fbpx
Fashion-forward aviator sunglasses by Andy Wolf, Chevril model.

Flying High: Aviators and the Making of Modern Machismo

By Sarah Bureau, RO

In the world of fashion, there are certain pieces which encapsulate a distinct aesthetic. A vibe that can take a basic expression into one which speaks volumes with the addition of specific accessories. There are few adornments that speak quite so loudly as the aviator. Donning a pair immediately imbues the wearer with an air of power, confidence, and rebellion.

General MacArthur US WW2 General re-enactor at the War and Peace show, wearing aviators.

From the moment the media captured images of US General MacArthur landing on the beaches of the Philippines in World War II in 1944, the Air Force issue aviator transitioned from a standard piloting necessity to a badge of heroism. Although the aviator shape had been a military staple since the 1930s, the demand for them grew exponentially with the general public soon sporting the classic shades as a symbol of support for their forces, pride swelling as they donned their tear drop shape. Although no single item can be gendered as specifically male or female, the aviator’s genesis on the faces of American fighter pilots was instrumental in their masculine and heroic appeal. In 1947, Ray-Ban created a marketing campaign featuring Amelia Earhart to advertise the shape as a patriotic statement piece that women could also wear.

The Celebrity Endorsement: Fueling the Fire

In the 1950s, edgy celebrities like Marlon Brando helped transition them from Air Force allotment to culturally cool when they began wearing the shades as a fashion statement. Throughout the 60s
and 70s, they continued to grow in popularity when provocative musicians and celebrities the likes of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Steve McQueen were photographed wearing modern iterations of the classic shape. As the paparazzi captured the palpable sexuality and masculine energies these celebrities exuded behind their tinted lenses, the aviator became an enviable expression of male machismo.

Marlon Brando in aviator sunglasses.
Vintage photo of Mick Jagger in aviators, illustrating the enduring link between fashion optics and celebrity influence.

Aviators in Hollywood

Promotional shot from 'Top Gun: Maverick' with Tom Cruise wearing Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses.

The 1986 blockbuster film Top Gun solidified the aviator’s cultural status as an outward expression of masculinity and sex appeal. Tom Cruise, donning the iconic shades of the character Maverick – a charming combination of bravery, danger, and romance – is likely one of the first images many think of when the word ‘aviator’ comes to mind. With men and women alike wanting to personify the characteristics of this role, the Ray-Ban aviator saw an increase of 40% in sales after the movie premiered.

Overtly masculine characters have continued the story line of machismo in Hollywood. Personas played by Al Pacino as a mobster in Scarface, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as assassins in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Daniel Craig as secret agent James Bond have all assisted in creating the linear thread between the aviator and manliness.

The Dark Side of Aviators

Intense portrait of Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in yellow-tinted aviator glasses.

Of course, no article on aviators could be complete without the mention of the phrase “serial killer glasses”. With what has been termed the “golden age of serial murder” happening between 1970 and 2000, it is simply a statistical fact that the shape was quite popular during that time and that a great many men wore them. A quick Google search will however provide a list of criminals longer than you would hope who all wore the classic aviator shape. Although wearing a pair certainly does not make you a criminal, there is a cultural connection between crime and fashion when it comes to aviators. The dark perspective on this eyewear can be seen to have a connection between perceived power and the double bridged tear drop style. This connection is not only made in real life, but also in Hollywood with TV and movie personalities like Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones, Ethan Hawke in Black Phone, and Christian Bale in American Psycho.

Modern black aviator sunglasses, Carson by ic! berlin.

Beyond the Hollywood screens, an association of machismo with the iconic shape also exists. What Halloween costume of a police officer is complete without a set of aviators?

International border agents may seem a touch more intimidating if you pull up and find them sporting these shades. “Shooter” aviators with the trademark circle in the bridge were created for gun enthusiasts who needed a place to hold their cigarette when they needed to free their hands to hold their firearm.

Eyewear Evolution

Since the original aviator was created nearly a century ago as a purely functional appliance to assist pilots in the very bright high altitudes they flew, it has morphed itself into a cultural symbol of masculinity and gritty sex appeal. Its embodiment of danger, rebellion, and power have all contributed to its long running popularity as a fashionable icon in optics. So pull out your aviators, strike a powerful pose, and revel in the potent aura they project.

…Oh, and please don’t become a serial killer.


Artistic photograph of Sarah Bureau, holding a pair of round glasses framing one eye.

Sarah Bureau has been a licensed dispensing Optician in Niagara, Ontario for more than 20 years. She is the woman behind sbspecs, specializing in repairing and customizing eyewear for Opticians all across North America. Her love for restoring eyewear and modifying frames for unique fits is evident in the care she puts into each pair that crosses her workbench.


Want to see more like this article? Click here to subscribe to our FREE print magazines and e-newsletters!

Featured Posts

Bausch + Lomb

Bausch + Lomb Collects More Than 84 Million Units of Contact Lenses, Lens Care and Eye Care Materials Through Innovative Recycling Programs

Bausch + Lomb announced its ONE by ONE and Biotrue® Eye Care Recycling programs have collected 84,343,540 units, or 510,116 pounds, of used contact lenses, eye care and lens care materials in the U.S., which is greater than the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

Learn More

CNIB Reacts to Government of Canada Budget 2024

The Government of Canada released Budget 2024 and announced that the long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit will start in July 2025, pending a regulatory design process. The benefit will be funded with $6.1 billion over the next six years. 

Read more
Specsavers logo

Specsavers Welcomes Dr. Laurie Lesser as Key Addition to Their Team

Dr. Lesser joins Specsavers as the company accelerates their store expansion across Canada to establish itself as the optical retail leader.

Read more

Contact Lens Institute & IACLE Collaborate to Bring Practice and Patient Insights to Contact Lens Educators

The Contact Lens Institute (CLI) and the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE) announced a collaboration to provide university-level instructors with direct access to CLI-developed research publications and practice tools.

Read more

CORE Publication Helps ECPs Prepare for a New Wave of Dry Eye Disease Medications

Recently Approved and Promising Pharmacological Treatments Spotlighted in Contact Lens Update Issue 77

Read more
Bausch + Lomb

Bausch + Lomb Collects More Than 84 Million Units of Contact Lenses, Lens Care and Eye Care Materials Through Innovative Recycling Programs

Bausch + Lomb announced its ONE by ONE and Biotrue® Eye Care Recycling programs have collected 84,343,540 units, or 510,116 pounds, of used contact lenses, eye care and lens care materials in the U.S., which is greater than the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

Learn More

CNIB Reacts to Government of Canada Budget 2024

The Government of Canada released Budget 2024 and announced that the long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit will start in July 2025, pending a regulatory design process. The benefit will be funded with $6.1 billion over the next six years. 

Read More
Specsavers logo

Specsavers Welcomes Dr. Laurie Lesser as Key Addition to Their Team

Dr. Lesser joins Specsavers as the company accelerates their store expansion across Canada to establish itself as the optical retail leader.

Read More

Contact Lens Institute & IACLE Collaborate to Bring Practice and Patient Insights to Contact Lens Educators

The Contact Lens Institute (CLI) and the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE) announced a collaboration to provide university-level instructors with direct access to CLI-developed research publications and practice tools.

Read More

CORE Publication Helps ECPs Prepare for a New Wave of Dry Eye Disease Medications

Recently Approved and Promising Pharmacological Treatments Spotlighted in Contact Lens Update Issue 77

Read More
Bausch + Lomb

Bausch + Lomb Collects More Than 84 Million Units of Contact Lenses, Lens Care and Eye Care Materials Through Innovative Recycling Programs

Bausch + Lomb announced its ONE by ONE and Biotrue® Eye Care Recycling programs have collected 84,343,540 units, or 510,116 pounds, of used contact lenses, eye care and lens care materials in the U.S., which is greater than the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

Learn More

CNIB Reacts to Government of Canada Budget 2024

The Government of Canada released Budget 2024 and announced that the long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit will start in July 2025, pending a regulatory design process. The benefit will be funded with $6.1 billion over the next six years. 

Read more
Specsavers logo

Specsavers Welcomes Dr. Laurie Lesser as Key Addition to Their Team

Dr. Lesser joins Specsavers as the company accelerates their store expansion across Canada to establish itself as the optical retail leader.

Read more

Contact Lens Institute & IACLE Collaborate to Bring Practice and Patient Insights to Contact Lens Educators

The Contact Lens Institute (CLI) and the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE) announced a collaboration to provide university-level instructors with direct access to CLI-developed research publications and practice tools.

Read more

CORE Publication Helps ECPs Prepare for a New Wave of Dry Eye Disease Medications

Recently Approved and Promising Pharmacological Treatments Spotlighted in Contact Lens Update Issue 77

Read more
Bausch + Lomb

Bausch + Lomb Collects More Than 84 Million Units of Contact Lenses, Lens Care and Eye Care Materials Through Innovative Recycling Programs

Bausch + Lomb announced its ONE by ONE and Biotrue® Eye Care Recycling programs have collected 84,343,540 units, or 510,116 pounds, of used contact lenses, eye care and lens care materials in the U.S., which is greater than the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

Learn More

CNIB Reacts to Government of Canada Budget 2024

The Government of Canada released Budget 2024 and announced that the long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit will start in July 2025, pending a regulatory design process. The benefit will be funded with $6.1 billion over the next six years. 

Read more
Specsavers logo

Specsavers Welcomes Dr. Laurie Lesser as Key Addition to Their Team

Dr. Lesser joins Specsavers as the company accelerates their store expansion across Canada to establish itself as the optical retail leader.

Read more

Contact Lens Institute & IACLE Collaborate to Bring Practice and Patient Insights to Contact Lens Educators

The Contact Lens Institute (CLI) and the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE) announced a collaboration to provide university-level instructors with direct access to CLI-developed research publications and practice tools.

Read more

CORE Publication Helps ECPs Prepare for a New Wave of Dry Eye Disease Medications

Recently Approved and Promising Pharmacological Treatments Spotlighted in Contact Lens Update Issue 77

Read more