When Bausch & Lomb was contracted, in 1936, to create a pair of sunglasses designed specifically for Army pilots, iconic design wasn’t high on the list of priorities. The goals were a bit more pedestrian: a lens shape that provided maximum production across the full field of vision, tempered-glass glare protection that let through a mere 20 percent of available light, and curved earpieces to keep them snugly in place through the fiercest of dog fights. Basically, a less obtrusive version of the tinted goggles Army Air Corps pilots were already wearing. Like most things the military does—and fashion later appropriates—they were a perfect example of the dictum that form follows function. B&L dubbed them “Ray-Ban,” and while undeniably functional, they were also stylish as hell.
The American public got a crack at aviators the following year, but they didn’t gain traction with civvies until Douglas MacArthur was snapped wearing them during his historic WWII return to the Philippines. The style gained popularity throughout the postwar era, but was overtaken by Wayfarers in the sixties (Morgan Woodward’s turn as Paul Newman’s aviator-sporting nemesis in Cool Hand Luke can’t have helped the cause), and made a comeback the following decade, when they somehow managed to look equally iconic on Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor and Jerry Garcia during the Dead’s late-seventies heyday. It’s hard to imagine Top Gun even getting made without the style, and more recently Daniel Craig spent most of Quantum of Solace running around looking sharp in his Tom Ford-designed pair.
If they worked for those guys, they’ll work for you. Just make sure to get the right size for your face, have them adjusted properly—and leave the mirrored versions to the gentlemen in law enforcement.