The image that sunglasses evoke is often one of style over substance. Ask any person on the street, and they’ll likely be able to spout off dozens of pop culture figures who used dark glasses as a fashion statement, whether evoking a steely “cool” factor or Hollywood glamour. But ask them to name any notable sports glasses, and you’ll likely hear crickets.
And while there’s nothing wrong with choosing shades for their aesthetic appeal, we too often forget the important role they play in protecting our eyes against the elements. In fact, sunglasses originated as tools for the hunt and have a rich history serving as functional aids for a wide array of sporting activities. Here, we take a look at some of history’s most innovative sports sunglasses.
Inuit Snow Goggles – Prehistory to present
Considered the progenitor of all sunglasses, traditional Inuit snow goggles have protected the eyes of Arctic populations for centuries. Made from walrus ivory, wood, hard leather or caribou antlers, the goggles feature wide horizontal slats that limit light exposure and improve visual clarity. They are usually affixed to a leather strap, which ties around the head like a blindfold and stays put while trekking and hunting. These glasses are still worn today and are considered to be better suited for guarding against snow blindness than even the most advanced modern blue light blocking sunglasses.
“Flying Goggles” – Early 1900s
Despite their name, “flying goggles” were more often used to shield the eyes during bicycle excursions than air travel. When the inaugural Tour de France began in 1903, many of the cyclists adapted military goggles to protect their eyes from the dust and dirt kicked up by unpaved roads. This innovation kicked off a long tradition of cycling glasses, one that eventually started a huge movement of sport-style glasses for both athletes and non-athletes alike.
“Pilot’s Glasses” – 1930s
As aviation advanced in the years leading up to WWII, it became a viable option for serious military operations. Young pilots began taking to the skies in droves, where they were quick to discover the intensity of the sun’s glare above the clouds. To help with this issue, Bausch & Lomb worked to develop a lightweight sun-shielding glasses style to replace the big, bulky flight glasses that offered limited glare protection. In 1936, the company launched their “Pilot’s Glasses” – which would come to be known as the iconic aviator style sunglasses.
1965 – Ski Goggles
Though rudimentary ski goggles had existed prior, the form was refined in 1965, when orthodontist Robert Smith launched his patented “Insulated Goggles” – the design upon which all contemporary ski goggles are based. Smith’s version not only featured broad tinted lenses to guard against glare and protect the eyes from flying snow, but also a signature ventilation system, which prevented the accumulation of vision-fogging condensation as the wearer’s body heat confronted cold air.
1984 – Performance Eyewear
Though the company initially manufactured motocross and BMX handlebar grips, Oakley really set its wheels in motion (pun intended) with the advent of its “Eyeshades.” Designed specifically for competitive cycling, these early styles featured huge shield lenses that affixed to the head with an elastic strap. Colorful, bold, and quickly adopted by the sport’s top cyclists, the shades became as much a fashion statement as they were protective headgear. Designs evolved and became ever-more eyecatching with the introduction of “over-the-tops” and a rainbow of lens tints. By the ’90s, “Oakleys” had expanded their influence well beyond the world of cycling and were widely coveted by the mainstream, especially as movies like The Matrix popularized futuristic, high-tech aesthetics. Though its popularity has since faded, the Oakley trend cemented sporty sunglasses as a fixture in our collective style consciousness.
Eagle Eyes Sport
Another brand of performance eyewear that debuted in the 80’s? Eagle Eyes. Initially developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to protect astronauts’ eyes from solar radiation, the optic technology used in Eagle Eyes’ glasses was also found to enhance visual clarity and precision. Seeing its potential for non-astronauts, Eagle Eyes became the only brand approved to incorporate NASA Optic technology into commercial sunglasses.
Today, Eagle Eyes’ glasses have evolved to match NASA’s newest lens technologies. And while the brand has been making performance eyewear for over 30 years, it recently launched its first full line of Sport-style glasses specifically designed with outdoor activities in mind. You can view their full set of men’s and women’s active sunglasses here, and their all-new sports collection here.
Here are three of our favorite sports line and active sunglasses: