In the early 1980s, Ray-Ban, once an incredibly popular brand of sunglasses, were selling only 18,000 pairs a year. By the end of the ’80s, the brand was resurgent, selling millions of pairs all over the world. In large part, this was thanks to Tom Cruise. Cruise was the biggest movie star in the world and when he graced the silver screen, it was usually in a pair of Ray-Bans. Risky Business brought back Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer in 1982, and then four years later, Top Gun did the same thing for the aviator silhouette. Of course, that is the simplified version of the story.

Naturally, the history of aviator sunglasses doesn’t begin and end with Tom Cruise. The popularity and cultural meaning of the aviator is actually closely tied to public perceptions of the American military. If you look at the sunglasses throughout the 20th century, you’ll find that the fortunes of the military industrial complex and aviator sunglasses are closely linked. Tom Cruise is far from the only celebrity to don a pair of Ray-Bans, but if you understand what Top Gun meant to aviator sunglasses, you can start to understand the place Ray-Bans hold in American culture.

Follow Brenden on Twitter here.