Sunglasses, shades, sunnies, whatever the name you know them by, are a simpler affair in the world of menswear. Unlike our female counterparts, we’re rather lucky that there’s a reassuringly small group of shapes to play with. Sure, a couple of left-field designs swing in and out of favour each season, but it’s the old-school favourites that stick.
Like aviators. First developed by American eyewear company Bausch + Lomb in 1936, they were made, shockingly enough, for pilots. However, the style only became popular when World War II kicked off – specifically when esteemed aeronaut General Douglas MacArthur was photographed in a pair landing on a Filipino beach. Newspapers the world over published the iconic image, skyrocketing MacArthur’s choice of eyewear to global renown.
The aviators’ popularity continued throughout the 1940s and 1950s, but it was in the 1960s that the trend really hit its apex. Proffering metal instead of plastic, aviators spoke real quality in a market increasingly populated by cheap options, and so found favour amongst 1960s countercultures and later the emergent disco scene. Aviators won starring roles in films like Cobra and Top Gun in the 1980s and, although there have been lulls in popularity, has remained a favourite to this day.
Such prevalence has seen aviators inducted into the menswear Hall of Fame, and although not ideal for every face shape (round faces beware), they always command a nod of respect. Hallmarks of quality include full UV protection and Italian acetate frames that’ll far outlive any cheap alternatives. You can even get a decent pair for well under £100 – all of which can be found in our expert edit of the very best aviators below. Enjoy.
Ray-Ban Aviator Gold-Tone Sunglasses
Arguably the archetypal aviators, these beauties were the first of their kind to be produced, and pack a mighty heritage-backed punch.
Gold-tone frames add some subtle sophistication, allowing you to finish any look with ease.
Available at MRPORTER.com, priced £120.
Le Specs The Prince Aviator-Style Sunglasses
French brand Le Specs creates innovative, high-quality shades without a huge price tag, and its aviators are no exception.
The Prince is a standout, thanks to its raised mirrored lens and a sharp silver-tone colouring.
Available at Harvey Nichols, priced £65.
ASOS Reclaimed Vintage Aviator Sunglasses
Aeronautics meets Alabama sheriff in this yellow-lensed offering from ASOS. A bright colouring can uplift even the most sober of looks and, at just £20, they won’t break the bank either.
Available at ASOS, priced £20.
Prada Aviator Sunglasses
Although big brands command big price tags, these Prada aviators are 100 per cent Italian made and include a classic nose-bridge bar detail. You don’t need to visit Milan to be an absolute don, it seems.
Available at FarFetch, priced £229.54.
Abercrombie & Fitch Men’s Aviator Sunglasses
It might be associated with weird club-like stores and cringeworthy photo-op models, but Abercrombie & Fitch makes a noteworthy pair of aviators.
Here, gold frames are flanked with tortoiseshell arms that give a touch of luxury.
Available at Abercrombie & Fitch, priced £44.
Ray-Ban Aviator Gunmetal Polarised Sunglasses
It may be the second entry for Ray-Ban but these murdered-out sunnies provide a welcome contrast.
Complete with polarised lenses, this pair puts a stop to squint-inducing glare.
Available at Sunglasses Shop, priced £122.
ASOS Reclaimed Vintage Aviator Sunglasses
These reworked frames are a fitting reminder of how forgotten shapes can still work with a few tweaks. Case in point: the square-lens aviator.
Favoured by Italian priests and 1970s pornographers, this shape also works for those of us from less niche walks of life.
Available at ASOS, priced £12.
Persol Aviator-style Acetate Sunglasses
Persol (the grandmaster of modern sunglasses) has taken the standard aviator shape and reinvented it entirely with a dark green lens, raised detailing to the ridge and a durable acetate construction. Plus, these are 100 per cent Italian-made, naturally.
Available at MRPORTER.com, priced £210.
Acne Studios Spitfire Aviator-style Metal Sunglasses
If you’re looking for a luxury pair that doesn’t concede to tradition, Acne Studios has devised a rounder on-trend frame with an overarching top bar. Unusual, but stylishly so.
Available at MRPORTER.com, priced £225.
River Island Black Rubber Aviator-Style Sunglasses
Budget offerings are usually less durable, yet these River Island aviators offset the absence of premium acetate with some standout features: tinted purple lenses, classic black frames and a rubber construction to survive every accidental dip in the pool.
Available at River Island, priced £14.