Sunglasses have come a long way since they first became available for the mass market. In the 1930s, polarized shades were developed for the US military, and aviator style sunglasses were worn by many fighter jet pilots in World War II. They even made it to the moon with Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11!
Celebrities and prominent figures such as American President John F Kennedy popularized the wearing of sunglasses among the public. Today, they’ve become an essential part of our daily lives. As a form of eye protection, they keep our ears shielded from harmful UV rays, minimize glare and reduce brightness and intensity outdoors. As a fashion accessory, sunglasses add a touch of cool and sophistication to any look and are a great addition to any outfit. Some of the more well-known brands specialising in sunglasses include Ray-Ban, Randolph Engineering, Oakley, Maui Jim and American Optical – but there are also fashion brands that have hopped onto the bandwagon, such as Gucci, Prada and Burberry.
With thousands of options to choose from, picking the ‘right’ one can be a daunting task. There are so many things to consider: from the shape and design to the type of lenses, fit, look and price. This guide will give you a rough idea and hopefully help you to pick a pair of sunglasses that will be your trusted companion for many years to come.
Sunglasses come in many different shapes and designs, so it’s hard to say which one is better than the other. Some sunglasses are made for looks, while others, for practicality. There are also those that offer both form and function. We take a look at some of the different styles:
Perhaps the most widely recognized style of sunglasses, aviators sunglasses were first issued to military pilots as protective eye gear, to be worn in the cockpit during flights. They were made famous by celebrities such as Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
Traditionally, the glasses have teardrop-shaped lenses which cover the range of the human eye and prevent light from entering at all angles. They have since evolved to include many variations, such as the ‘navigator’ style, which has smaller lenses and squared off bottoms.
The frames are usually made from a thin, wire metal with a double or triple bridge, but these days there are also lightweight plastic ones available on the market. While early versions had polarized lenses to reduce glare, today’s aviators also feature non-polarized or mirrored lenses, as most modern flying instruments are electronic.
Aviators were very much a ‘masculine’ pair of shades in the early days, but they have a unisex appeal in modern times, and companies have developed softer hues and tints along with smaller frames to suit female faces.
If you think this is your kind of sunglasses, you can check out our list of the best Aviator sunglasses.
Before the Wayfarers, sunglasses still featured symmetrical shapes and thin wire frames. When the Wayfarers were first introduced by Ray-Ban in the 1950s, the design’s trapezoidal frame was unlike any available on the market – and their popularity soared. The sunglasses were also revolutionary as they were the first to employ new plastic molding technology; ushering in a new era of lightweight plastic eyewear.
Now considered a timeless classic, the Wayfarer has endured years of fashion trends without ever really going out of style. Their large, rounded lenses and flat tops flatter most face shapes, while wide temples fit snugly at the sides of the head.
The models hit an all-time high among musicians, notably Madonna, Michael Jackson and Queen, and were even worn by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. In recent years, they have featured in pop culture such as in the Twilight movie series, and on pop singers Katy Perry and Bruno Mars. It remains a popular style among the public today.
Almost exclusively worn by females, the cat eyes design saw their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. They are synonymous with vintage glam, having been worn by celebrities in Hollywood’s Golden Era, such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. Dramatic and outstanding, the frames usually have a sharp upsweep on the outer edges, similar to cats eyes, which the design is named after.
Modern takes on the design feature softer edges and rounded frames for a more current look, whilst still maintaining a retro glam vibe. There are modern designs for men, but these are usually more subdued.
What comes to mind when thinking of sunglasses for secret agents, bodyguards or military personnel? Most people would probably answer square or rectangular frames, and for good reason. Featuring clean and minimal lines, these frames have been a staple of sunglasses almost as long as they’ve been in production.
Rectangles give off a smart and classy vibe, while oversized, geometric squares with thick frames are popular among young executives today. For those of us old enough to remember the heydays of disco, square frames were all the rage and were usually paired with brown and amber tints popular in that era.
While people no longer wear them to dance to Stayin’ Alive, these glasses remain a versatile fashion item, and their angles lend strength and character to soft and round faces.
Retro’s the word when it comes to round sunglasses. And nobody wore them better than the legendary John Lennon, who solidified their status as an iconic fashion accessory. While Lennon usually sported shades made with thin wire frames, round designs today also feature thicker, plastic frames or rimless designs.
Some models, such as the Tom Ford Miranda, have undergone a modern interpretation, with oversized, figure-8 shaped frames. Others have retained the ‘Clubmaster’ look, which has a thin nose bridge that separates the lenses and creates a distinctive appearance.
Round frames have recently seen a resurgence in popularity, thanks to their charming, vintage look. Oversized lenses that cover most of the face are popular among women. For the men, smaller lenses and oval shapes are available, and give their wearers a distinguished and gentlemanly old-world charm.
The shield and wraparound frames are most commonly found in sunglasses designed for sports and outdoor activities. They first became part of popular culture in the 1980s, thanks to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Celebrities such as Kanye West and Pitbull are fond of donning this style for their red carpet appearances and music videos. Characterized by a continuous or two separate lenses, the goggle-like design wraps around the face to provide maximum coverage against sunlight.
The wide, curving lenses also protect the eyes from all angles. When paired with tones such as chrome, silver and black as well as reflective lenses, they look very modern and futuristic. Some shield designs are large, while others are thin and ergonomic for high performance sports.
Rimless and Semi-Rimless
There are those of us who prefer the minimalistic look, and the rimless style fulfils this criterion. The sunglasses consist of the temples and a bridge connecting two lenses, with a hidden frame at the top for structure. Semi-rimless types are open at the bottom. These designs are usually smaller and are a good alternative to shades with thick frames. While professional-looking, they might not provide as much protection for your vision.
Usage and Frame Material
Sunglass frames are made from materials such as metal or plastic. You might want to consider the pros and cons of each, depending on what you’ll be using them for. If you’re playing in high impact sports, consider getting sturdy but lightweight frames, such as those found on sports and wraparound sunglasses. They are also suitable for general use and daily wear. Metal frames, such as those made from steel or alloy, are heavier but have a classic, sophisticated style. They are also built to last for years.
If frames were the structures that held everything together, then the lenses are the core; essential components in a pair of sunglasses. And just like frames, they come in a variety of types, designed and manufactured for different purposes.
Glare happens when light reflects off flat surfaces in a horizontal direction, such as on water or smooth pavements. This hurts our eyes, causes strain, and can be dangerous as it prevents us from seeing clearly on the road. Polarized lenses are made to reduce glare, thanks to a special chemical film coating that only allows vertical light rays to pass through.
Fishermen and boating enthusiasts have been using these lenses to help them net a catch or navigate challenging currents, way before they became popular with the general public. Today, they have a wide variety of applications, including outdoor sports such as golfing, biking and running. Others prefer these lenses for general use and driving, as they can reduce glare reflected from the road on sunny days. Those who are sensitive to light, such as post-eye surgery patients, can also benefit from them.
However, polarized sunglasses has its cons. Wearers will not be able to see LCD and LED displays on their electronic devices, so if you’re driving and navigating with a GPS, you’ll have to constantly lift the shades up to view the screen, which can be dangerous. They are not recommended for skiing, as the lenses make it difficult to distinguish between patches of snow, which can be dangerous.
Polarized lenses are also more expensive. Unless you’re using them specifically to reduce glare, they might not offer significant benefits over regular, non-polarized lenses.
These are your most common lenses on the market and are efficient at reducing brightness and light intensity. However, they do not block glare. Pilots and people who need to use electronic equipment whilst still protecting their eyes from the sun outdoors can opt for these, as they do not affect the wearer’s view of LCD screens. They are usually darker than polarized lenses and cost cheaper.
Mirrored lenses are the kind sported by Tom Cruise in Top Gun. They act like tiny one-way mirrors, so the user’s eyes are completely hidden from view – perfect for when you’re going for that cool, mysterious look. Mirrored lenses are coated with a reflective optical layer. They are effective at reducing the amount of light passing through by a further 10% to 60% compared to regular lenses. Their reflective feature helps to cut down on glare, although not as well as polarized lenses, so they are still useful for sunny environments where there is sand, water or snow.
The sun’s harmful UV rays can damage the eyes, causing conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration and temporary vision loss. While most sunglasses offer UV protection, buyers should look out for lenses that block UV rays by 99% to 100%. One common myth goes that the darker the lenses or tint, the better the UV protection. This is not true, as even clear lenses with no tint and 100% UV protection are better than dark ones with no UV protection. This is because dark tints cause our pupils to become dilated, allowing more UV light to enter.
To be on the safe side, always purchase from reputable sources and remember to check labels for a certified stamp. Buyers can also pay a visit to the optometrist for a quick test.
Older sunglass lenses were made from optical glass, but with advancements in technology, plastic lenses have emerged as an alternative. Both have their advantages and disadvantages over the other. Glass offers the highest optical clarity and are scratch resistant, but they are heavier and can be dangerous if shattered. Some companies make their glasses shatter-proof, but cheaper brands might not have this option.
Plastic lenses are lightweight and cheap. They are made from a cast molding process, where the material is baked and solidified into a lens shape.
Polycarbonate, a type of thermoplastic, is another common lens material. Instead of molding, polycarbonate pellets are melted and the resulting liquid is rapidly injected into a mold and compressed to form lenses. They are lightweight and thin, highly resistant to impact and tougher than regular plastic lenses. However, they are more prone to scratches.
Lens Tints and Gradients
There are so many sunglass colors available on the market – a plethora of green, blue, and grey to softer ambers, reds and pinks. Full tints coat the entire lens, while gradients usually run from top to bottom, so the top is darker and gradually lightens at the bottom.
Aesthetics aside, gradients provide extra protection from overhead sunlight, while still allowing for wearers to see quickly through the bottom, to view car dashboards or to read books in sunny environments.
Likewise, tints are not just for decoration, as different colors suit different conditions. Gray and green lenses are ‘neutral’ tones and provide the most natural colors. They are also darker, better at reducing brightness, and therefore most suitable for sunny weather. Browns and ambers are lighter and increase color contrast, while yellows are good for foggy or low light conditions.
You can have the best pair of sunglasses in the world, but it wouldn’t matter if they weren’t the right or comfortable fit – you wouldn’t wear them! While most companies give a rough estimate of how their sizes fit ‘small, medium or large faces’, these are subjective. Just like clothing, different brands can fit differently on individual faces, even though they claim to have the same size.
Determining your measurements can save you both money and time. This is especially important when buying shades online, since you can’t try them on like at the optical shops.
Before buying a pair of sunglasses, the three most important things to know are the eye, bridge and temple sizes.
Eye size is the lens width, usually between 40mm to 62mm. This is the horizontal diameter of one lens, measured at its widest point.
Bridge size is the width of the metal or plastic nose bridge connecting the lenses, and they fall between 14mm to 22mm.
Last but not least, temple size indicates the length of the arms of the sunglasses. They are measured from the hinge to the tips and number between 120mm to 150mm.
Among these, eye size is the best determinant in helping you to get the right fit. Companies like Ray-Ban offer 52mm, 55mm and 58mm sizes.
To measure how large your frames should be, line a ruler or tape up on the milimeter side, starting from one temple to the other. The ruler should be floating right in front of your face instead of touching it. The total width between your temples is the frame size.
Online stores usually list down the eye and bridge sizes. So if the lenses have an eye size of 52mm each, multiply that by 2, add the bridge size and 3mm on each side (for the hinges), and you get the total frame width (130mm). If this matches your own measurements, give or take 2mm, then it will probably fit well.
Unlike eyeglasses, sunglasses are usually bigger, but they don’t need to be an exact fit so buyers can still go one size up or down.
Pro tip: If you already own a pair of glasses, the measurements are usually stamped on the side of the temple or over the nose bridge. If, for example, the numbers show 52-16-140, then it means that the eye size is 52mm, the bridge size is 16mm and the temple size is 140mm.
As much as we wear sunglasses for eye protection, we also get them to complement our looks. A good pair of shades should be able to satisfy both form and function. Unfortunately, not all sunglasses were made equal, or at least, when it comes to how well they suit different face types. Some shapes can be more flattering than others. The right frames can balance out our face shape and facial features. The thing to look out for is symmetry.
People with oval faces have lines that taper down gracefully to the chin, with a wider forehead and high cheekbones. If you fall into this category, then consider yourself blessed as this is the easiest type to match with sunglasses! Oval faces go well with most designs, so it’s only a matter of preference.
With round faces, the length and the width of the face are fairly equal. They are also characterized by a wide forehead, full cheeks and a rounded chin. If you have this face type, stay clear of round or oval frames, as this will make your face look bigger. Instead, go for square or rectangular frames that will highlight the top part of your face. Frames with fixed edges and significant corners will lend some strength and character to your otherwise soft features.
If you have a square face, then you share the same face shape as prominent celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Olivia Wilde. These face types are striking and angular, with a bony jawline. Avoid designs with too many lines, as this will make your face look box-like. Opt for round, oval or aviator-style shades to soften the look. You don’t have to go for perfectly round sunglasses – anything with soft, rounded edges will help to reduce the angles of your face significantly.
Those with rectangular faces have similar features to square faces, but they are thin and narrower. Avoid shallow, small frames, as this will make your face look even longer. Oversized shades should do the trick; ‘shortening’ your face and making it appear more well-balanced. Designs with a strong and thick brow line will help to make your face look wider.
This is another easy one when it comes to matching sunglasses. People with heart-shaped faces have a strong and sharp chin, a wide, prominent forehead, and broad brows. Shift the attention away from the top part of your face by picking frames with wide, exaggerated bottoms, such as oversized aviators, cats eye, round or geometric square shapes.
HAIR AND SKIN COLOR
You’ve got the face shape and what frames to get, time to go hunt for a pair of sunglasses, right? But wait – there’s still hair and skin color to consider! Matching your hair and skin tone to the right shades will really make the look pop. There are also warm and cool undertones to consider. Warm undertones will have hints of red, orange or yellow, while cool undertones will feature blue, green or violet.
They say that blondes have more fun, and we couldn’t agree more, seeing as they have such a wide variety of colors and frames to choose from. Dark shades are favourable, since they provide contrast. Blondes with warm undertones should pick frames with tortoise or peach hues, dark greens or rich reds. Meanwhile, cool undertones such as ash blondes should opt for dark gray, blue, dark tortoise, black and pink. Colors with strong yellow or gold should be avoided.
Rock the brunette look with vibrant colors! Those with warm undertones leaning towards red and auburn should sport pink, blue, black, or warm greens, reds and off-whites.
Cooler undertones are usually lighter, such as ash brown. They pair well with blue, pink, purple, green and white.
Red hair is naturally vivid, and pairs well with strong frame colors. Green and red pair well together, as are basic neutrals such as black and white. Earthy colors such as caramel, brown , maroon and burgundy are also good choices. Avoid ash and yellow tones, which will appear dull and muted
Black hair tends to be uniform throughout, so pairing them with metallics such as silver will create a stylish contrast. For a more conservative look, go for solid colors such as black, white and cool blues with thick, bold frames. Avoid soft, diluted colors such as pastel or ash, which will have a washed out appearance against dark hair.
Just like hair, skin has undertones. Warm skin tones have a gold or apricot color with green-tinted veins, while cool skin tones have a pink or rosy color with blue-tinted veins.
Cool tones go well with bold, solid colors such as blue, pink, green, purple, silver, grey, tortoise and black.
Warm tones pair with earthy schemes such as gold, orange, brown, red, tan, olive and ivory.
The shade of your skin should also be taken into account. People with light and fair skin should pick darker colors, while those with dark skin can opt for bright hues that blend well with your complexion. Think light colored frames and lenses in hues of black, brown or gold.
As you’ll be wearing your sunglasses for long periods of time, comfort should be of the utmost priority. You don’t want to be constantly pushing them back up your nose bridge, or having them slide off your ears. Some of the features that buyers should look out for on a pair of glasses are the temples. Temples are the sides of the frame that go on or over the ears, keeping your sunglasses in place. They come in a few designs.
Skull temples are the most common; with the temples hooking down behind the ears to rest evenly against the skull. Constructed of either wire or metal, most have soft, plastic tips for comfort.
Comfort cable temples are more old-fashioned, with a C-shaped wire metal frame that fits snugly around and behind the ears.
Today, an increasing number of sunglasses feature bayonet temples which are straight and curve slightly around the back of the head instead of going over the ears. This allows them to be worn under helmets or headgear. They are most commonly used in sports and outdoor activities, and have a sleek, modern look.
Other than temples, buyers should also look at the nose pads on their pair of sunglasses. Those made from soft but firm material will grip well on the nose, preventing them from slipping off. On the other hand, they should not be too tight until they leave indentations on the nose. Good quality nose pads should not snag on hair when the sunglasses are pushed up onto the head.
Cheap Vs Expensive
At the end of the day, we can go on and on about how good a pair of sunglasses are, but the question is – are you willing to invest in them? There are all sorts of sunnies available on the market, and some are cheaper than others.
Inexpensive sunglasses can usually be bought from the gas station or the drug store, with plastic frames and lenses. The lenses might even offer 100% UV protection sunglasses, but because the quality is low, they’ll probably not last beyond a few uses. They might also break and scratch easily.
Expensive sunglasses have better quality. Apart from sturdier frames, they come with optical glass or polycarbonate lenses which do not scratch easily and are impact resistant, as opposed to cheap plastic ones.
They also offer high optical clarity, better lenses and clearer vision. Hinges are less likely to break and are built to take abuse from being opened and closed multiple times a day.
Another advantage of expensive sunglasses is that they can be customized. Brands such as Oakley allow wearers to swap different lenses out of their frames. For example, you can swap out non-polarized lenses for polarized lenses when you need to reduce glare for outdoor activities. For users who need eye correction, some models are prescription ready. The frames can be taken apart without compromising on their functionality.
High quality sunglasses do not have to be super expensive. There are those in the mid-range category, such as American Optical aviators, that offer exceptional performance at an affordable price. You may check out our buying guide for the best American Optical sunglasses.
When it comes down to it, sunglasses are like everything else – you get what you pay for. Instead of going through dozens of cheap sunglasses, investing in a more expensive one might even save you more in the long run. It also cuts down on the hassle of having to replace them often. A good pair can easily last you five years or more.