VietnamMiscellaneousThe American Sunglasses during the Vietnam War

The American Sunglasses during the Vietnam War

Two of the sunglasses most regularly worn by soldiers during the Vietnam War were Original Pilots by American Optical and Ray-Ban Aviators. Extraordinarily, both of these models are still in circulation today and remain best-sellers worn by millions of people worldwide. Here’s why these options were so popular.

American Optical: Original Pilot

One of the world’s preeminent eyewear brands, American Optical, was founded in 1833. They began supplying sunglasses to the American military in the 1950s. It continues to be manufactured to rigid military specifications. For example, during the Vietnam War era, many soldiers who took part in the conflict wore the Original Pilot model from American Optical.

This classic design features slightly oversized. Thin metal teardrop-shaped frames and a distinctive double bridge provide great eye coverage, which Vietnam-era soldiers appreciate. These sunglasses are also highly durable and tough. They continue to be manufactured by American Optical, with an updated design that’s just as high-quality as the original.

Ray-Ban: Aviator

Another model of sunglasses widely worn by Vietnam-era soldiers was the Ray-Ban Aviator. This eyewear was initially created for pilots in the American Air Force. Their status was solidified when General Douglas MacArthur wore them in a photograph during World War II.

Since then, regular appearances in blockbuster Hollywood movies have helped Ray-Ban’s Aviator model retain the top spot as the most popular sunglasses in the world. Not least was 1986’s Top Gun, with Tom Cruise wearing a pair in his starring role as an American fighter pilot.

What Were the Requirements for Sunglasses in the Vietnam War?

The conditions varied widely in the conflict, meaning that sunglasses needed to be highly versatile, extremely robust, and provide superior performance. For example, humidity in the jungle could cause condensation on lenses. Additionally, the harsh sunlight out in the open made UV damage to the eyes a significant risk.

This is why soldiers so widely wore the above eyewear during the Vietnam War. Each option is robust, features larger lenses for greater eye protection, and has a design that promotes good airflow.

What Sunglasses Were Worn in the Vietnam War Film Apocalypse Now?

The critically acclaimed movie released in 1979 is an epic war movie that translates Joseph Conrad’s earlier novel Heart of Darkness into a Vietnam setting. It is a classic that resonated with audiences through the decades, featuring a cast of unforgettable and often tragic characters.

The movie was lauded for its realistic depiction of the horrors of the Vietnam War and conflict in general. This authenticity is in evidence even in the most minor details: for example, the character Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, wears a pair of Vietnam-era style American Optical Original Pilot Sunglasses, mentioned above, which soldiers had widely worn at the time. Laurence Fishbourne, who made his acting debut in the film, also wore this sunglasses model for his role.

Do Military Personnel Wear Sunglasses in the Field Today?

While soldiers working in specific circumstances or performing certain roles, such as sniper or troops working in conditions where snow glare is an issue, can likely wear a wide range of sunglasses as necessary, the military usually restricts the use of sunglasses worn in formation or indoors.

Along with Ray-Ban and American Optical, the other most popular sunglasses brands soldiers wear include Oakley, Under Armor, Skullerz, and Wiley.

Vietnam-War Era Sunglasses: Final Thoughts

Over the years, Eyewear brands like Ray-Ban and American Optical have developed eyewear specifically with the needs of military personnel in mind. As a result, soldiers regularly wore aviators and Original Pilot models on the field in the Vietnam War due to their high-performing design specifications and durability. This, combined with these sunglasses’ frequent appearances in hit movies over the decades, has helped cement their status as iconic.

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