Ray Ban

Tonie Ong

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Fashion and the military have had a relationship for quite some time. A lot of the principles and disciplines in fashion were founded from military garments. Think strict tailoring and precise clothing construction. For a lot of people, military uniforms are tantamount to haute couture. In fact, women of the finest fashion labels beloved today actually dressed the military in their respective countries. And because of such a refined look, people outside the military wanted to evoke the same sophistication. What some companies have provided the army, they now sell to civilian consumers as well. One such brand is Ray Ban.

When it comes to looking cool, no other brand comes close to Ray Ban. Just a pair can transform how a person looks, from “drab” to “fab” in just seconds. No other label has such power and has such a reputation among the consumers, especially the youth and the pop-culture. In actuality, because of Ray-Ban, the idea of eyewear itself has become a fashion statement rather than just a necessity for eye problems. People now want a pair of Ray Ban’s because it’s become a status symbol of cool, and no longer reserved for the military, which was the original basis of the prominent brand.

Ray-Ban Caravan with gold frame and classic G-15 Lens
Ray-Ban Caravan with gold frame and classic G-15 Lens. Photo: Nor Gal

Most iconic pairs

Vintage looking Ray Ban sunglasses
Photo: Jeroen Fortgens

When it comes to iconic eyewear, Ray-Ban has a lot of those. Their first and practically most famous pairs are their Aviator, introduced in the 1930’s. US Army Air Corps Colonel John A. Macready approached Bausch + Lomb to create a special pair of sunglasses that would help army pilots avoid distraction while flying. Made with Kalichrome lenses, the company developed the Aviator sunglasses. It eventually went on public sale in 1937 and is still popular to this day. Another of their most famous items is the Wayfarer pair, popularized in the 1950’s by the likes of James Dean and Muhammad Ali. Unlike the Aviator, which had sleek thin frames, the Wayfarer had thicker black frames that eluded mystery for the wearer.  

Early years and expasion in the 20th century

Classy woman wearing a pair of Ray-ban Shades

A German immigrant named John Jacob Bausch in New York City established the brand in 1863, with the help of business partner and investor, Henry Lomb. The began selling optical goods in Reynolds Arcade, one of the most visited buildings in New York City at the time. In 1883, they opened their first retail shop on Andrew and Walter street, specializing in high-quality eyewear and effective optical gear. On the offset of the First World War, the company developed an optical glass that can protect the eyesight of air force pilots. This began their special relationship with the military, providing them special eyewear for the Second World War as well.

Throughout the 20th century, the company expanded their business tenfold. Almost all of the special eyewear they created for the military, they started selling to civilian consumers. Suddenly, Ray-Ban was one of the most talked about brands in the world. In the 1970’s the became the premier sunglasses brand in the retail industry, rising up the luxury ranks in almost equalling those of haute couture houses like Chanel and Dior. In 1975, they started selling contact lenses, with the approval of the US Food and Drug Association. With such sleek style and effectivity, Ray-Ban became one of the go-to eyewear brands for many people, be it for fashionable or correctional purposes.

Pop culture icons

Photo: Elvira Koneva

A number of high profile people within the 20th century have worn Ray-Ban sunglasses. The likes of James Dean, Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and countless other stars have been photographed wearing Ray Ban. In fact, one of cinema’s most iconic images, that of Audrey Hepburn in a little black dress with pearls for Breakfast At Tiffany’s featured Ray Ban Wayfarer glasses to complete the look. The company’s famous Aviator pair is also scene-stealer, appearing in movies like Top Gun with Tom Cruise, Kill The Messenger with Jeremy Renner, and Aloha with Bradley Cooper, among many others.

Retail presence

With their sheer and uncontrollable popularity, Ray-Ban stores have popped up in various countries around the world. They have multiple stores across the US, as well as some in the UK, the Philippines, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Thailand, and many others. They’re also sold at some of the most luxurious and prominent retailers in the world, such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in the US, Galeries Lafayette in France, and Harrods in the UK. Online, e-commerce sites such as Net-A-Porter and Shopbop all carry Ray Ban sunglasses and eyewear, which they ship to all corners of the globe.

What has become the symbol of cool and nonchalant chicness is deeply associated with one brand alone, Ray-Ban. Even though most of their most famous creations were created for warfare, the sleekness and the style of their pieces generate such coolness and gravitas that they’ve become fashion staples.

Ray Ban Boutique in London. Photo: coventgarden

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