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The history of the Ray-Ban Aviator dates back to the 1930s, when new airplanes allowed people to fly higher and farther. Many US Army Air Service pilots were reporting that the glare from the sun was giving them headaches and altitude sickness. In 1929, US Army Air Corps Lieutenant General John MacCready asked Bausch & Lomb, a Rochester, New York-based medical equipment manufacturer, to create aviation sunglasses that would reduce the headaches and nausea experienced by pilots, which are caused by the intense blue and white hues of the sky, a new kind of glasses were introduced. The prototype, created in 1936 and known as ‘Anti-Glare’, had plastic frames and green lenses that could cut out the glare without obscuring vision. The sunglasses were remodeled with a metal frame the following year and rebranded as the 'Ray-Ban Aviator'. On May 7, 1937, Bausch & Lomb took out the patent, and the Aviator was born.

In 1939, Ray-Ban launched a new version of the aviator called the Outdoorsman. It was designed for specific groups such as hunting, shooting and fishing enthusiasts, and featured a top bar called a "sweat bar" that was designed to catch sweat from falling into the eyes. They also featured temple end pieces to distinguish it from the standard aviator. A few years later, in the 1940s, Gradient lenses were introduced. These were mirrored lenses which featured a special coating on the upper part of the lens for enhanced protection, but an uncoated lower lens for a clear view of the plane’s instrument panel.

In 1952, Ray-Ban created another classic style, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer, this time with plastic frames. They soon became popular in Hollywood, and can be seen on James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. The now-standard G-15 green and gray lenses were introduced a year after the Wayfarer, in 1953.