You’ve seen it written on shades at your local opticians. Maybe even heard it uttered by goggle-tanned French skiers in Alpine lodges. But for the vast majority of us, the word “polarised” is something of an enigma. A mystery word whose presence seems to do nothing more than command drastically higher prices than for your average pair of sunglasses.
But does that mean polarised sunglasses are nothing more than a swizz? A pointless luxury that people with surplus cash can purchase to give them a feeling of superiority?
Well, no. In actual fact, polarised lenses are well worth the money. But not necessarily for everyone. “A lot of people know the word ‘polarised,’” says Craig Smith, European sales manager for eyewear brand Dragon Alliance. “However, understanding what it does to light passing through a sunglass lens will help you decide if this additional, premium feature is for you.”
Polarised lenses filter light in a unique and useful way. However, to understand how they work, you first need to understand glare.
The Glaring Issue
If you’ve ever struggled to read your phone screen or make out a license plate due to sunlight, then you’ve experienced glare. At risk of getting all sciency, this is what happens with light hits a flat or uneven surface and is reflected horizontally. This reflected light can be extremely bright and cause difficulty seeing.
This can cause significant issues for people whose hobbies or work require them to see clearly in places where glare is rife, such as at sea or on snow-covered mountains, or even just driving in the summer. And polarised sunglasses can provide the solution. But how do they do it?
Polarised vs Non-Polarised Sunglasses?
In 1929, Edwin Land invented Polaroid, the world’s first polarising material for commercial use. His company’s Polaroid Day Glasses became the first ever polarised sunglasses, offering customers a way of reducing light without simply darkening the landscape.
“A polarised lens will reduce glare and enhance clarity and contrast in bright conditions,” explains Paul Lake, an eye specialist at royal warrant opticians Roger Pope and Partners. “This works by using a special filter that is built into the lens and blocks intense reflected light along the horizontal meridian.”
This reflected light can come from many sources. “For sunglasses, this would tend to be sunlight reflecting off water, lakes, rivers the ocean, a wet road, an approaching car windscreen or snow, where at altitude the sunlight is at its strongest,” adds Dragon Alliance’s Smith.
This means it’s people who often find themselves in and around these sorts of environments who can really benefit from polarised sunglasses. Non-polarised styles simply won’t do the same, though it’s worth pointing out that polarisation has nothing to do with UV protection.
Who Needs Polarised Sunglasses?
Polarised lenses are designed to increase visibility while minimising glare and fatigue. “This is why they are the first choice for people who live or work, on or around water,” Says Smith. “People like beach lifeguards, sailors and anglers – with anglers getting the added bonus that removing the reflection from the surface of the water enables them to see any potential catches swimming below.”
They’re also popular among skiers, snowboarders and mountaineers who find them useful for making out the terrain on sunny ‘bluebird’ days. However, given that they cut light reflected by the snow, they can make ice difficult to identify. Something to bear in mind if you don’t fancy stacking it on your next black diamond run.
The Best Polarised Sunglasses To Buy In 2018
So you’re all clued in on how polarised sunglasses can revolutionise the way you catch fish and shred powder. But what should you spend your hard-earned cash on?
To help you reach an informed decision we’ve handpicked the best brands for polarised shades along with some info on why they;re the best at what they do.
If Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell had been a keen fly fisher, he wouldn’t have dreamed of heading to the local pond in anything but a pair of polarised Ray-Ban Aviators. The legendary American brand has produced, and continues to produce, some of the most iconic frames of all time. The best part is that timeless favourites such as the Wayfarer, the Clubmaster and the Aviator are all available with this added technical feature.
An eyewear originator with over a century of experience in crafting some of the finest sunglasses around, Persol rose to fame in menswear circles with Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair wearing a pair of the sunglasses brand’s 714 model. You probably already know that, but what you may not have known is that you can still by the exact same style but with polarisation aplenty.
That rarest of things, a pair of stylish polarised shades that won’t leave a gaping hole in your pocket. Izipizi’s stylish frames are as good looking as they are affordable. A winning combo that means even those on tighter budgets can afford to get involved and see what all the fuss is about.
Until recently, wraparound shades were worn almost exclusively by Lexus-driving, bluetooth-headset fanatics and men who wear their baseball caps back to front. Today, however, there’s a new climate. Sports sunglasses are enjoying an unforeseen revival and Oakley has been the go-to brand since day dot. They may be pricey, but with features like impact protection, high-definition polarised lenses and photochromatic tech as standard, it’s not difficult to see why.
Polarised sunglasses for less than a round of drinks? Where do we sign up? H&M is always a reliable choice when it comes to sourcing stylish bargains, but with this usually-premium technology on offer at such wallet-friendly prices, everyone’s favourite Swedish retail chain (sorry Ikea) has really excelled itself. Now even if you’re on the bones of your backside you can still enjoy undisturbed vision and look slick at the same time.
Ask anyone who knows their sunglasses and they’ll tell you that Hawaiian eyewear brand Maui Jim makes some of the finest polarised shades going. Maui Jim is also one of the few major optics brands that hasn’t been taken over by a giant conglomerate, so the quality is second to none. Ok, the frames may not be the most fashionable, but if you’re more concerned with catching trout than winning style points, you really can’t go wrong.
Cutler and Gross
There’s no getting around the fact that British eyewear brand Cutler and Gross is a luxury option. The prices are often far beyond what the average guy would be prepared to fork out on a pair of shades. However, if you do dig deep and take the plunge you’ll be rewarded with a handcrafted pair of timeless or vintage-style sunglasses, unparalleled in therms of craftsmanship. Each pair is full of character, completely unique and steeped in British heritage.
Where better to buy polarised sunglasses from than the company that invented them? Polaroid today may be best known for its instant cameras and being a lyric in an infuriatingly catchy Andre 3000 song, but before any of that stuff, it introduced the world to a new age in eyewear. Polaroids polarised shades are the originals and with prices that’ll leave you with change from £100, it’s tricky to think of a reason not to invest in the best.
Polarised lenses are very popular among the type of people who like to ride waves and hurl themselves down snow-covered mountains. Which is exactly the type of crowd Dragon Alliance has been catering for since 1993. The brand is renowned in the world of action sports for its high-quality polarised lenses not just in sunglasses, but snowboard goggles too. Plus, many of the shades on offer float, meaning you can enjoy crystal clear vision worry-free, even when you’re getting pitted.