Designer Sunglasses: A Product Birthed from a New Haircut

Have you ever wondered about the origins of designer sunglasses? Though it seems an odd thing to wonder about, stop and think about the basic concept for just a minute. All the consumer products we now buy have their origins in something from the past. When you dig deeply into those origins, sometimes you discover some pretty fascinating things.

Take duct tape for example. What is now considered one of the best tools for the American handyman didn’t actually start out as a tape for wrapping heating ducts. It was developed as a solution to wet ammunition in World War II. Wrap an ammo box in duct tape and you guarantee the contents stay dry.

Designer sunglasses have an equally odd history. It turns out they were birthed from a haircut in the 1920s, a haircut made famous by dancer and flapper extraordinaire Irene Castle.

The Castle Bob

World renowned fashion designer Moss Lipow chronicled the birth of designer sunglasses in a post he published back in 2014. His post talks about the famous dancer who, like most other women of the day, decorated her long hair with ornamental combs. It was all the rage. There were companies making tons of money producing ornamental combs for women. So what happened?

Castle decided to cut her hair short. Although it has never been confirmed that Castle was the first woman to wear a bob haircut, history does say that she brought it to the mainstream. In fact, Lipow’s post includes an image from a New York newspaper with a headline screaming, “WOMEN ACCEPT CASTLE BOB”. Underneath the headline is a lead article explaining the sudden trend of short hair among women.

The introduction of the bob spelled trouble for comb makers. They were losing money hand over fist as women no longer had need for their products. Then the film industry stepped in and saved the day.

Going to Hollywood

Lipow explained that the film industry made its transition from New York to Hollywood at about the same time women were cutting their hair. By a stroke of fate, some savvy entrepreneurs introduced the film stars of the day to sunglasses they could wear around town, thus protecting both their eyes and their identities. That gave comb manufactures an idea.

Instead of continuing to pursue what had obviously become a losing business, manufacturers switched production to sunglasses. They decided to make sunglasses the new accessory of choice among women with short hair.

Say Hello to Aviators

Moss Lipow’s story ends in the 1920s. But that’s not where history ends. Designer sunglasses took another giant leap just after World War II, thanks to Bausch & Lomb and a contract they won from the federal government.

Salt Lake City-based Olympic Eyewear explains that designer sunglasses for celebrities didn’t equate to a full-court press for the consumer market. Through World War I and into the start of World War II, sunglasses were still a niche product for the rich and famous. But then Bausch & Lomb got a contract from the U.S. government to develop a pair of sunglasses that would protect fighter pilots against sun glare.

The result of that contract was the very first pair of aviators. They were made famous by the America’s fly boys through the end of the war. Thanks to a mixture of patriotism and newfound prosperity that followed the war, consumers suddenly wanted their own sunglasses. That’s when things really took off.

Who would have thought that a simple haircut gave rise to the designer sunglasses concept? But now you know.

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