It’s summer, meaning that you’re getting a lot of use out of those sunglasses and today is a day to celebrate. June 27 is National Sunglasses Day.
Humans have been trying to protect their eyes from the sun for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that sunglasses as we know them today became popular. Sunglasses are needed to protect the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, as long-term exposure can result in eye cancer and other eye problems. So they might look really cool, but they also play an important role in keeping you healthy while you’re out at the beach or a park when the sun is out.
Here’s a look at the origin of the holiday and sunglasses themselves.
1. The Vision Council Founded National Sunglasses Day to Promote the Importance of Sunglasses
Unlike some other seemingly silly holidays that trend on social media, National Sunglasses Day serves an important purpose. It was founded by the Vision Council to promote the importance of wearing sunwear and eyewear that protects you from UV exposure.
The Vision Council was formed by the Optical Industry Association (OIA) in the 1980s. First, the OIA created the Vision Industry Council of America (VICA) in 1985. In 1999, they formed the Vision Council of America o improve eyewear products and services in the U.S. and Canada.
According to the Vision Council’s website, its mission is to “position members for success by promoting growth in the vision care industry through education, advocacy, research, consumer outreach, strategic relationship building and industry forums.”
The Vision Council is asking social media users to celebrate the day by using the hashtags #SunglassSelfie and #NationalSunglassesDay.
2. Sunglasses Have Their Roots in China During the 1300s
According to Great Idea Finder, sunglasses as we know them today were invented by Sam Foster. However, humans have been trying to protect their eyes from the sun for centuries before.
The precursor to the sunglasses was developed in China, but they weren’t meant to protect the eyes from the sun. In the 1300s, judges started wearing smoke-colored quartz lenses just so their expressions wouldn’t be seen in court. But by the 1400s, the classes were being used to protect the eyes. Around 1430, the idea migrated to Italy, where they were also used mostly in court rooms at first.
In the mid 18th Century, James Ayscough started experimenting with tinted lenses in England, but he thought different colored lenses would help with eye problems. He wasn’t thinking about protecting eyes from the sun.
3. Modern Sunglasses Were First Mass-Produced by Sam Foster in 1929
The modern sunglasses became popular during the 1920s when Sam Foster introduced the first mass-produced sunglasses in 1929, notes Glasses History. He was the founder of Foster Grant, which still produces sunglasses.
Foster started selling sunglasses on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, where he found customers eager to protect their eyes from the sun. Foster’s first sunglasses were made from celluloid, which made them inexpensive.
During the early 1930s, Bausch & Lomb got an Army Air Corps contract to develop sunglasses for pilots at high altitudes. Then in 1936, Ray Ban designed the famous “aviator” sunglasses, with the polarized lenses from Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land. By 1937, these glasses were available to the public.
4. The Sunglasses Industry Is Worth an Estimated $90 Billion
In 2015, the value of the sunglasses industry, including frames, sunglasses and contact lenses, reached around $90 billion, Forbes reported. It’s estimated that it will reach $140 billion by 2020.
Forbes notes that most sunglasses are made by one company, Luxottica, which is based in Italy. The company makes sunglasses for vendors and brand names like Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany, Versace, Oakley and Prada. Luxottica also made Google Glass and over 500 million people were glasses made by the company. So the reason why you pay so much for sunglass frames and why they can vary isn’t because they are made by a different company, it’s because of the brand name attached to them.
In 2014 alone, Luxottica saw $1.33 billion in revenue, notes Business of Fashion.
Reuters reported in March that Luxottica will merge with lens manufacturer Essilor, creating a global eyewear company that will have an estimated revenue of 15 billion euros (or $16.9 billion). Luxottica saw revenue growth slow down thanks to lower sales in the U.S.
“Our outlook incorporates a degree of cautiousness,” CEO Massimo Vian told Reuters in March. “We’re going to open more LensCrafters and Target stores in the States this year as we approach our desired retail size … and there are a number of ongoing projects that have an impact on the top line … (at a time) when growth is not explosive.”
5. There Are Several Reasons to Wear Sunglasses Inside, From Bright Lights to Eye Conditions
While wearing sunglasses inside might be seen as a fashion statement, there are some serious reasons for wearing them inside, as The Huffington Post noted in 2012. Some might wear them inside to hide injuries or their identity, or to intimidate.
However, others might wear them indoors to avoid bright lights because they suffer from a condition called “Photophobia. This results in an intolerance of light exposure. A sensitivity to light might be caused by dry eyes, migraines and brain injury.
However, if you’re not sensitive to light and you don’t suffer from any eye conditions, it looks a little strange to wear sunglasses indoors. We can’t all be rock stars.
“It just looks silly, doesn’t it?” cultural commentator Peter York told the BBC in 2014. “It’s this very early 80s idea of sophistication. Plus it’s quite an impractical thing to do – you might fall over.”
As the Vision Council notes, there are cities of high UV risk throughout the U.S., where wearing sunglasses outside should be a must. The city in the U.S. that has the highest UV exposure is San Juan in Puerto Rico, with Honolulu in second. Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville in Florida all made the Top 10. Mobile, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Houston and Los Angeles round out the Top 10.