Photo: Vogue magazine cover, 1 July 1939, photographed by Horst. Taken from Eyewear a visual history, p. 73.

Sunglasses: From Utilitarian To A Fashion Object, 1910-1950

Sunglasses, or as they have been known - day glasses, spectacles, goggles or sun lenses - are the subject of this essay. Sunglasses might seem like a minor and unimportant accessory, but they are present today in our everyday life in many aspects and have massive appeal across wide cultural categories and demographics. This essay traced the evolution and change of sunglasses from the 1910s to the 1950s, transitioning from a purely utilitarian object to a fashion object. In this period, a massive change occurred in the field of glasses with the invention and development of sunglasses. Fashion, style, materials, consumerism, Hollywood, as well as social history, technology, and military advances, all of these aspects can be discussed as variations that contributed to the development of sunglasses. 


In order to understand the significance of sunglasses, the change from a utilitarian to a fashion object needs to be explored. When and how did the change occur? Which fields contributed to the change? This essay analyses the change from a stylistic point of view as well as from the perspective of the consumers. As with any industry, the economic, as well as material aspects of production and consumption, are wide-ranging and dependent on numerous factors 
This essay is an attempt to track several changes - that of the materiality of the sunglasses as an industry relying on various materials, the sunglasses as an identity and statement relying on elite and popular fashion, as well as the sunglasses as a consumer article both due to trickle-down fashion and utilitarian purpose. 


To better understand the changes and the main key concepts in the mentioned change, the body of the essay has been divided into two main sections: fashion and technology. Each section considers different aspects contributing to the change of sunglasses from utilitarian to fashion object. The fashion section highlights the historiography of sunglasses which is interwoven with the social history of USA and UK. This section analyses the influence of Hollywood as the popular culture with regards to the adoption of sunglasses as a fashion object with attention to style and gender. Technology focuses on the technological changes of the period with the advancement of new materials such as plastic or lenses.

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