One hundred years ago, no self-respecting western male would have been seen outdoors without a hat. Are we now approaching a time when everyone will wear sunglasses? The value of the global eyewear market in 2018 was somewhere around $123 billion, that’s a lot of pairs of shades. So, what’s going on? Are we all so selfie obsessed that we crave the instant cool that the right pair of sunglasses confer? Is social media giving us so much virtual social interaction that we’re uncomfortable with the real world and need to hide behind the safety of a pair of impenetrable screens? Have we all become stars in our own movie?
The rise in popularity of sunglasses coincided with the decline of the hat, which in turn coincided with the rise of cinema, the first and greatest of all social media. The influencers of the first half of the twentieth century were people like silent comedian Harold Lloyd, whose trademark round glasses sparked a craze. The glasses he wore were just plain glass, he didn’t need them, but he recognised the power of glasses as accessory. It was in the thirties that sunglasses became inextricably suggestive of stardom, so much so that even gangsters like Al Capone sported Aviators, and that glamour still hasn’t gone away.
Slip on those shades and you are instantly transformed, you are cool, you are sophisticated, you are mysterious, no wonder so many of us want a dose of that intoxication. Oh yeah, there’s also the fact that sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun. The emperor Nero used to get so frustrated at not being able to see his gladiators fight, what with the dreadful glare of midday sun in the Colosseum, that he reputedly held emeralds in front of his eyes.
US pilots of the thirties were experiencing a similar problem until Aviator shades came along with those big lenses for maximum eye protection. We now know more about the stuff that’s bad for us than ever before and we know that UVA and UVB rays can do a whole lot of damage, if you sunburn your cornea, you’ll lose your sight. And our city environments reflect 80% of those harmful UV rays right back to you. Tell yourself you wear them to protect your eyes, but we know why you are really wearing them, it’s because they are the greatest accessory on the planet and once you get the bug, you’ll find that one pair just isn’t enough.
1. The problem of free will
Theologians have argued about this one for centuries but unfortunately, they’ve offered little guidance on how to choose the right pair of sunglasses. There’s well over fifty different styles to choose from and thousands of manufacturers, you can pay the price of a cup of coffee or the price of a deposit on a house. So, let me be clear, there is a lot of choice and it’s never just a case of any old pair will do. Sunglasses are a statement and people will check out what you are wearing and then they will make judgements about you based on that.
Your bargain basement shades may be perfectly ok, but they don’t have the same quality as a branded pair. Yes, you are paying for a name, but we are all very familiar with that game by now. In fact, 80% of the designer sunglasses in the world are owned by Luxottica who carefully nurture the allure of the famous names in their collection.
You are going to need to decide who you want to be. Aviators were good enough for James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, Tom Cruise and millions of others. Wayfarers, it is said, look good on anyone, which would explain why they are the best-selling style in the world. Or you could go for something much less obvious, like a pair of Tom Ford’s as worn by Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace. Bewildered? Let’s break it down a bit and consider the practicalities. There’s a whole bunch of variables that you ought to consider before you part with your cash, so let’s start with:
2. Face shape
This is not an exact science, in fact it’s not even a science but it’s a starting point for thinking about what might best suit you. Those of us who aren’t cartoon characters don’t have geometrically regular faces, so the descriptors I’m using, and you’ll find them used all over the net, are a rough guide. If you’ve got a longish face, sort of oblong or oval, most styles are going to look good on you, although I’d probably avoid teardrop lenses or anything which tends to make your face look longer.
If your forehead is conspicuously wider than your chin, you’ll want to be avoiding sunglasses with straight lines. Which leaves you with, you got it, round lenses. Whereas if your face is round or oval, round lenses are what you need to avoid. Those with square shaped faces should go with sunglasses that are round or curvy, as this will counteract your sharp features. If you have a heart shaped face, sunglasses with a sharp corner like cat-eye or aviator are best.
Anyway, you get the idea, look at your face shape and avoid designs that are going to over accentuate your features.
Choose a pair that fit. The best way to do this is to go to an optician and get measured, but failing that, use your judgement. The three key measurements on a pair of sunglasses are width of the lens, width of the bridge and length of the arm. Ideally the frame should fit as close to the eye as possible. Frames can be either full frame, half frame or frameless. As you would expect, frameless sunglasses are very light but considerably less robust.
Expensive designer sunglasses and cheap as chips sunglasses frequently have frames made from similar moulded plastic, for something a touch more stylish, go for acetate, its colours are more vibrant and it’s stronger. It’s also hypoallergenic and because it’s made from natural fibres it’s sustainable. Oh yes and it’s more expensive. A touch more restrained and very durable is a metal frame, or if you are looking for a conversation starter try wood.
Make sure that you know what level of UV protection your lenses provide and if you want the best glass go for SR-91 which combines superior optical quality with lightweight strength.
Then you’ll want to consider the colour of your lens. Some colours are better for certain activities but really, it’s all about how they look on you. Grey lenses are the standard choice but brown and amber also work well with a range of outfits. If you are going yellow, green, red or blue then you really are getting into boohoo land so make sure you’re comfortable with that and that you’re not going to look like you’ve just walked off the set of a kid’s TV programme.
If you wear prescription glasses then you should be wearing sunglasses with corrective lenses on those sunny days. Ray-Ban offer their popular frames with this option should you need it.
Your final area of choice when it comes to lenses is the type of coating you choose. Polarised lenses protect your eyes from glare, photochromatic adjust to changing light intensity and gradient are lenses which are tinted from the top down. Mirrored lenses are great for reducing glare and intimidating the hell out of people. Seriously though, think very carefully about going for those mirrored shades, you’re going to need complete conviction to avoid looking ridiculous and even then, they are never going to be appropriate as everyday sunglasses.
5. Your style
Just because they look great on a stand in the shop, it doesn’t mean that they’ll look good on you. You have to have confidence in your own personal style, the sunglasses that you choose should reflect your personality, you should relish wearing them, you should wear them with complete confidence. By now you will have realised that one pair will never be enough. Some sunglasses say this man means business and some sunglasses say let’s party, do not confuse the two.
Reservoir Dogs taught us how cool dark shades look with a dark suit, but shades also look great with chinos and a button-down shirt. Sunglasses do not look good with morning suits, tuxedos or dinner jackets. You may need to wear sunglasses because your eyes are very sensitive to glare, but most of us wear them because they make us feel good and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you remember that you can and should take them off when talking to people sometimes. Same goes for wearing sunglasses indoors, if you value your privacy that much then perhaps you should have stayed at home.