938.
Despite its heavy military background, Ray-Ban and the rest of Bausch & Lomb’s eyewear division were acquired by luxury giant Luxottica in 1999. This moved the company’s headquarters to Milan, Italy. Still, despite the brand’s new address, Ray-Ban Aviators remain an iconic “made in the USA” fashion statement to this day.
Ray-Ban’s continuing influence on the Aviator’s design
As discussed above, while the Ray-Ban Aviator’s origins are associated with military pilots and high altitudes, the frames have become known for their fashion in place of function nowadays. The model’s distinctive design of thin metal frames, double bridge, and teardrop-shaped lens have been worn by Hollywood celebrities over the past decades.
Legendary names like Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Paul and Linda McCartney, and Freddie Mercury have sported Aviators as a fashion statement. Of course, Tom Cruise and his iconic Top Gun Aviators aren’t the only movie examples. Marlon Brando wore a pair in The Wild Ones, and Jennifer Lawrence did so in Joy. Part of how the Aviator’s design and shape have maintained their throne as iconic sunglasses is the celebrity influence associated with them.
Today, Ray-Ban’s line of men’s sunglasses includes the Aviator Classic and newer variants of the brand’s other classic frames, such as the Reverse models for Wayfarer and Caravan. The sunglasses are prescription-compatible and have anti-reflective, anti-scratch lenses for added durability. They’re even customisable, so you can choose different colours and shapes for the frame, lens, and temple combinations for a look that’s authentic to you.
Of course, Aviator glasses and shades aren’t exclusively made by Ray-Ban nowadays. The design has been adopted by various eyewear companies and designers, with replica models retaining the familiar, simple but fashionable thin frames and double bridge form of the classic Aviator. Interestingly, some Aviators, such as those made by American Optical, retained the original Aviator’s military background. In 1969, the Aviator-style American Optical FG-58 became the first pair of sunglasses to land on the moon, which begs the question: Where would Aviator shades land next?