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The Full History Of The Aviator Frame Shape

Did RayBan Really Make The First Pair Of Aviator Frames?

All lovers of vintage sunglasses will own a pair of aviator frames, they are truly an iconic sunglasses style that endures through the years. Yet despite what Ray-Ban would have you believe they were not the only pioneers of this frame shape.

The Aviator Cheat Sheet

All the vintage aviator facts you need...

First Made By Disputed by many but we are going with the D-1 by American Optical.
Key Characteristics Teardrop lenses, light-weight metal frames and double or triple nose bridge.
As Seen On Everyone!


If you do a quick search on google for "who was the first to make aviator sunglasses" invariably you will be served up a list of results that go something like this: RayBan, RayBan, RayBan! When you dig a little deeper into this iconic frame shape you start to find that this doesn't even begin to tell you the full story. In this blog post, we aim to help set the record straight by investigating the real origins of one of the most famous eyewear silhouettes out there.

Ray Ban Aviator

A Shape That Defines An Era.

As pilots took to the skies in ever greater numbers and soared to new altitudes the need for a high spec pair of protective sunglasses became a pressing issue. As readers of our Persol blog will know Ratti's earliest designs were built primarily for pilots fighting in the skies during world war one. Given that Ray-Ban only started out in 1937 as the civilian off-shoot of Bausch and Lomb optical it seems highly unlikely they were the first to engineer this iconic silhouette. 

To really understand the aviator we need to work out the key components to the frame and start to look at what makes it unique. Here it is worth taking a look at that 1930s Bausch and Lomb aviator frame designed in collaboration with American fighter pilot John Macready. Almost every blog/news outlet is heralding this frame as the first of it's kind but is that really the case? Special mention to Moss Liplow, of the eyewear blog who has also written about this subject in length if you have time then take a look here. 

Bausch and Lomb aviator

Aviator frames in all their purest forms will have a slight curvature to the teardrop lens and lightweight metal frames with a double or triple nose bridge. This provides the greatest amount of glare protection and limits peripheral exposure to the sun. The lightweight metal frame made them comfortable when worn in high-stress environments. Another common but not essential element (unless you are a smoker!) is the familiar cigarette hole as found on the 1938 Ray-Ban which allows the wearer to go keep their nicotine fix and their hands ready for action!

So now we know what we are looking for did any other major optical firm start producing an aviator frame before 1937 when Ray-Ban was formed? Well, take a look at the sunglasses in the picture below, this is the US Army corp D-1 made by American Optical. Now there is no way you wouldn't describe this frame as an aviator design and yet this was being produced in 1935!! 2 whole years before Bausch and Lomb (Ray-Ban) claim to be producing the first-ever aviator sunglasses. 

The American Optical US Army Corp D-1 Aviator Made in 1935

A Picture Sells A Million Frames

So if Ray-Ban weren't the first to this design how did they become the only name most people think of when you say, aviator? The answer lies in the countless photos and stories of the US airmen who fought during WWII in their Bausch & Lomb issued aviators. The Allied troops' victory in 1945 had a tremendous effect on popular culture and fashion of the age that lasts to this day. One of the most iconic photos of the war was of Douglas Macarthur wearing a pair of aviators upon landing in the Philippines. 

Tom Cruise Top Gun Aviator

When the public fall in love with something Hollywood will not be left behind and it didn't take long before Ray-Bans were being seen across California on celebs. From Marlon Brando to Tom Cruise, Cher to Jennifer Aniston it is harder to find a famous face who hasn't worn a Ray-Ban aviator than one who has. 

Being A Civilian Has Its Perks

Vintage aviator designs from the 1970s and 1980s were some of the first to break from the traditions of the shape. Modern sunglass designs like the Christian Dior technologic have started to use flat base 0 lenses and whilst we have to admit they offer an amazing aesthetic they wouldn't be much use up in the cockpit.  

At Ed and Sarna vintage, you will be able to find some of the finest examples of vintage aviator sunglasses and aviator glasses frames online. With brands like Carrera, Gucci, Christian Dior and more. If you want to add a modern edge to your vintage sunglasses then make sure you check out our custom lensing options too. 

I hope you learnt something new about this truly iconic design and enjoy browsing through our selection of vintage aviator frames.


Vintage Movado Aviator

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