Sunglasses are the cool factor that elevates even the most pedestrian outfits – see Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street to see what we mean.
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Whether you’re sporting wayfarers, aviators, or Clubmasters, your eyewear suddenly adds a sense of mystery.
Yet, men’s sunglasses often do more as an accessory. Especially with all the talk of free radicals, UV exposure, and anti-aging over the past decade, your shades better offer some ultraviolet (UV) protection – preferably UVA/UVB for more comprehensive coverage.
Added to this, sports sunglasses, like those from Oakley and other active brands, deliver a combination of impact resistance, anti-fog properties, and moisture- and dirt-blocking to keep your vision clear as you focus on the activity.
Sunglasses were invented all the way back in the 18th century. In 1752, James Ayscough added a set of tinted lenses into a pair of ordinary glasses, thinking that a darker blue or green could improve the vision of visually impaired people. This led to doctors recommending amber or brown-tinted sunglasses to those recovering from syphilis in the early 20th century. At the time, many found the darker color decreased eye strain.
Predictably, it wasn’t until the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 40s and 50s that sunglasses as a casual accessory — then worn by stars so they would be less recognizable — took off. In the subsequent decades, styles, especially those for men, have heavily pulled from military influences.
Types of Men’s Sunglasses
Although new frames come out every few years, classic men’s sunglasses fall into the following types:
You can see the military influence in the name. Designed for pilots in the 1930s, aviator sunglasses have tear-drop shaped lenses, a double bridge in between, and typically a metal frame, although you’ll come across plastic or acrylic options. At the time, they offered clear, all-around peripheral vision, and that level of coverage still proves to be an asset today.
These days, the wayfarer is synonymous with Ray-Ban, but the frame is one of the most versatile and flattering out there, thanks to its mix of angles, trapezoid-like lenses, and rounded edges. As well, this style, in traditional or more square-shaped versions like the Wayfarer II, typically has a thicker acetate or plastic frame.
Associated with counterculture style, round-frame sunglasses are intertwined with hippy culture, 90s crime movies (see National Born Killers), and 70s rock stars like Elton John and John Lennon. They’ve made a comeback in more recent years, and the design is relatively unchanged, featuring medium-width circular lenses and metal or transparent acetate frames.
As one variation, if you elongate the circle into an oval, you end up with the Matrix-style trend we’ve been seeing over the past year.
Some might call this a variation on wayfarers, but Ray-Ban introduced it as a separate half-rim frame with a horn shape on top and circular bottom. The design remains relatively unchanged today, although you’ll spot a few more angular versions out there.
This sunglasses style is nearly always associated with sports and active uses, heavily influenced by ski and racing styles, although it had a brief casual run in the 90s. In any context, wraparound frames tend to have elliptical-shaped lenses that curve around to offer more side coverage and often sit closer to the face to keep out debris.
As the name implies, a keyhole detail, often created by a double bridge, sits right at the center of these sunglasses and helps it stay in place better. The rest of the frame may feature round or aviator-style lenses.
Browbar sunglasses, too, resemble aviators in many aspects. However, the key feature is a metal bar, often rounded in appearance, attached to the top of the frame.
Styles of Men’s Sunglasses
These days, men’s sunglasses have three distinct styles, regardless of the particular frame you choose:
- Full frame: This is the most standard, with a frame going around the entire outer edge of the lens
- Half frame: This style nearly always includes Clubmasters, but any other type will do. Here, the frame goes along the top part of the lenses, while the bottom is left open in varying degrees.
- Frameless or Rimless: We’ve been seeing more of these in recent years. While the frame touches the temple, the rest of the edge surrounding the lens is left open. While they appear to float, realize that the lenses will display chips and cracks if you’re not careful.
Expensive vs. Cheap Sunglasses: What’s the Difference?
The quick answer: Composition. The pair you picked up at the drugstore or H&M is likely made out of molded plastic. You’ll find these in multiple colors and they tend to have a lighter feel, but they break easily. Chances are, you’l be going through at least a pair per year.
Higher-end brands, however, utilize acetate, a stronger material that’s surprisingly light and flexible for its composition. Unlike petroleum-based molded plastic, acetate may be sourced from cellulose, usually from cotton or tree fibers, and as a result, it tends to look more transparent. Because acetate can be applied in layers, a mixed type of frame, like mock tortoise or Havana, can easily be created.
As well, rather than use a single-piece mold, acetate first starts as a block, from which parts of the frame are cut out and then polished, before they’re assembled together.
As a third option, metal frames have been around for decades. Modern options offer better corrosion resistance, but as a note, the metal itself has been known to bend out of shape.
As far as the lenses are concerned, men’s sunglasses use three basic types. Plastic lenses – the cheapest option – are actually on the thicker side and require additional treatments to provide UV and scratch resistance.
Higher-end sunglasses, however, trade this in for polycarbonate – a thinner material with far greater impact resistance. Optical glass – used for both prescription and non-prescription sunglasses – ups these both with a greater level of durability and scratch resistance. However, tests have shown that polycarbonate offers greater impact resistance for active use.
The Best Sunglasses for Eye Protection
There are no best sunglasses for eye protection. Instead, you need to think about how you want to protect your eyes, and seek out the appropriate lens coatings and treatments:
- UV Resistant: This is the standard baseline for protection. Lenses, even the cheaper plastic kind, are made or treated with UV-blocking chemicals that repel part of the ultraviolet light present. Ideally, look for sunglasses that block out UVA – the longer wavelengths that pass through glass – and UVB – known to damage vision light.
- Photochromic: Growing in popularity over the past 20 years, photochromic lenses change when exposed to various UV light intensities, going from dark in bright, sunny conditions, to lighter on overcast days. Typically, these are a feature for prescription lenses, particularly those who wear corrective eyeglasses.
- Gradient: Although not a protective lens per se, gradient lenses are darker on top and lighter toward the bottom, making them ideal for driving in sunnier conditions.
- Mirror Lenses: Although many mirror coatings are strictly for style, truly reflective coatings reduce glare and create a clearer vision for those sensitive to bright light.
What are Polarized Sunglasses?
Another protective option, polarized lenses also reduce the amount of glare caused by sunlight and reflective light. The lenses, in doing this, lessen the brightness of light coming at the wearer and also dim the glare of any light bouncing off a reflective surface. As a result, polarized sunglasses are ideal for driving, cycling, snow sports, water sports, and any activity where the wearer could come in contact with sun and reflective surfaces.
Started in 1917 by photographer Giuseppe Ratti, Persol built a name for itself designing more technical sunglasses, including those for pilots and racing drivers. Although its product line through the 20th century embraced more casual styles, Persol’s key models, including the Protector and Model 649, remain quintessential active sunglasses.
A more recent brand, Oakley goes back to a grippy pair of men’s sunglasses creator James Jannard developed in the 1970s and sold at motocross events. Relatively powerful at the time, the frames stayed in place even during extreme activities. Jannard continued to build upon this foundation with other technical features – most notably, the O-Frame goggles, Oakley High Definition Optics® (HDO®) lenses, and Plutonite® impact-resistant lenses.
A large percentage of the frame shapes listed above go back to Ray-Ban’s developments, including the Aviator, the Wayfarer, and the Clubmaster. The Aviator, particularly, was innovative for its era. As planes had to travel farther distances and at greater altitudes, pilots needed sunglasses that could block out the sun’s glare. Ray-Ban’s version added green lenses to reduce the glare and a teardrop shape for more coverage. By the 40s, Ray-Ban added gradient mirror lenses to block out the sun’s glare without obscuring the plane’s features.