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The History of Ray-Ban: How It Became a Cultural Phenomenon

Jamie Mendiola

Written By:

Jamie Mendiola

Updated: 20 July 2024 •  
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When we think of iconic eyewear that impacted fashion history, Ray-Ban is likely to be one of the first brands to come to mind.
 
After all, it’s been one of America’s favorite spectacles since its founding.
 
But what makes Ray-Ban unique? How did it get so influential, to the point that it’s still a household name today?
 
Let’s find out.
 

Ray Ban from its roots

General Douglas MacArthur wears Ray-Ban aviators

Ray-Ban made aviators for the US military, worn even by notable figures like General Douglas MacArthur. Source: Business Insider

 
Let’s look at its humble beginnings to understand how influential Ray-Ban is.
 
The brand was founded by Bausch & Lomb, an American optics company, in 1937.
 
It was the first company in the US to produce and sell optical glass.
 
When the First World War broke out, optical glass became a huge demand in the army.
 
Specifically, they were looking for optical glasses that would protect the pilots’ eyes from the sun, either on or off duty.
 
As a response, Ray-Ban released its first design, the aviator sunglasses.
 
It was extremely lightweight and sturdy and got proclaimed as the first pair of sunglasses to feature anti-glare lenses.
 
Ray-Ban aviators were originally for US Army Air Corps pilots.
 
These courageous men needed a reliable pair of sunglasses to protect their eyes while flying.
 
It became more popular in the Second World War when propaganda shots featured General Douglas MacArthur wearing a pair.
 

Soon enough, Ray-Ban’s aviators became popular in the mass market.
 
Everyone wanted to wear their glasses, from classic Hollywood stars to presidents and royalty.
 

Ray Ban’s impact on pop culture

They started from the bottom, and now they’re here.
 
Aside from their significant connection to the US military, Ray-Ban’s history deeply seeped into American pop culture.
 
After all, many famous faces have helped to cement the brand’s status in the public eye. Here are a few of them who wore Ray-Ban throughout the years.
 

Tom Cruise in top gun

 
Actor Tom Cruise wearing aviator sunglasses in the 2023 film Top Gun Maverick

Tom Cruise created the cool fighter pilot persona with his Ray-Ban Aviators. Source: Robb Report

 
In line with its connection to the military, Ray-Ban aviators made a memorable appearance in the film Top Gun.
 
As he walked through the cockpit, you’ll see a young Tom Cruise sporting those iconic glasses.
 
And, of course, it didn’t stop there.
 
Tom Cruise wore aviators again when he filmed the long-awaited sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.
 
Since then and now, Ray-Ban frames have become associated with the confident image of fighter pilots.
 

Michael Jackson on stage

 

Aviators worn by Michael Jackson in the 1980s

Michael Jackson rocked aviators in the 1980s, completing his stage-ready look. Source: Vogue

 
Michael Jackson is another superstar who gave Ray-Ban aviators its spotlight.
 
He was known for his explosive stage performances and distinctive fashion sense.
 
And, of course, his love for Ray-Ban aviators didn’t go unnoticed.
 
Look back at his “Bad” tour in the late 1980s, and you’d spot Michael Jackson sporting a pair of black Ray-Ban aviators on stage.
 
It protected his eyes from bright flashing lights while adding to his image as an incredible, smooth performer.
 

Madonna in desperately seeking susan

 
Madonna wears iconic ray ban aviators in the film Desperately Seeking Susan

Madonna with her iconic aviators in the film, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan.’ Source: Pinterest

 
It seemed like Ray-Ban aviator glasses were such a big hit in the music industry that even Madonna got into its timeless appeal.
 
You’d see her rocking them at various points in her career.
 
For one, her aviators made a splash when she wore them in the film, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan.’ She also continued wearing her favorite aviators during her “Blonde Ambition” tour in the early 1990s.
 
As a result, it became part of her signature style early on.
 

Ray Ban’s evolution: from past to future

 
ray ban clubmaster sunglasses placed on top of pebbles

Ray-Ban evolved and introduced new styles, like the ClubMaster, throughout the decades.

 
While the OG aviators turned Ray-Ban into a global sensation, the brand has expanded beyond that to introduce new styles.
 
They experimented with different materials and finishes, such as titanium frames and polarized lenses.
 
Let’s look at how Ray-Ban’s style evolved throughout the years.
 

The 1950s was the Wayfarer era

 
Audrey Hepburn wears ray ban aviators in the film Breakfast at Tiffany

Audrey Hepburn wearing aviators in the first scene of the classic film, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ Source: POPSUGAR

 

After experiencing its massive popularity in the 1940s, Ray-Ban shifted away from traditional metal frames.
 
Instead, they created glasses out of hard plastic and called them the Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
 
It turned out to be an instant hit. Wayfarers were initially for men, yet it turned out that women also loved the design.
 
Part of the reason is their sleek shape flatters almost any face shape.
 
Wayfarers became fan favorites when Hollywood stars like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe wore them on and off the red carpet.
 
They also became part of Audrey Hepburn‘s iconic look in the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
 

The 1980s became their resurgence

 
Ray-Ban aviators in the film The Breakfast Club

Ray-Ban aviators making a cameo in the 1985 film, ‘The Breakfast Club.’ Source: GameSpot

 

The brand released multiple specs styles throughout the decades but gained another wind in its sails during the 1980s.
 
This era was when blockbuster movies were at an all-time high.
 
Ray-Ban signed contracts to feature their frames in 80s movies and TV shows to match this trend.
 
Their well-shaped frames eventually became known as the best sunglasses from movies.
 
Soon enough, Ray-Ban was endorsed by cultural icons like Madonna and Michael Jackson.
 
They also introduced the Clubmaster frames, which had a distinct browline design worn by both men and women.
 

Continuing its huge presence into today

 
As you can see, Ray-Ban never stays quiet for too long.
 
They continued to innovate their lenses, by using highly lightweight materials like carbon fiber and experimenting with polarized and gradient lenses.
 
Today, Ray-Ban continues to be a luxurious name in the eyewear industry.
 
Whether you’re drawn to the brand’s iconic aviators or prefer a more contemporary style, they have something for everyone.
 

Ray-Ban alternatives for the modern consumer

While Ray-Ban remains a beloved brand by many, its popularity can come with a hefty price tag.
 
If you want to look like your best self without breaking the bank, Mouqy offers affordable yet high-standard dupes to Ray-Ban frames.
 
If you’d like to sport a similar look to Ray-Ban aviator frames, here are some of the best to try;
 

 

 

 
Check out our virtual try-on tool for free to see how these stylish aviators will fit you.
 
It allows you to try and experience different frames before you purchase them.
 
This tool can also help you find a great Ray-Ban alternative to suit your signature style and budget.
 

You don’t always need pricey originals to look cool

Ray-Ban was always viewed as one of the top dogs in the eyewear industry.
 
It’s undeniable how impactful they were, from their stint with the US military until today.
 
And they will continue to do so as they innovate their frames and lenses to match the global demand.
 
However, while they’re iconic, Ray-Ban aviators can be pretty costly.
 
The best way to wear your favorite glasses styles without cashing out a ton is to try more budget-friendly alternatives, like Mouqy.
 
After all, Mouqy offers you a growing collection of high-quality, impact-resistant glasses that won’t break the bank.

Jamie Mendiola
Jamie is a writer and non-profit volunteer advocating for mental health. When not typing up a storm at work, you'll find her binge-watching Netflix or meditating like Yoda.

Ray-Ban Alternatives