Sunglasses Part Two: Aviators

Veteran readers may remember that some time ago I did ‘Sunglasses Part One‘ and discussed Ray Ban Wayfarers. I’ve finally got around to writing the sequel!

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Ray Ban were responsible for a second and equally iconic sunglasses style, which is the aviator. This style actually predated the Wayfarer by some time. Like many of the coolest items in a gentleman’s wardrobe, aviator sunglasses have their origins in military design. Supposedly the glasses were designed for pilots as far back as 1936 to emulate the shape of pilots’ goggles and thereby fully cover the field of vision of the pilot and block out any peripheral light from hitting the eye unfiltered. Like the Wayfarer they have been much-copied, and while the original was gold-framed with green glass and a plastic brow bar, Ray Ban themselves, along with just about every other sunglasses brand, continue to re-jig and update the style, but the general theme remains unchanged:

Given a choice I often lean towards classic / vintage / original style over a modern interpretation but as I have a personal dislike of the colour gold, despite my admiration for the iconic originals, I’ve never had the desire to get that particular model which must remain a popular choice as it’s still on sale today.

Since all my siblings wear glasses I was lucky enough to inherit my Dad’s RAF issue aviators which are a similar style to the Ray Bans. They have a very dark lens, more rounded than the Ray Ban version, and came in stainless steel frames with wire ear pieces. They date back to the 1950s, and come in a velvet pouch which fits inside a gunmetal outer case. One of my most prized possessions:

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I was curious to learn what RAF issue sunglasses currently look like, so a few years ago I acquired this contemporary version. The heavy steel frames remain but the lens shape is almost circular:

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Among the countless updated versions available, a couple of years ago Ray Ban came out with these in antique bronze frames with blue lenses which I wear frequently:

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Since 1958 Ray Ban has no longer had the contract to supply to US forces, so despite the blatant and iconic product placement in ‘Top Gun’ (1986), all those Ray Bans on display were not ‘government issue’. The contract was next awarded to American Optical who now seem to compete with Randolph Engineering for the tag of ‘Original’  / ‘Official’ US supplier (in the same way that Victorinox and Wenger would for Swiss Army Knife bragging rights, until Victorinox finally bought out Wenger). More on this in a future post.

Eighty years after their introduction Ray Ban aviators are still going strong. This more fashion-forward version has black frames, mirror lenses and carbon fibre arms:

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And this similar lightweight version has a more rounded lens shape and a purple tint in the mirror lens:

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Last year I discovered the brand Roka (www.roka.com), which is mostly a supplier of athletic gear, particularly for triathletes. They also sell a variety of sunglasses which have the added attraction of lens coatings to proof against fogging and sweat, and silicone nose pads and ear pieces making them very grippy even during exercise. Among several styles they sell, the Phantom is a traditional aviator style but I like the Rio-Ti which is slightly smaller and very lightweight with titanium frames. I originally got the bronze mirror lenses and was so impressed I went back for the same model with silver frames and blue flash lenses:

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Finally this version from Maui Jim has an adjusted lens shape but they are very comfortable to wear:

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Ray Ban was a branch of Bausch and Lomb who sold the brand in 1999 to Luxottica which is a giant company encompassing Pearle Vision and Lenscrafters. They also own Sunglasses Hut which seems to be in almost every mall and major airport in America. There is a variety of brands on sale in Sunglasses Hut, but most / all are just branches of the same Luxottica tree. Those looking for vintage pre Luxottica Ray Bans should look for the tiny ‘BL’ (Bausch and Lomb) engraved in the outer edge of the lens.

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