History of Oakley Sunglasses: From Grips to Iconic Eyewear

History of Oakley Sunglasses: From Grips to Iconic Eyewear

In the sports sunglasses world, hundreds of models have been released by several brands over the last few years. Despite that, Oakley still remains on top and in a class of its own.

As we like to put it, “There’s the good, the bad, and then there’s the Oakley.”

Oakley is known for their bold innovation and leading product design of their athletic sunglasses that helped sports legends and current athletes carve their own name in sports history books.

Oakley’s revolutionary tech is far from “just a fad” or a “marketing ploy”. Many athletes can attest to how a pair of Oakley sunglasses help elevate their game.

However, if you were around in the 70s, you probably know that Oakley is so far from what it is today. In this piece, we’re going to tell you the garage-to-riches story of Oakley and how the legend of the Big O came to be.


Oakley was not a sunglasses brand at first

Oakley Handlebar Grips

In the mid-70s, a pair of Oakleys meant something totally different. Because believe it or not, Oakley’s first-ever product was a pair of handlebar grips.

Long before Oakley became a cyclist’s favourite pair of sunnies, it was a dirt bike rider’s go-to accessory first. This is not surprising because its founder, Jim Jannard, was a huge fan of motocross himself.

Back then, handlebar grips were not a thing. Most dirt bikes already came with rubber sleeves for riders to grip on. However, they’re not what today’s handles are now.

Then the Oakley Grip came into the scene.

It was a game-changing handlebar grip that provided a tough adhesion for both the rider’s gloves and bare hands.

It also made the handlebars stable and twist-resistant. Thanks to its tentacle-inspired suction cups that provided a tough grip on handlebars. It was something that you wouldn’t find on normal rubber sleeves back then.

This was also the product that first introduced Oakley’s patented Unobtanium material to the world. But more on this later.

Today, Oakley doesn’t make The Grip anymore. However, no one can’t deny just how revolutionary and innovative of a solution this product was to the problem of that particular sport and era.


The legend of the first Oakley goggles

If there’s one huge problem with handlebar grips, it’s that there’s not much space on the product to put the company’s name for the world to see. So, from handlebar grips, Jim dabbled into goggles.

However, the first Oakley goggles made by Jannard were not as successful as the Oakley grip. Even Mike Bell, a former Oakley ambassador, would tell you himself that Jannard’s goggles in the late 70s weren’t any good.

According to him, the lens was too “in your face”, and didn’t have enough room for ventilation, resulting in fogging on the lenses.

So Jannard bunny-hopped into the BMX industry and had the best BMX riders try the goggles out. The result? They never wore it on their face as well!

But here’s the good thing: the riders didn’t “wear them” in a traditional way, but instead, they left the goggles on top of their helmets because it looked incredibly cool and symbolized the “go against the grain” culture of the sport.

Jannard’s first thought was: “So the goggles don’t work technically, but they look cool on a helmet.”

He realized that the goggle strap fastened over the rider’s helmet was the best real estate for their company logo and took advantage of it.

Jannard and his skeleton crew made more goggles and began screen printing the Oakley brand onto the straps. This way, they could market their company to the race spectators easily.

And there you have it! Problem solved.


Oakley’s first sunglasses, The Eyeshades

Oakley Eyeshades Prototype

The year was 1983. Jannard was driving to Los Angeles from San Diego when the idea of Oakley’s first pair of sunglasses struck him. The sunset was glaring over the Pacific Ocean and directly on his left so the sunglasses he was wearing were completely useless at that point.

So, he wondered, “what if he could bring the wraparound style of his goggles into a pair of shades for extra coverage?”

And like a problem solver that he was, he went back to his garage-slash-shop, took some of his goggle lenses, cut out a smaller lens shape, bent some hangers into temple arms, and then taped them all together.

Believe it or not, the final version of this taped up prototype will later be released and become the first sports eyewear sunglasses and end up changing sports forever.

Originally, it was called the Factory Pilots Eyeshades, then eventually changed to just Eyeshades. And in 1985, cycling legend Greg Lemond finished second place at the Tour de France wearing a pair of these bad boys.

That’s when Oakley’s popularity rose through the roof. And the rest, like they always say, is history.


4 Most Iconic Oakley Sunglasses

Certainly, the grips, ugly goggles, and taped-up Eyeshades are a thing of the past now.

Oakley had already transformed into this giant eyewear mogul that’s making some of the best sunglasses out there.

Over the years and more than 400 patents later, Oakley has made rounds not only in the athletic world but also in the fashion spectrum. All thanks to its great collection of stylish, functional, and game-changing sunglasses.

Here’s a look back at Oakley’s most memorable sunglasses of all time.

Oakley Blade Line

Just 2 years after Oakley introduced the Eyeshades to the world, the Oakley Blade and Razor Blade were released in 1986 and 1987, respectively.

These original Oakley sunglasses were an attempt to release less sporty-looking sunglasses than the Eyeshades that would appeal to the young and hip crowd of the 80s.

And there are literally 22 million reasons to love and wear these half-rimmed beauties. Because it’s the first-ever customizable sunglasses known to man.

Oakley Blade
The way they work is that everything’s interchangeable, from the lenses to the earpieces, nose bridge pads, and centre frame. And according to their original print ad for Blade, there are exactly 22, 394, 880 different combinations that you can make with these pieces.

Unfortunately, Oakley discontinued the Blade line in 1994, marking the end of a great era. The shape and style of this legendary frame, however, will remain because it will eventually be revived by Oakley and replicated by other sports frames brands.

Check out Oakley Radar EV Path which continued the legacy of the Blade’s half-rimmed frame.

X-Metal Series

If it’s still not obvious to you, Oakley likes to always be first on things. And this line of futuristic sunglasses is a testament to that.

The X-Metal series is a collection of sunglasses that are made primarily of titanium, 90% to be exact. Other metal alloys in these sunglasses are aluminium, vanadium, iron, oxygen, and other minor compounds.

The first X-Metal sunglasses, Oakley Romeo, was released in 1997. It was the first 3D-sculptured all-metal frame that’s made in the USA.

This ushered the release of so many more X-Metals that defined the “mad scientist era” of Oakley because of their futuristic designs and high-tech constructions.

Some of the notable X-Metal sunglasses were:

Michael Jordan’s Oakley Penny


Tom Cruise’s Oakley Romeo in Mission Impossible
Cyclop’s Oakley Penny in X-Men: The Last Stand
Oakley Over The Top

If you think you’ve already seen the coolest (or weirdest) sunglasses ever, you probably haven’t seen Oakley Over the Top sunglasses.

This pair is over the top, literally, not only because of its bold and futuristic design but also because it is worn over the head rather than toward the temples.

It had a chrome frame and circular ruby-red lenses that certainly looked more like a pair of goggles than a pair of sunnies.


If you were one of the spectators of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, you’ve probably witnessed the debut of the out-of-this-world sunglasses. It was worn by Trinidad and Tobago’s sprinter Ato Boldon and instantly became the talk of the town even after the event.

Twenty years later, Oakley would bring it back from the archives with a few upgrades like the new silver and gold colourway and the integration of Oakley’s Prizm lens technology. More on that later.

The revival was only limited to 20 pairs though. So, if you couldn’t get your hands on it, better luck next time or keep trawling Ebay!

Oakley Frogskins


Frogskins is undoubtedly one of the most popular and most successful Oakley sunnies of all time. It’s certainly on the Mount Rushmore of Oakley’s greatest hits.

When it was first released in the mid-80s, it immediately drew comparisons to a more classic and well-established Ray-Ban Wayfarers. It’s a pretty big comparison, by the way, considering the impact of the Wayfarer in pop culture then and now.

However, here’s the interesting part: Did you know that Oakley’s mastermind, Jannard, didn’t even like the Frogskins at all?

According to him, Oakley needed to release something quickly that was basically more normal-looking at that time to keep the company’s momentum going. That’s why he flew to Japan to meet a manufacturer that will produce the sunglasses.

He knew very well that Frogskins would do great in sales. He also knew that they were just doing it “for the frogskins”, which was slang for money. And that made him feel embarrassed. So, he kept the name to remind himself to do only “brave and interesting things moving forward.” And so he did.

The Frogskins were discontinued in 1997 then made its comeback in 2007. Since then, they have been a staple in almost all sunnies shops, including us!

Buy Oakley Frogskins here.


What makes Oakley sunglasses special?

Anyone who has owned a pair of Oakleys can attest that there’s more to it than just a heavily celebrated history and a huge loyal fan base. Certainly, the style and functionality that it can bring to the table are what makes the brand a cut above the rest.

Stealing from its vintage print ad, Oakley “doesn’t build sunglasses to sit on your head or dangle on a string around your neck.” Every pair of Oakley sunglasses are engineered to give you the best eye protection, ultimate comfort, and impeccable style.

Thanks to Oakley’s cutting-edge eyewear technology, all of these are possible. Below is a little Oakley Technology 101 to get you up to speed about the company’s lens and frame wizardry.

Oakley Prizm

You can’t talk about lens technology and not mention Oakley’s lenses. It’s the most prolific colour enhancing technology that allows you to see the world from a clearer and more vibrant perspective.

Basically, what Prizm does is that it controls the amount of light and which light spectrums go through the lens, maximising the colour and contrast of different environments.

This tech helps athletes elevate their game in so many ways depending on what type of Prizm lenses they use.

For example, cyclists who wear Oakley Sutro integrated with Prizm Road can easily spot subtle bumps, cracks, stones, and shards of glass on the road even at high speeds so they can adjust on the fly.

On the other hand, Prizm Golf lenses on the Oakley Flak 2.0 XL can help golfers see the whole course in higher contrast so they can see the ball even in mid-air.

O Matter

Most sunglasses today are made of acetate material. Oakley sunglasses, however, are made of a self-patented material called the O-Matter.

This material is twice as strong as acetate, but 25% lighter, which is the number one requirement for any pair of athletic sunglasses.

O-Matter, however, is not exclusive to Oakley sports sunglasses only. It’s also available in Oakley’s lifestyle sunglasses. Check out Oakley Gascan and Oakley Holbrook.

Three-Point Fit

This is an incredible frame architecture by Oakley that enables a secure fit around your head even without the temple arms touching your ears.

Unlike most frames from other brands, the point of contact in Oakley sunglasses is centred only on the nose bridge. The idea is to give room around the ears for other essential accessories like helmets, caps, or visors.

Trust us, the sunglasses won’t fall off your head even if they don’t rest on your ears or even if you shake your head violently. We don’t advise that though!


Another reason why Oakley sunglasses won’t fall off that easily is the Unobtainium material. Remember the Oakley Grip? Those handlebar grips are integrated with this material that doesn’t get slippery even when exposed to water.

Using the same concept, Oakley sunglasses are fused with the Unobtainium material on the nose pads and the temple arms. This way, the sunglasses won’t fall off even if the athlete wearing them sweats a lot. In fact, the upgraded version of the material gets even tackier as it gets exposed to sweat.


Own a pair of Oakley sunglasses today!

Here at Great Southern Sunnies, we offer a huge range of Oakley sunglasses both for men and women including those with polarised lenses. Buy Oakley sunglasses here!

We also offer Australia-wide free shipping for orders above $80. For easy and fast transactions, we accept Afterpay and ZipPay. Get your next pair of Oakley sunnies at Great Southern Sunnies today!

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