For many, summer wouldn’t be the same without a trip to the beach.
Sitting on a beach towel beneath clear, blue skies, soaking in sunlight and wading in warm, seemingly infinite waters that hold secrets of the deep unknown is a favorite pastime for people around the world. Though, would you believe it hasn’t always been that way? In fact, going to the beach is a summer tradition that is relatively new in the span of civilization.
If art imitates life, the art of the 17th and 18th century mostly depicts a widespread fear of the ocean. Paintings in the 17th century Dutch golden age, like Ludolf Backhuysen,Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast, bring to life the very real fear of shipwrecks. Other artists focused on drowning and monster concepts, using art to highlight ever-present dangers of the time.
It was modern medicine of the time that introduced beachgoers to the joy of sandy shores and waves licking your feet. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, doctors would prescribe cold wave water as the answer to a number of conditions including melancholy. Health concerns would later tangentially drive beach fashion, inspiring trends like wearing head covering and skin protectant clothing, like hats and shawls, to protect from sun exposure, and also sunglasses.
The sunglasses of ancient civilizations were crude and made from smokey quartz. Later iterations of sunglasses in the 1700s were thought to help with conditions based on color therapy.
In the 1800s and 1900s, glasses with amber or yellow lenses were used to aid in treatment of syphilis. But it wasn’t until the height of going to the beach as a leisure activity in the 1900s, that sunglasses became associated with luxury and wealth in America and became popular with movie stars. It’s no wonder, with the peak of iconic stardom being Hollywood, California, where the beach is a cultural staple.
But beach going was associated with status long before sunglasses became a health-based beach trend. It was the 1778 discovery of oxygen that drew more people to the beach. Thinkers of the time believed that more oxygenated air around sea water was needed for optimal health. As the rise of industrialization took over Europe around the same time, travel flourished and more and more of Britain’s elite began making pilgrimages to the beach for the prospect of good health.
As it often goes, the trend tiptoed down the social ladder, especially aided by the introduction of railroads making travel more accessible for everybody. That’s when seaside resorts started becoming more commonplace in Europe. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Americans began to adopt the tradition. In the 1930s, sunglasses were impacted by trends in mass production and became more popular in correlation with beach adoption.
By the 1960s, air travel had come to define leisure and beach vacations were becoming more and more common, not as a solution to a challenging medical problem, but as an opportunity to experience the luxury of nature first hand.
Today, beach going is still a prevalent and prized summer activity in coastal America and around the great lakes and the world. Innovations in sunglasses have made it a more adaptable and comfortable experience for everyone, including those of us who wear prescription eyewear. Because lenses come in different tints and types, today’s leisurely beach visitors can choose from prescription or non-prescription sunglasses and with different color tints or photochromic options.
It’s clear there are age-old historical ties between the beach and overall health. The right pair of sunglasses allows you to experience the beach while putting your eye health first.
As there are still a few weeks left to enjoy the beach this summer, you might want to check out some of our favorite sunglasses for the beach.