This definitive guide to aviator sunglasses explores everything you need to know about America's most iconic eyewear, including history, lens hues and the best ones to buy.
Aviator sunglasses date back to 1936, when the U.S. Armed Forces, seeking a solution to help fighter pilots deal with eye strain at higher altitudes, teamed up with Bausch and Lomb to produce eyewear that countered light. The result is one you’re likely familiar with: It featured convex tear-drop glass lenses made from G-15 tempered glass, which transmitted 15 percent of incoming light, and thin metal frames.
Today, aviators are offered by countless others. While lenses, details and price-points vary widely, they all stem from the same military aesthetic — one that champions simplicity, functionality and versatility. Here are the top options to choose from.
Best Overall Aviator Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Original Aviator Sunglasses
The original Ray-Ban aviator is now made in Italy. It features a gold-tone metal frame, silicone nose pads and clear tips on the metal arms.
Best Upgrade Aviator Sunglasses: Jacques Marie Mage Peyote Sunglasses
Inspired by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, these frames are made in collaboration with The Gonzo Foundation with beta titanium gold frames and polished Havana tortoise acetate at the brow bar and at the temple inserts. Hairline details throughout give these sunglasses subtle, but significant, attention-to-detail.
Best Affordable Aviator Sunglasses: Warby Parker Raider Sunglasses
Featuring scratch-resistant polarized lenses made with CR-39 composite for clarity, these aviators are one of the more affordable pairs on the market. They feature a large tear-drop lens, a straight brow bar and Akulon-coated screws for durability.
History of Aviator Sunglasses
Aviator sunglasses are an iconic eyewear style, first used by military pilots in the 1930s and in WWII before making their way to the masses. The style has seen countless iterations in recent decades, but one detail remains consistent for many — dark green lenses. As you might guess, the color choice isn’t just cosmetic.
The aviator sunglasses we’re familiar with today were first developed in the 1930s by Bausch & Lomb. Prior to this, pilots wore goggles to protect their eyes in the air, where high altitudes introduced several optical dangers. Aside from the glaring sun, sub-zero temperatures also posed a threat. Tinted goggles were meant to protect pilots from both of these.
But, a major issue with these goggles was fog. Temperature differences between the air within the goggles and outside of the goggles often caused the lenses to fog up, obscuring the pilot’s view. The problem would be exacerbated if a pilot decided to doff their goggles and expose themselves to the blinding sun or the extreme cold. Such was the case with pilot Shorty Schroeder who’s eyeballs froze just minutes after he took off his goggles during a record-breaking 33,000-foot high flight. Luckily, somehow, he was able to land the plane safely. His friend, John Macready helped him out of the plane and would attempt to break his record just a month later — in the same plane, no less.
Why are the lenses often green?
Macready’s flight was a success, though he found that pilot goggles were insufficient in blocking light at such high altitudes. So, he turned to Bausch & Lomb to develop a better solution. What they came up with was a lightweight metal frame with teardrop lenses which helped provide coverage when looking below. But perhaps the most vital detail was the lenses themselves. Rather than a neutral grey tint, the lenses were actually dark green. This particular color choice was functional as the green tint helped cut out blue light, a significant issue for pilots flying above the cloud line. Not only that, but green lenses tend to reduce glare while also improving sharpness and contrast.
The sunglasses were an immediate success and made their way through the military before eventually hitting the civilian scene. Bausch & Lomb dubbed the sunnies Ray-Bans, which would go on to be its own pretty successful brand.
Akila Task Force 88 Sunglasses
These sleek aviators have feature black acetate temples and a comfortable acetate bridge. Handmade in limited numbers, the style has Optical Class 1 nylon lenses that provide full UVA/UVB protection.
American Optical General Sunglasses
American Optical has been a favorite of the U.S. military since the ’50s and is one of the few brands still making its frames in the States. Each pair of its General sunglasses is built to military specifications using lightweight metal frames and glass lenses.
Randolph Engineering Aviator Sunglasses
Made in the USA, these sunglasses feature non-polarized, scratch-resistant mineral ground-glass lenses. They also have a multi-layer flash coating, a full-metal frame and adjustable silicone nose pads.
Gresso Chicago Sunglasses
These unique flat frame aviators are laser cut from a single piece of Japanese titanium, so there are no welding joints. The style features impact-resistant Zeiss lenses and a screwless hinge system.
Garrett Leight California Optical Convoy Sunglasses
Inspired by frames from the ‘80s, this style has a stainless steel frame, crystal brow bar and cured acetate temple time. The semi-flat nylon lenses feature UV protection and an anti-reflective coating.
SALT. Resin Sunglasses
Crafted in Japan, SALT.’s Resin Sunglasses have are made with titanium for the frames as well as the nose pads. The grooved frames recall art deco aesthetics while the polarized C-39 lenses offer clarity and protection.
Barton Perreira Javelin Sunglasses
Made in Japan from lightweight titanium, these sleek aviators feature subtle crosshatch detailing at the temples. Available in four colors, the style has lenses with an anti-reflective coating.
Native Sons Ryder S Sunglasses
These elegant aviators feature a slightly-flattened tear-drop shape and a gently-curved brow bar and nose bridge. They’re are made in Japan with hand-polished gold-toned titanium from temple to nose tip.