Aviator sunglasses have a rich history. Unlike some fashion accessories, aviator sunglasses were developed to meet the very real needs of military pilots.
Before aviator sunglasses (or pilot shades), the early aviators wore goggles to protect their eyes. The problem when men first began flying was protection from wind and dust. Later, as planes flew higher and higher, pilots found they had real problems with bright sunlight and damaging UV (ultra violet) rays. The first solution to problems with the sun was to put colored lenses in flying goggles to block out sunlight.
In 1937 the Army Air Corps (today’s air force) asked Bausch & Lomb to develop eyeglasses that would be lighter and more comfortable than goggles but would also provide excellent eye protection. It was important that these glasses cover as much of the eye as possible and reduce sun glare as well as protect the eyes from UV rays.
Bausch & Lomb not only designed the glasses that are now referred to as aviator, or pilot, sunglasses, they actually started a separate company, Ray-Ban, to manufacture the glasses. These new, improved glasses had a tear drop shaped lens with a green tint. The mineral glass lenses were carefully ground to provide maximum transparency and visual acuity. Gold plated frames made the glasses much more comfortable to wear than goggles and the lenses reduced visible light by 80% as well as blocking the UV rays.
These glasses were a vast improvement over flying goggles and military pilots loved them. They also loved the fact that they made their wearers look mysterious and special. Over time there have been a number of changes in workmanship and materials but the initial design requirements for maximum eye protection remain the same.
Many people buy aviator glasses because of the way they look, but they also find that they can wear them comfortably for a long time without eye strain.
Other forms of “military’ sunglasses have also become popular. Police and fire personnel, as well as non-aviation military personnel, wear sunglasses that are patterned on pilot sunglasses but have somewhat different shapes and lenses to suit the needs of their profession. Also, hunters and outdoorsmen have also found that variations on aviator sunglasses, sometimes in Camo frames, are very useful.
Choose Your Aviator Sunglasses Carefully
The lenses are the most important feature of the best aviator sunglasses. Modern manufacturing methods mean that you now can choose between different lens materials. Where glass lenses used to be the only option you can now choose between glass, plastic and polycarbonate lenses, with polycarbonate being the most popular now.
Each lens material has pros and cons.
Glass Lenses provide the highest visual clarity and they are very scratch resistant. On the other hand, glass is heavier than plastic or polycarbonate and the glass is also more fragile. Drop glass lenses onto a hard surface and they will probably shatter.
Plastic Lenses have the advantage of being very light and can be worn comfortably for long periods. Unfortunately, the plastic can scratch easily. When treated with a scratch-resistant coating they can stay free of scratches but you have to treat them very carefully.
Polycarbonate Lenses are the most popular material. They are very comfortable because they are light and thin. The best thing is they are shatterproof. They excel at protecting your eyes from injury due to flying debris. This makes them well suited to military and public safety applications.
The disadvantage of polycarbonate material is that it is very soft and pliable. This is what allows it to be impact resistant. They will scratch easily without proper care and can scratch badly enough to make it hard to see through the lens.
Polarized or Non-Polarized – Which Is Best?
Most people assume that polarized sunglasses are better than non-polarized. You may find that polarized sunglasses are not right for you.
Why? Using polarized sunglasses may make it more difficult to see liquid crystal displays (LCDs) such as your smart phone or iPad display or the instrument panels on many new cars. LCDs use a polarizing filter which can interfere with your ability to read the display if you are wearing polarized glasses.
Polarized sunglasses are a good choice if you will be spending a lot of time on or near the water. They do a great job of cutting the glare from the water and reducing eye fatigue. But if you will be wearing your sunglasses anywhere else you will probably benefit most from non-polarized lenses. Besides, non-polarized glasses are considerably less expensive that polarized.
For Proper Fit — Try Before You Buy
The biggest complaint from people who buy aviator sunglasses online is that they don’t fit well. It’s important that you actually try the glasses on to be sure they fit your face and are comfortable. Try them on at a local retailer before making your buying decision.
After choosing the right style, color and size you can decide whether to buy from the local retailer or go online. You may get a better price at an online retailer like Amazon.com, but that’s only a good idea if your glasses fit properly.