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The Basics of Men’s Sunglasses

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Thursday, June 10th, 2010 in Fashion, The Style Guide

As it’s now officially summer and many of you are likely out in the bright sun, a pair of sunglasses are a great — and in many cases, invaluable — part of your wardrobe. For that purpose, here’s a quick overview of some of the basics types of glasses, how to buy a good pair, and some requisite warnings about sunglasses in general.

The Big Four Big Styles of Sunglasses

While there is an incredible amount of variation with sunglasses nowadays, sunglasses as we know them can be broken down into four distinct styles — aviators, wayfarers, browlines (clubmasters), and sport sunglasses. There are other styles that have found popularity (I’ll mention them briefly near the bottom of this section), but these are the top 4 you’re likely to run into.

Aviators

Aviators are what are generally the most popular nowadays for most men. Aviators, as their name indicates, really developed popularity vis-a-vis pilots, but also via pop icons of the day wearing them, such as Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Aviators are typically considered to be very masculine and, because they can be readily reshaped without looking ridiculous, they can be made to fit a variety of facial shapes. While traditional aviators (especially traditional Ray-Ban aviators) typically feature a flat lens, many brands now (Ray-Ban, Armani Exchange, etc etc) have begun to transition to shaped lenses, such as aviators with a more ergonomic wrap-around style.

Aviators are generally appropriate for 95% of the male population. As I mentioned above, most brands carry a variety of sizes, styles, and colors, which allow for virtually any facial shape or style to look at least moderately decent in them. This, of course, means a huge percentage of the male population also has them. Nonetheless, if you want a good all-around pair of sunglasses, Aviators tend to be one of the better buys you can make.

Wayfarers

Wayfarers are another huge seller, especially nowadays. Wayfarers have a teensy bit less history to them than Aviators — designed specifically for the consumer market, Wayfarers were a deliberate (and quite successful) attempt at making a unique but utterly stylish frame in chunky plastic rather than metal. What resulted was a chunky but not overly large pair of remarkably modern looking sunglasses, which ended up selling ridiculously well, especially as they were adopted by celebrities. In the 80s, Wayfarers had a significant resurgence which died out in the 90s, but today Wayfarers are enjoying a return to popularity as people look increasingly towards 80s fashion. As they are incredibly cheap to make (pending the lenses are cheap as well), Wayfarers are available in countless knockoff varieties.

Wayfarers are, like Aviators, now available in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes, so they can work for virtually anyone, male or female. With that being said, their popularity now appears to be something of a fad, one that will likely die down eventually as other glasses take the forefront. While the style itself will never die off completely, it’s likely that, even today, wearing Wayfarers could be seen as a bit outdated or overdone. Feel free to adopt them, but be careful.

Clubmasters (Browline Sunglasses)

Clubmasters, a I predicted a year or two ago, are beginning to hit a major resurgence despite their relatively antiquated appearance. Constructed as perhaps a mixture of a Wayfarer and an Aviator, Clubmasters are sunglasses with a very strong plastic upper piece holding a lens, which is supported underneath by a wire. This hybrid look is distinctly masculine and very retro, and it evokes memories of the 50s and, very controversially, the public figure Malcolm X. These are really building up steam in the fashion world — they’ve been increasingly seen in movies and TV shows (think Tom Hanks in Catch me if you Can or Noah Bennet in Heroes), and are likely to come back to the fashion scene full force very soon.

Clubmasters are hard to deal with, period. As they are very masculine glasses, they tend to look ridiculous on anyone who couldn’t plausibly pull off the 50s retro vibe — many stars have tried making them modern with very little success. Clubmasters are not for the avant garde — they are for the gin and tonic crowd. With that being said, if you have a masculine face and could plausibly pull off the retro vibe (either in the hypermasculine Mad Men sense or even the somewhat sporty 40s Ivy League sense), wear them, ASAP. Otherwise, stay the hell away from them.

Sports Sunglasses (Wraparounds et al)

I’m lumping most (if not all) sporty shades in here for a reason — they aren’t made for fashion. Sport shades, notably brands such as Oakley, are not made so much for fashion as much as they are for utilitarian purpose. For the most part, sport sunglasses are distinguishable by being made to wrap around (both in the lenses and in the arms), and in the fact that they typically have changes made to them to be more useful for active people (for example, grips on the end of the sunglass arms to hold to your head if your head moves quickly).

As you can probably guess, these are really not advisable to wear in the context of fashion. If you need them for a specific purpose (sports), buy a pair and wear them for that. However, wearing them outside of that context tends to look ridiculous. While arguably all sunglasses are made for activity and style, sport sunglasses are largely not fashionable.

Other Styles

Of course, there are many other styles — I’m just not covering them, as they don’t appear as often. Many brands have various forms of rectangular sunglasses, which are simply rectangular lenses with very basic wire frames. Very very rarely, you will find things like teashades (traditionally, small circle lenses) on the market. More commonly, the above categories will usually be fused into some new style or fashion that really never takes hold — for example, bug eye sunglasses (largely an article of women’s fashion) sometimes make their way into the men’s market via modifications to Wayfarers and/or Aviators, which usually never look good.

How to Buy a Good Pair

So, now that you understand the four basic pairs, the question emerges: how the hell do you find a good pair?

First, ascertain your facial shape. Figuring out your facial shape is essential to determining what looks good on you. For example, if you happen to have a fat face, for example, try to avoid wearing anything that looks too ridiculously small or huge — either will make your face look bloated or disproportionate. Alternatively, if you have a square face (especially a strong jaw), try to avoid any frames that are too slender, lest they make your face look ridiculously wide.

Second off, prepare to pay good money. Never ever buy cheap sunglasses. While it always seems tempting to do so, the purchase rarely works out well in the long run. If you tend to lose or break sunglasses ridiculously easy, it is a different story — however, nothing quite beats the quality (both in the lenses, the frames, and the general style) of a good pair of $100+ sunglasses. Do not be cheap.

Third off, shop around, and bring a friend. Try everything you possibly can on. While it’s easy to try to ascertain your facial shape, it’s more difficult to see how sunglasses will work on you — always try things on in person, never ever buy online unless you have tried them on in person elsewhere. Remember, sunglasses tend to change the shape and appearance of your face — do not be cheap or quick to buy anything.

Basic Knowledge and Warnings about Sunglasses

  • If you can, buy sunglasses with good UV protection. Typically, sunglasses of this caliber are labeled UV 400, but there are various demarcations. Many cheap sunglasses do not feature this protection, which is a very strong reason to buy a solid, slightly more expensive pair.
  • Polarization matters… somewhat. Polarization is not so much protection per se as much as it is reduction of glare. This does not necessarily make these sunglasses better for UV protection, but it does help in many circumstances. Nonetheless, it is not a necessity for most.
  • Mirroring isn’t necessary, and somewhat played out. Mirrored sunglasses typically filter out more sunlight than other sunglasses, but this makes them neither more effective at protecting your eyes from UV radiation nor better sunglasses in general. Mirrored aviators at one point were somewhat popular, but are now somewhat cheap and played out. They can be done, but not very easily.
  • Scratchproofing is useful for obvious reasons. It may cost a bit more, but it pays for itself in preventing your sunglasses from needless damage.
  • Many, many sunglasses are made by the same company: Luxottica. I’m not kidding. Luxottica makes sunglasses for brands such as Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Prada, Persol, Revo, Chanel, Vogue, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo, Versace, Brooks Brothers, and many, many more. Most importantly, Luxottica owns Ray-Ban. What this means is that these glasses all tend to be of somewhat equal quality, and a $100 pair of Ray-Bans may be very much equally good as a pair of expensive Versace sunglasses, simply without the branding and frame style. This is not to imply they are all the exact same pair — however, it is to imply that the designer sunglasses aren’t exactly magically better.

In Closing — Some actual advice

Instead of closing this in my usual vague way, I’m going to be a little bit brave here and give some blunt opinions:

  • If you want a good pair of sunglasses for a decent price, Ray-Ban is always safe, either in Aviators or Wayfarers. Aviators are always safe, pending you get a pair that fits your head. Don’t get some wild colored crap, get something in either the standard dark grey, green, or maybe a tan. Gold or gunmetal frame, or something like it. No wild colors, nothing. Keep it masculine.
  • If you want a pair of Wayfarers, keep them in black, unless you’re intentionally trying to make a statement. Black goes with everything. Red, maybe. Don’t go for plaid.
  • Same for Clubmasters. Black. In this case, never go for another color, unless it is maybe a tortoiseshell.
  • If you don’t like Ray-Ban, go for Oliver Peoples, which is a lot more expensive but a bit more sexy. Their variations on the basics are also much more reasonable.
  • Never buy anything cheap from places like Urban Outfitters.
  • Your typical man really needs only one pair of well fitted nice quality sunglasses. Anything more than that is nice, but not necessary. Do not feel necessarily left out of some club if you only have one pair — just invest in a good pair and stick with them until they disintegrate on your face.

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5 Responses to The Basics of Men’s Sunglasses

  1. wallaby says:

    I recently bought a pair of Persols after my last pair of cheap sunglasses broke. I really like them, would probably say they’re worth the $90 or so I spent for them on eBay. My only caveat is I like wearing sunglasses while biking, and these slip off my head real easily. I’m not interested in buying ANOTHER pair of expensive sunglasses just for activity, so I’m probably going to look for some strips of rubber or something to stick to the insides of the frame arms.

    My only piece of advice is to check eBay for name-brand sunglasses. There seem to be a lot of legitimate sellers whose stock is a few seasons old but sell for as much as half the cost.

    • Zeaos says:

      Forget Ebay. All the sunglasses that seem like deals (e.g. Rayban aviators for $120) are almost guaranteed to be counterfeit. Read the comments, there are boatloads of people who went to ebay to get a ‘deal’ who regretted it; you can read their stories, there are hundreds of them.

  2. drew says:

    I’m just the opposite. I am active a lot so I bought a good pair of Oakleys that will stay put when I sweat and just not move a lot in general. I think they look better on me than anything except maybe Aviators but I don’t want to buy a nice stylish pair of shades when I can just throw on the ones I have. I love them btw, they are a perfect fit and do everything I need them to.

    I know sport sunglasses aren’t usually associated with dressing up or anything, but I don’t really wear sunglasses in those occasions anyway. I think you were a little harsh on them.

  3. Cheese says:

    I’m in the military so I have a couple different pairs of oakleys. I don’t know if it’s the military thing, but oakleys specifically work well for me. I think a lot of people can make sport sunglasses as you put them work, even in classy situations.

  4. pooo says:

    “Forget Ebay. All the sunglasses that seem like deals (e.g. Rayban aviators for $120) are almost guaranteed to be counterfeit.”

    You’re dumb… I’ve bought Oakleys off Ebay constantly and never counterfeit. That’s where you will find new, real Oakleys for 60 bucks as opposed to paying $160 for them.. Obviously a seller who has 100% positive feed back isn’t going to be selling counterfeit stuff.

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