100 years ago, a man would own at least a few hats. Today, sunglasses have taken their place and hats are worn by only a very few men. While they certainly protect your eyes, they are also an excellent way to add personal style to your outfit. With that said, there are some hard and fast rules one should adhere to when wearing shades.
Hint: They don’t go with morning dress, no matter how many times Rocko tells you they do.
As with many an accessory, there is a right way and a wrong way to wear them. Either sunglasses will protect you and make you look suave and debonair, or they’ll protect you and make you look like a first class jerk. There generally isn’t any in-between.
Sunglasses, like many accessories, stemmed from a very practical purpose: protecting your eyes from the intensity of light to enhance your vision when it’s impaired by light or glare. Today, they are no longer a simple, practical tool. They are, without any doubt, a way to showcase personal style and flair, with some owning multiple pairs so they can match the right pair of shades with their outfits, occasion and mood. In most scenarios, eye doctors will recommend wearing protective eyewear such as sunglasses anytime the sun is out. Regardless of the season, sunglasses are a daily prescription that most people should be tasked with wearing. In fact, it is the glare of the sun off the snow during winter that can be the most blinding of all.
The History of Sunglasses
For as long as man has squinted at the blinding sun, the use of sunglasses has been around. Dating as far back as prehistoric times, the Inuit people would cover their eyes with rudimentary, slitted goggles made from walrus ivory that would help to shield their eyes from the harsh rays of the sun. While this is the first documented use of sunglasses, the Roman emperor Nero was the man who really brought sunglasses to public light. Yes, I did just write that.
Legend has it that Nero would watch the gladiators battle through emeralds he placed in front of his eyes. While they would obviously distort his vision, they provided him some much-needed relief from the reflective rays of the hot summer sun. Nero wasn’t the only one to use minerals as protection from the sun; in China, people would use smoked quartz crystals to combat the blinding glare. Also, it was the Chinese who first wore sunglasses indoors, which lead to sunglasses being worn by government spies. The judges in China’s top courts would wear prescribed sunglasses, not as a method of preventing temporary blindness from the natural elements, but to conceal their faces while questioning witnesses on the stand. Following this historic achievement, government agents working in protective and combat-related roles would use these shields not only to improve the clarity of their vision in the sun, but to conceal where they were looking. Sunglasses have since become synonymous with James Bond-style secret agents and Secret Service bodyguards charged with protecting high risk or affluent members of society. By wearing sunglasses (both indoors and out), they didn’t have to wait for their eyes to adjust as much as they would have had they forgone the use of sun glasses as protective eyewear.
Then, in 1752, a man by the name of James Ayscough began to experiment with tinted lenses by placing them in spectacles. According to documentation, Ayscough believed that glasses tinted in a blue or green color could correct the eyesight of visually impaired people. It’s widely accepted by historians that he had, at the time of his experimentation, no intention of creating sunglasses as we know them today.
When syphilis became widespread throughout the early twentieth century, doctors would begin to prescribe amber and brown tinted glasses, since the sensitivity to light was such a pronounced symptom of the disease. These were, in fact, the first modernized sunglasses and not goggles that man had managed to produce. Their ability to alleviate the strain placed on the eye by the sun was profound, and many people began to wear these corrective spectacles as everyday accessories to protect their eyes and enhance their vision.
By the 1900’s, sunglasses had achieved widespread appeal and critical acclaim by the masses. As the trend hit America, movie stars began wearing them in public to prevent fans from recognizing them. This trend in Hollywood, like any trend in Hollywood, increased the mass appeal, and film buffs from around the world began adopting the large framed sunglasses worn by the Hollywood elite. Manufacturers like Sam Foster began to produce them in bulk, and the use of sunglasses was no longer limited to people wanting to avoid strain to their eyes — sunglasses had become a fashionable accessory and one that every man and woman wanted to flaunt proudly.
When Sam Foster introduced mass-produced sunglasses in the late 1920’s, he was doing little more than servicing an eager audience and began to sell these glamorized accessories under the name Foster Grant on the boardwalks of Atlantic City. In 1938, sunglasses hit the press when Life magazine called them “a favorite affection of women all over the US.” By that time, more than 20 million sunglasses had been sold in the United States, yet only a quarter of the wearers needed them for impaired vision. The rest wore them as an accessory.
In 1936, a man by the name of Edwin H. Land would invent polarized sunglasses, and the world of sunglasses took off. Pilots in the aviation community began to wear them to enhance visibility and reduce glare rather than the older goggles . By the 1980’s Ray Ban had capitalized on what are now commonly called “Aviators” when they placed a pair over the eyes of the iconic Tom Cruise in his hit blockbuster “Top Gun.” Today, despite hundreds of companies producing sunglasses, Ray-Bans continue to be one of the founding fathers of modern spectacles and an iconic fashion statement across the globe.
How Sunglasses Work
What’s important to look for, regardless, is protection from ultraviolet radiation, otherwise known as UV rays. These carry some of the most harmful side effects of the sun, which can result in both short-term and long-term ocular degeneration or impairment. Fortunately, the lenses that do protect against 99-100% of UVA and UVB light, with wavelengths of 400nm don’t drastically affect the price tag, and typically price is only affected based on semi-precious materials used in the production of the frames, or the name of the brand behind the glasses, because margins in the sunglasses industry are huge. Many experts recommend to look for sunglasses labeled as UV400, as opposed to sunglasses recognized by the European Union, which only require a maximum wavelength of 380nm.
Always bear in mind that protection afforded by sunglasses cannot be seen. Darker lenses do not offer more protection. The only way to ensure optimal protection from the sun is to either have them tested or made by a qualified optician. I find this advice particularly useful to people with prescriptions such as myself. It almost kills two birds with one stone, offering you the enhanced vision from your prescription spectacles with the protection from the harmful UV rays.
Today, there are three sets of standards typically used by the various sunglasses manufacturers. The Australian Standards, or AS/NZS 1067:2003, regulates both spectacles and sunglasses using five ratings for the filters from 0-4 based on absorbed light. The higher the number, the better the protection.
The European Standard, also known as EN 1836:2005, offers four ratings as well with “0” for insufficient UV protection, “2” for sufficient UHV protection, “6” for good UHV protection and “7” for “full” UHVV protection, meaning that no more than 5% of the 380nm rays are transmitted.
Finally, in the United States, sunglasses are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, also called the ANSI Z80.3-2001, which uses three transmittance ratings. According to the FDA, the testings include basic impact and high impact protection. In the basic impact test, a one-inch steel ball is dropped on the lens from a height of fifty inches. In the high-velocity test, a ¼ inch steel ball is shot at the lens at 150 feet per second. To successfully pass both tests, no part of the lens may touch the eye.
Also, there are many activities and events that regulate specific requirements for sunglasses. For example, a vast array of sporting events, vehicle races and other activities have basic standards. There are also very rigorous standards enforced for pilots, as well as a set of rules implemented by NASA and other space programs for space exploration.
Optical Quality of Sunglasses
Most people don’t even think about the optical quality of lenses, but in my experience, cheap sunglasses under $10 often suffer from visual distortion which can be especially dangerous if you are on a bike because the distance perceived through the lens may become wholly inaccurate. Moreover, the amount of contrast, resistance to scratches, and overall durability are important. In my experience, a great supplier of sunglasses’ lenses is Carl Zeiss. Now, the look and quality of the sunglasses can still be poor, even if you have good lenses, but at least your eyes are protected, and your vision is as good as it can be. Back in the day, when Ray-Ban was not part of Luxottica, Bausch & Lomb offered excellent lenses, and in the U.S. Randolph Engineering offers good quality. Of course, I am confident you can find other good quality lenses out here. That’s just my impression.
Types of Sunglasses
There are many styles available, and some may look better than others on particular face shapes. What’s more important to note than the specific look is what one should seek when selecting a pair not just for style, but for purpose as well.
For women this is easy. Large framed sunglasses are, again, popular and provide superior protection from the sun’s harmful rays. They provide the eyes with a larger sphere of protection and often come with broader temple arms which protect the eyes from stray light. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t apply to men, unless you happen to prefer the aviator glasses, though even then, most come with very thin temple arms.
Dark lenses, despite not necessarily offering more protection, do serve a very valuable purpose to the consumer. The two most popular reasons for purchasing dark is wanting to prevent people from seeing your eyes due to personal or professional reasons, or for individuals with ocular deformities, such as members of the blind community. Furthermore, these glasses are especially popular with professional servicemen and women such as police officers, military personnel and security guards who wear them either to hide their facial expressions or for intimidation purposes. In professional gambling such as poker, many players will wear dark sunglasses to prevent their opponent from reading their “tell” or eye movements that could give away their hand (or lack thereof). Of course, you could also settle for protective lenses, but that’s usually anything but stylish, and chances are you will end up looking like a redneck rather than like a sophisticated gentleman.
How Should Sunglasses Fit?
When it comes to discerning fit, it shouldn’t necessarily be the style of the glasses, but how well protected and closely covered your eyes are. Of course, at Gentleman’s Gazette we are primarily about men’s style, but, in the end, you still need to be able to see, or there isn’t any point to wearing sunglasses. Ideally, the frame should sit as close to the eye as possible to prevent stray light from entering through the sides or the top of the frames. While various types of stores sell everything from dollar brand sunglasses to designer frames, I recommend purchasing your sunglasses from a licensed optician. In today’s era, most opticians will feature a strong selection of designer frames, as well as budget frames for the price-conscious consumer. Most spectacles can be made into sunglasses, and it’s only by visiting one of these opticians that you’ll be certain to obtain the best fit for your face, because they can quickly adjust frames to your head and face. Certain chain stores such as The Sunglass Hut offer a great selection of designer frames, though merchants behind the counter usually have very limited ocular training, and in most cases are just young students working a casual part-time job. Another reason for utilizing a trusted local optician is the quality of the lenses, both optically and regarding protection.
Rather than buying glasses off the rack you can also go for bespoke sunglasses, but if you work with an optician, this will easily set you back several thousand dollars. The advantages include a perfect fit paired with lens choices and material selection, in addition to the fact that you can create your design.
Sunglass Materials – by Sven Raphael Schneider
Not all sunglasses are created equal and while the lenses are very important, you must not underestimate the impact of a great frame. The shape of the frame, as well as materials used, play a huge roel in the look and longevity of the sunglasses. Hence, let’s take a closer look at the materials.
Injection Molded Plastic
This is, by far, the number one method used in the making of sunglasses frames because it is inexpensive when produced on a large scale.
First, petroleum-based plastic is liquefied and then injected into a mold. Once cooled off the plastic is solidified into a frame. Colors are often added in layers of spray paint and coatings because it is less expensive.
Obviously, the advantage of this procedure is that it involves very little wastage; it is very inexpensive for the manufacturer, and the frame can be bent and shaped into form very easily.
On the other hand, it doesn’t look as attractive as acetate or horn frames, and it feels cheaper and less durable. Overall, I would never consider an injection molded pair of sunglasses to be quality, yet almost all designer sunglasses today are made that way, just like the $3 sunglasses from street vendors. Even though it produces almost no waste, the plastic used is made using petroleum, which is derived from oil.
Acetate is derived from cellulose such as cotton or tree fibers and is thus often referred to as plant-based plastic. Sometimes also called Zyl, it is the highest quality plastic used in the eyewear industry. Acetate is strong, lightweight, and flexible while providing the widest range of transparency, color richness and finishes of all materials used for making sunglasses. It can even be applied in layers of different colors resulting in countless sunglasses options. The production of a frame starts by forming layers of plastic into a block of acetate which is usually about 3 feet / 90cm long and about 1cm thick. The parts of the frame are then cut with a pantographing machine from this block before they are hand-polished and assembled.
The advantages of cellulose acetate are that it is made of renewable material (unlike petroleum-based plastic,) it is lightweight, hypoallergenic and extremely flexible. On top of that, it is more durable than injection-molded plastic and it offers a much greater range of transparency, color variation and so forth. On the other hand, it is more expensive to produce than injection-molded frames. Overall, I would choose acetate over injection-molded plastic 10 out of 10 times as a consumer, but because of the higher price, manufacturers prefer injection molding.
Some people prefer metal for their sunglasses.
Monel frames are made of a copper-nickel alloy, while titanium eyeglass frames are super sturdy and lightweight. Stainless steel sunglasses frames are made mostly of iron, resulting in a sturdy, heavier frame that is corrosion proof, whereas nickel silver frames are made from zinc, copper and nickel ,which can cause skin reactions and often ages poorly. At the end of the day titanium or iron frames are more sturdy, and carefree, whereas the other alloys usually don’t last for a long time and are not suggested for people with sensitive skin.
Water Buffalo Horn
Although frames that look like horn are often made from acetate, real horn provides a very different look and feel. Owners of horn glasses appreciate the fact that the frame heats up to body temperature, making it very comfortable to wear, and, overall, provides a more solid and luxurious build. At the same time, horn frames are very difficult to adjust and considerably more expensive than acetate or injection molded frames. If you want horn sunglasses, I suggest you go bespoke or work with an optician who offers different sizes because adjustments are rather difficult to make. Sometimes, you see acetate frames with a horn veneer, but this is mostly done for price reasons, and while it can work, it’s not quite like a real water buffalo horn frame. Unlike acetate, the range of colors is very limited, and because it is a natural material you will get a one-of-a-kind frame.
Genuine Tortoise Shell
Probably the most expensive frames in the world are made from genuine tortoise shell. It is derived from the shells of the larger species of the actual tortoise, the hawksbill turtle, which is an endangered species due largely to exploitation for this material. Therefore, the trade of tortoiseshell worldwide was banned under CITES in 1973. However, if you can prove that the tortoiseshell was harvested before 1973, you can still use it to make sunglasses’ frames. Because of regulations, expect to pay $15,000 to $20,000 for a frame, and even then I suggest you don’t engage in cross-border transactions. Genuine tortoiseshell turns matte over time, and so it needs to be polished on a regular basis.
In recent years, wood has also become popular as a material for sunglasses’ frames. In the beginning, you would only found quality wood sunglasses with a high price tag, but now you can find many inexpensive wooden sunglasses made in China.
The frames of sunglasses, like spectacles, come in a variety of forms. From plastics and metals to various alloys, there is a wide range of styles available. Even some companies such as Oakley use rubber to manufacture their frames. There are three primary styles that frames come in: full frame, half frame and frameless. Full frame sunglasses are often made of plastic or metal. Often with sports sunglasses, the frame wraps around the entire lens, offering the most protection available from elements such as debris and wind. Typically, for those who require sunglasses for professional purposes, full frame glasses are the standard. Half frame sunglasses are exactly what they sound like. Generally, the frame will cover the top and sides of the lens but not the bottom. Frameless glasses have no frames. The stem that holds the frame in place and the nose bridge are attached directly to the lens itself. The nose bridge is the support structure that protects the lens and the face. It can help to prevent friction, pressure and provide even weight distribution. The nose bridge is one of the most integral parts, as it impacts the style. People with larger noses, such as myself, often require a lower nose bridge, whereas people with smaller noses need one that is higher. The nose bridge, in addition to the shape of the glasses, is the predominant factor that affects how good the sunglasses will look on the person wearing them. As much as I wish I could wear aviators, they look terrible on me.
When it comes to lenses, however, there are far more options.
Polarized, mirrored and colored lenses come in a variety of styles and fashions. Typically recommended are red, gray, brown and green, which are proven to reduce color distortion more than ambers, despite their incredible ability to enhance object definition. Since amber sunglasses do offer that benefit, they are especially popular with specific sporting demographics such as skiers, hunters and pilots. The lens is the defining part of the glasses that is responsible for the primary protection of your eyes. This is where you want to focus your attention and why seeing an optician can provide you with the best possible experience.
Sunglass Do’s & Don’ts
Like many accessories, it is my opinion that sunglasses should come with a standard set of rules and regulations. Not that anyone would obey them, but here are my thoughts on the matter:
1. Stop Staring into the Sun
This should be common sense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solar eclipse, staring at the sun is just a stupid thing to do – even with UV400 sunglasses on. Stop doing it.
2. Don’t Wear Your Sunglasses at Night
Only two types of people wear sunglasses at night. Blind men or people with sensitive eyes. If you are not one of them, don’t do it.
3. Take Your Sunglasses Off when Indoors
I get that some people are sensitive to certain types of light, such as fluorescents. If you’re not one of them, take your sunglasses off. You don’t look cool. You look ridiculous. Especially at the bar.
4. Avoid White Sunglasses
Of all the shades and colors of the rainbow, white is not one that should appear on sunglasses. When I was writing this article, I asked my neighbor at the office if she could think of any “rules” for wearing sunglasses. Her response was “Don’t be like Dan!” — her husband and business partner who wears white Oakleys. We then spent ten minutes as she showed me pictures of him wearing them with a suit, at a funeral, and so on. Apparently even Dan calls them his “Douchebag Shades”. In other words, white sunglasses don’t work unless you happen to be on the TV show “Jersey Shore”. There may be one or two exceptions, but chances are unless you’re a snowboarder or surfer you aren’t one of them.
5. Wear Only
If you wear a suit with sunglasses, and you’re not outside, you don’t deserve to wear a suit. Similarly, pair the sunglasses with the suit. A huge pair of Dog the Bounty Hunter style Oakley’s does not go with business attire. Oh, and don’t wear sunglasses with formal wear such as morning coats, tuxedos, dinner jackets or white ties. It just looks bad.
6. Invest in Sunglasses that Fit Your Face
No matter what the brand or how good the deal is, if sunglasses aren’t a good fit for your face, don’t buy them. Also, bear in mind that most faces are not symmetrical, whereas most sunglasses are. So go to an optician, and have your shades adjusted so they fit you well.
What Sunglasses Should You Buy? – by Sven Raphael Schneider
It’s not simple to answer this question. After all, we all have different faces and tastes. Today, 80% of the designer sunglasses in the world are owned by the Italian Luxottica company. As such, you shouldn’t expect huge quality differences between brands. After all, the higher price point of designer frames from companies like Ray-Ban, Gucci, Fendi and Versace are not an indicator of quality. You pay for the design and the name on the temple, but the frames are mostly injection molded plastic, and the lenses are nothing special either. Often, you will find special offers where the purchaser gets a free pair of prescription sunglasses with the purchase of frame, or something similar. Below, I tried to list a few styles that many people consider to be a classic shape that will likely be fashionable 20 years from now. For a bit more inspiration, check out the infographic of famous sunglasses and spectacles above!
Originally designed in 1936 by Bausch & Lomb as Ray-Ban Aviator, these sunglasses were made for pilots, but starting in 1937 they also made them available to the public. General Douglas MacArthur wore them when he landed in the Philippines during WWII, and they became popular again in the 1960’s with the Beatles, and in 1980’s because of the movie “Top Gun.” Today, you can find many variations of this style that is characterized by large, slightly convex lenses. Considering that this style has been around for ages, you can’t go wrong in owning at least one pair. Ray-Ban still sells their “original” aviator style as RB3025 but you can also find gas station versions for $5 or more expensive interpretations from brands like Oliver Peoples, Randolph Engineering or even a version in solid 18K gold for $3,200 which is sold over 1,000 times a year despite its weight of almost 2 pounds!
For an in depth guide about aviators, click here.
While some sunglasses are mostly round, others like the Corbusier model are basically completely round, and it pays to try on different models to see what size and what kind of round works best for your face.
Ray-Ban Wayfarers are probably the best-selling style of sunglasses worldwide. As such, you can find many adaptations and imitations and even Ray-Ban now offer four different kinds of wayfarer styles! Originally designed by Raymond Stegeman for Bausch and Lomb (the then-parent company of Ray-Ban), they were considered to be a radical design change away from metal frames. Overall, the design was in line with the entire mid-century modern movement. First manufactured in 1956, Ray-Ban Wayfarers gained some popularity, which had all but faded by the 1970’s. In 1981, the film “Blues Brothers” featured them and sales totaled 18,000 that year. Due to an act of sheer genius, Ray-Ban recognized the importance of product placement early on and invested $50,000 to show Ray-Bans in movies and on TV. As a consequence, Ray-Ban appeared in more than 60 films over the following 6 years, and that proved to be very effective. By 1983, 300,000 pairs of sunglasses were sold and in 1986, 1.5 million! Subsequently, they became less popular again, and Ray-Ban redesigned the frame, allowing people to wear Wayfarers on their head, and today they remain very popular.
Modern versions are all made of injection molded plastic by Luxottica, whereas vintage glasses from the 1980’s are still made of acetate with Bausch & Lomb lenses. As such, new old stock pairs often fetch $500 or more on eBay, depending on the style. Sometimes, you are lucky though, and you find them for a few bucks at vintage stores or flea markets, so keep your eyes open. The bold tortoise shell model above is from the 1980’s and is very rare today, but I found it in Italy for 35€ at a vintage store.
Persol 649 & 714
If you look at pictures of Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni or other actors, they often wore Persol sunglasses which can be easily identified by their narrow inlay temples. One very popular model was 714 which was foldable. Although still available today, Persol is, once again, made by Luxottica, who bought the company in 1996. Supposedly made to a higher standard than other Luxottica sunglasses, they often sell between $200-$400. If you don’t like this style, model 649 which is non-foldable, may be better suited to you. At the end of the day, I prefer the shape of the 714, and I hope I can add a pair to my collection one day.
What are your sunglasses pet peeves?
This article was written by J.A. Shapira & Sven Raphael Schneider