Sunglasses were never intended as a fashion accessory. They never really made an appearance until well into the 18th century, and then they were exclusively for medical purposes. Notably for syphilis.
It appears that one of the symptoms of syphilis is sensitivity to light, so sunglasses were for those with loose morals and large bank accounts. It was very much a niche market.
Understandably, sunglasses more or less disappeared until the 1930s, by which time the association with STDs was more or less forgotten. Suddenly they became fashionable, mostly because they were favoured by Hollywood film stars of the time.
Now few of those film stars are down on record as having any light sensitivity. The question then was not sensitivity but anonymity. Thirties film stars were astronomically popular – far more than actors today – and sunglasses enabled them to go shopping and pick up the kids from school without being immediately identified as Clark Gable or Hedy Lamarr. But, like no other fashion accessory, they could be lifted when needed. To reveal the real you. Or, more specifically, the real them.
Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy on the MGM lot during the production of Test Pilot (1938)
Because Hollywood stars had this god-like status, sunglasses quickly filtered down to the fans. And, of course, they were not always well made. Why should they be? This was surely just another transient fashion fad that would disappear within a couple of years. Wrong.
Enter Ray-Ban®. The Ray-Ban company made its entrance is 1936, producing its iconic Aviator shades, which, as you might imagine, were designed for aviators. Hearkening back to the early days of sunglasses, they fulfilled a specific function, this being to minimise glare and visual distraction for pilots. However, the design quickly caught on, although its look was swiftly superseded by the even more iconic Wayfarer.
Both of them were built to last.
The Wayfarer embodies everything that Hollywood stars desired in their sunglasses, and those who wanted to be mistaken for Hollywood stars, and those who just wanted to look cool. They are simple, dark and unobtrusive. So it’s no surprise that Aviator and Wayfarer shades are the most copied and imitated in the world. Depending on your postcode, you can probably pick up a pair for around 10 euros, or less. But, of course, they will not be genuine.
And that is an unfortunate fact of life with sunglasses. Although the shades that you wear might sport the logo of Gucci, Versace or Dolce & Gabbana, it takes a much closer look to spot a fake. And that means the other person has to be seriously within your private space. Are those diamonds real? Are those frames really solid gold? Or did you just buy them off a rack in Magaluf? Only you will know.
Consider good sunglasses as a gift to yourself. They will protect your eyes from ultra-violet radiation, look good, last for years – as long as you don’t sit on them - and cheat the counterfeiters. It’s also nice if they are sustainable and unlikely to end up swamping the ocean with microplastic. The Swole Panda sunglasses sold on Debonair tick all those boxes. Which is why we sell them. Sometimes life can be so simple.