The Evolution of Presidential Eyewear: A Look Through History

For many years, sunglasses have been a standard accessory for American presidents. These not only shield the eyes from damaging UV rays, but they also give any clothing a fashionable touch. Presidents have used a variety of brands of sunglasses throughout history, from traditional aviators to contemporary styles. In this piece, we’ll delve into the realm of presidential eyewear and examine the various brands and designs that several presidents of our country have sported through the years.

We will examine more closely at the history of presidential sunglasses and the influence they have had on design trends, from John F. Kennedy’s recognisable spectacles to Barack Obama’s cool shades. So come along with us as we explore the intriguing world of sunglasses worn by presidents on this voyage through their eyewear.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

It’s hard to deny that Kennedy was one of the most stylish people to ever take office. It’s a widely held belief that Kennedy wore Ray-Ban Wayfarers but that commonly held belief seems to be misconstrued. When comparing pictures of Kennedy wearing his iconic frames it’s easy to quickly deduce that there are many differences between Wayfarers and the classic tortoise shell shades he was commonly photographed wearing.  The metal rivets on the side as well as slight variations in the shape of the frame help us debut this commonly held belief.

So if Kennedy didn’t wear Ray-Ban’s then what did he wear? The Library and Museum of Kennedy hold two pairs of sunglasses in their collection. The first is marked with the branding of American Optical, a well-versed brand with a rich history dating back to 1833 (one of the oldest eyewear brands in the world). The other are of unknown origins and are now in the hands of a private collector. Kennedy had a long-lasting relationship with American Optical (AO) are wore them throughout the entirety of his presidency.

Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1989)

Ronald Reagan is another president who wore a versatile range of different styles of eyewear. Although he preferred the Aviator style, little is known as to the exact brand of frames he wore and conflicting evidence makes it difficult to know for certain. One source suggests he frequently wore a pair of Serengeti Sunglasses which are famed for their amazing technology in lenses. Although after doing research myself the evidence here is inconclusive.

Another website suggests that Reagon wore Suntiger sunglasses before they rebranded to Eagle Eyes. This is found in many different sources (including the Eagle Eye official website) and is our most concrete evidence. The thin-rimmed, gold-framed sunglasses in the picture could very well be the claimed gold aviators from Suntiger.

Barack Obama (2008-2016)

Over this presidency, Barack Obama was seen mainly wearing two different pairs of sunglasses in very different styles. The first was during his years as president and has been identified to be a pair of Ray-Ban 3217 Sunglasses. These semi-rimless frames were produced and eventually discontinued around the same time Obama took power in 2009. Obama specially wore the all-black version including lenses.

The second pair of sunglasses Obama wore was during the end of his presidency. These Wayfarer-style sunglasses (as shown in the photo above) are made by Oliver Peoples and are specifically the OPLL SUN model. He was seen wearing these on many outings outside of his duties as president including a baseball game in Cuba and during a California holiday in 2016. These Oliver Peoples sunglasses are available to purchase for around $485.00.

Donald Trump (2016-2020)

There are very few pictures of Donald Trump wearing any sort of eyewear except for the famous occasion where he decided to look directly at the sun. It was reported during his presidency that he disliked Tweeting in public as he needed by refused to be seen in public wearing reading glasses. There’s much speculation as to the ex-president’s eyesight although considering his age, and his frequent squinting, it seems he’s simply reluctant to wear any.

That being said, he has been occasionally photographed wearing a pair of reader glasses usually when out of the spotlight or during Congress. These glasses of unknown origins were his glasses of choice during his presidency and sport a unique brow shape and dark red acetate frames. At present, I’ve not been able to identify the exact brand or make of these glasses. But for a laugh, here’s a picture of Trump attempting to look at the sun.

Joe Biden (2020-Present)

If there’s one president who’s rocked the same style of sunglasses over the best of a century it’s Joe Biden. Biden has a very particular style and hasn’t deviated from style or brand for most likely his entire life. Biden favors the classic Aviator Style Frames first made famous by Ray-Ban and designed for use in aviation to present glare from the sun. Biden also favors the classics with his choice being the original Ray-Ban Aviators, specifically, the model with gold rims and black lenses.

Ray-Bans have never stopped producing Aviator sunglasses since its conception in the 50s. Because of this they’re widely available in a wide range of styles and colors and can be found on the official ray-ban website starting at a price tag of around $150.00.