The History of Sunglasses: From Ancient Rome to Modern Fashion

Sunglasses have been an important accessory for centuries, evolving from practical tools to protect the eyes from the sun to fashionable items worn for style and self-expression. Here’s a brief history of sunglasses from ancient Rome to modern fashion.

  1. Ancient Rome

The earliest known record of sunglasses dates back to ancient Rome, where emperors would watch gladiator fights through lenses made of smoky quartz to reduce glare.

  1. China

In the 12th century, Chinese judges wore smoky quartz lenses to hide their facial expressions during trials. These lenses were flat panels that did not have frames or temples like modern sunglasses.

  1. 18th Century

In the 18th century, James Ayscough, an English optician, began experimenting with tinted lenses to help people with certain vision impairments. He believed that blue or green lenses could help people with specific vision problems, but his research was not well received by his peers.

  1. 19th Century

By the 19th century, sunglasses became more common among European and American elites as they travelled to sunny destinations. However, these early sunglasses were still considered luxury items and were not widely available.

  1. 20th Century

In the early 20th century, advances in manufacturing and technology made sunglasses more affordable and widely available. The military also played a role in the popularity of sunglasses, as aviators began wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun while flying.

  1. Hollywood

In the 1920s, Hollywood celebrities began wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes from the bright studio lights. As sunglasses became associated with Hollywood glamour, they became more popular among the general public.

  1. Fashion

In the 1950s and 60s, sunglasses became a symbol of rebellion and individuality, thanks to cultural icons like James Dean and Audrey Hepburn. Sunglasses also began to be marketed as fashion accessories, with new styles and designs introduced yearly. Sunglasses continue to be a popular fashion accessory, with new styles and trends introduced every season. From classic aviators to oversized frames and colourful lenses, there are endless options to choose from to suit individual style preferences.

  1. Sports

Sunglasses also became popular among athletes in the 1970s, particularly in sports like skiing, cycling, and tennis. Sport-specific sunglasses were designed to provide protection from the sun and enhance performance. Sunglasses are also designed for specific sports and outdoor activities, with features such as wraparound frames, rubberized grips, and interchangeable lenses. These specialized sunglasses provide additional protection and performance benefits for athletes and outdoor enthusiasts.

  1. Modern Times

Today, sunglasses are worn for both practical and fashion reasons. With a wide variety of styles, colours, and lenses available, sunglasses have become an essential accessory for people of all ages and lifestyles.

As people become more environmentally conscious, sustainable and eco-friendly sunglasses have become increasingly popular. Many companies now offer sunglasses made from recycled materials or sustainable sources, as well as biodegradable and compostable options.



The history of sunglasses reflects both the practical and fashionable evolution of this accessory. From ancient Rome to modern times, sunglasses have evolved to protect the eyes from the sun and enhance personal style. As fashion and technology continue to evolve, it’s likely that sunglasses will continue to evolve as well, keeping pace with changing trends and needs.

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