Getting it right with sunglasses isn’t easy. On the one hand, they’re one of the most affordable ways to buy a slice of a luxury brand’s prestige. On the other, it’s basically impossible not to lose or, you know, sit on them within a couple of hours of first uncasing.
So, before you shop, it pays to know exactly what they’re worth, and who does them best. (Not to mention determine your face shape.)
Newsflash: when it comes to shades, you needn’t spend shedloads to secure quality. While coughing up an extra couple of hundred pounds above average asking price might buy you traditionally-made, Goodyear-welted shoes or a buttery-soft leather jacket, sunglasses at the lower end of the price spectrum will – in most cases – do the job just as well as their pricier counterparts.
Why? Because the process of making lenses that protect your eyes from ultra-violet rays isn’t, according to the experts, particularly expensive technology. Meaning many ‘cheap’ pairs are perfectly capable of guarding your peepers.
Then, there’s the fact that the vast majority of brands available at your local opticians or online store are all owned and manufactured by one of the three Italian eyewear dons: Luxottica, Safilo and Marcolin – which suggests the shades market isn’t one rife with price wars, leading to a situation where certain designer sunglasses have mark-ups as fat as 200 per cent.
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t subtle differences in quality, and some (admittedly major) differences in design between a pair of Oakleys you unearthed from a bargain bin and a classic pair of Oliver Peoples.
The most important thing, though, is to keep your eyes peeled for the CE mark (or the ANSI certification in the US), a seal of approval that confirms your shades conform to the European Community Standard for filtering out harmful UV rays.
Also worth noting is the filter category: ranging from zero to four, sunglasses’ filter category lets you know the tint of their lenses, with four being the darkest. Since zero offers little to no light reduction, categories one and two are recommended for low light conditions, while three and up are your best bet for total protection in full-on sunshine.
Finally, consider materials. As a general rule, lens materials CR-39 (a plastic made from hard resin) and polycarbonate (a synthetic material) are lightweight but not particularly scratch-resistant, while glass lenses are heavier but better built to withstand the impact that leads to scratches forming.
Similarly, plastic frames (including acetate) are lightweight and malleable but not as durable and corrosion-resistant as metal. Other details that mark a quality pair of shades apart from imposters include springs at the hinges to allow the arms to open wider when worn, and padding at the bridge so that they sit comfortably at the top of your nose.
In summary, there’s a difference between £50 sunglasses and pairs nudging £500, but it’s probably not as stark as you might expect. To help sort the tat from the top-tier, we asked the experts to shed light on some of their best buys.
If it’s a value-for-money mission you’re on, then this is pretty much the sweet spot. No, the £50-£100 bracket won’t give you access to upper-tier brands, but it’s still enough to buy you both style and sound construction.
First up, Polaroid – yes, the same brand that brought you that camera. “Polarised lenses reduce glare from reflective surfaces and [by extension reduce] eye fatigue,” says Andie White, Frame Buyer at MyOptique Group. And while plenty of eyewear brands produce polarised lenses, Polaroid is the original.
Also worth a look is Ray-Ban. One of the stable of brands owned by Italian company Luxottica, Ray-Ban is produced by the same parent manufacturer making eyewear under licence for high-end names including Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo.
But while a pair from the latter two labels will set you back around £200, you’ll bag some styles of Ray-Bans for less than £100, including its iconic Aviator, Clubmaster and Wayfarer styles.
Others Worth A Look
RETROSUPERFUTURE; Monokel; Han Kjobenhavn; Ace & Tate.
Cough up a just little extra cash and you’ll unlock some of the best names in Italian engineering.
Carrera, for example, offers feather-light frames in a range of styles – from classic black to bold contrast lenses – most priced just north of £100. Founded in 1956, the brand marries its heritage in outfitting champion athletes with a love for automobile and aeronautical structures.
“Carrera’s Impel is a worthwhile investment,” says White. “Its frame, made from stainless steel and just 0.7mm thick, is both durable and ultra-lightweight, while its shape is inspired by Carrera Porsche aviators from the 1980s – with the slim matte metal frame offering a fresh take.”
Also worth considering is Persol. Boasting a history dating back to the first fighter pilots (camo isn’t the only thing modern design has lifted from military ranks), the Turin-born label puts over a century of expertise to work in its finely crafted, no-fuss frames.
“For the mid-range [budget], Persol is your go-to brand,” says Tony Cook, Menswear Editor at Farfetch. “[They do a great line in] solid, square shapes that put emphasis on details over flashy frames.”
Others Worth A Look
Cubitts; Illesteva; Kite; Moscot; Glints; Triwa.
Pulling out the stops? Then know that, while this level of spend on something like sunglasses is enough to make a financial advisor wince, you will gain access to some of the industry’s top tastemakers.
“Don’t splurge on trend-driven pieces,” says Cook. Instead, prioritise classic shapes – wayfarers and aviators, for example – in versatile colours like black and tortoiseshell.
Andie White suggests Oliver Peoples. Particularly the Sheldrake Plus: “It’s a larger version of the bestselling Oliver Peoples Sheldrake (which pioneered the current appetite for retro round styles) that’s great for those who love circular frames, but have always found them to be too small – as round frames so often are,” she says.
“These frames are handcrafted from Italian acetate exclusive to Oliver Peoples and also feature a new tiered plaque on the front of the frame. Stainless steel five-barrel hinges hold the temples together for added durability, too.”
And remember – if style is the clincher for you – buy only into those brands whose status is worth the spend. Says Cook: “This signature style from Thom Browne includes the brand’s now iconic striped livery on the arms, along with gold nose-holders which adds an individual twist to the classic Clubmaster-esque design.”
Others Worth A Look
Garrett Leight; Saint Laurent; Cutler and Gross; Eyevan; Mykita.
How much do you shell out for sunglasses? Do you shop on the high street or track down independent eyewear labels?
Big up your favourite brands, or throw shade, below.