History of the Aviators

History of the Aviators

Most of us probably associate aviator fame to Tom Cruise in the classic 80s military flick Top Gun. But, while they may be one of the most recognizable sunglass frames of all-time, how many of us know the true backstory of the time-honored aviator.

No sunglass collection is truly complete without a pair of timeless, ageless, and effortless aviator frames. Although each brand has their own rendition of the style, the aviator design has remained largely untouched from its founding template. If it ain’t broke, don't fix it, am I right? But while everybody and their mother would be able to pick the recognizable style out from a line-up without hesitation, few of us know the true backstory of the time-honored aviator. 

Most of us probably associate aviator fame to Tom Cruise in the classic 80s military flick Top Gun (or the ‘22 rendition Top Gun: Maverick with Miles Teller), and while the films may be largely fiction, there is actually a lot of truth in the use of aviators on military training grounds. Although, their beginning goes back much further than the Vietnam War era which saw Maverick, Ice, and Charlie rocking the stylish, yet highly functional frame. 

(Images: GQ and collider.com)

The original aviator, known as the US Army Air Corps D1s were created in 1935 by American Optical, and has been the precursor for almost all future renditions of the frame. The specialty sunglasses were commissioned by the US military as they were looking for protective eyewear for their fighter pilots and sailors who were frequently looking out onto a sun-blasted horizon. The wide lens was designed with the intention of reducing distraction and glare from the sharp white and blue hues from the sea and sky.  

(Image: theeyewearblog)

Once a functional prototype was created, the US military, on the verge of WWII, needed thousands of pairs to equip a growing militia so, nearly every sunglass manufacturer in the country was recruited to make a version of the brand new aviator. Enter: Bausch+Lomb. In 1937 Bausch+Lomb created the modern Ray-Ban Aviator that is arguably the world’s most recognizable sunglass frame to this day. 

(Image: murrayandhaggerty.com) 

In what would become one of the lasting images of the war, US General Douglas MacArthur was photographed wearing the new frames when he landed at Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines in October of 1944. When his image hit the press back home, the scene was set for a viral sensation. The following decades saw a growing number of early A-listers like Elvis Pressley and Marlon Brando sporting the iconic frame. 

(Images: British Vogue, welovesunglasses)

And while the style has never really struggled for notoriety in a field of endlesses options, the help of cultural phenomena has certainly helped the aviator cause over the past 90 or so years. Another “Aviator Boom” occurred after the 1986 release of Top Gun and elevated the style to unprecedented fame; to the point where almost every celebrity (and civilian) has owned, or at least worn, a pair of aviators at some point in time. So it’s no surprise that now, with the release of Top Gun: Maverick, and a new crop of A-list actors leading the front, that the historic aviators are, once again, having their moment in the sun.

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