The History of Aviator Sunglasses

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Aviator sunglasses, also known as ‘pilot’s glasses’ date back to wartime 1930s when American Air Corp pilots - exposed to harmful UV glare - required a new form of eyewear to protect their eyes and enhance their vision. And as they say, the rest is history! Read the full story below.


The most traditional form of aviator (teardrop lenses and metal frames) dates back to 1935 when the United States Army commissioned American Optical to design a pair of sunglasses that would help protect their Army Air Corps’ eyes when fighting the battle of the skies.

American Optical created a new design of eyewear that had an oversized teardrop-shaped and slightly curved lens to provide enhanced peripheral protection. These lenses were paired with a lightweight metal frame and curved temple ends that helped limit any obstruction to their vision, and ensured that the sunglasses remained secure behind their ears.


Over the next 5 years, these sunglasses were developed to be used by both Army and Navy officials, and by 1941 the AN6531 (AN: Army/Navy) military sunglasses became standard issue. These sunglasses were made by Bausch & Lomb, as well as other companies such as The Chas. Fisher Spring Co., Wilson Optical, and Rochester Optical Co Frame.

Some were fitted with classic green ‘Type 1’ mineral lenses, although these proved insufficient in high UV environments, and were then replaced by a ‘Type 2’ smoke rose tint lens for additional sun protection. Even the frame materials were adjusted and made from a copper alloy to avoid any interference with compasses!


Post-war, military-grade ‘Pilot sunglasses’ became available to the general masses on the surplus market and military style soon became part of the fashion scene. Their popularity was boosted by the rise of Hollywood stars sporting aviator sunglasses, and the design became synonymous with rebellion and nonconformity.

Thinner frames, cheaper metals and new plastic materials were also changing the design landscape for sunglasses manufacturers, and minimal frames in gold or silver were all the rage.


During the 70s the Hollywood boom continued, and aviators were taking on a new form: Now styled with a slightly flatter lens, plastic or acetate frames, and distinctive pin rivets. Aviators were sported by the world’s greatest movie stars, rockstars, and skiers. From the sandy beaches of LA, to the mountain tops of Canada and Europe, aviators were making a comeback with a vengeance!


Heading into the 80s a little-known film called, Top Gun, was released creating “The Maverick Effect”. Suddenly everyone wanted a pair of these gold-framed, green-lens tinted sunglasses. Military cool (and the added sense of daring and adventure) had come back around once more.


Today, military-style aviator sunglasses are as legendary as they once were back in the 1940s. But what of the style more popularly seen in the 1970s and 80s we hear you say? Our founders found themselves asking the exact same question. These sunglasses were worn by the biggest actors, musicians and sports stars - and then they completely disappeared..

So, we made it our mission to bring them back to their former glory. Available in three iconic styles, Ski Aviators, Moto Aviators and Surf Aviators - VALLON’s Aviator Collection remain some of our most popular sunglasses, the world over. In times of ever-changing fashions, choose something timeless.

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