Sunglasses Buyer's Guide

We all have had the predicament of spending hours in our local department store trying on various styles of shades, peering into narrow mirrors... and finding nothing that looks right on us. Sunglasses are a good idea year-round, but as we are stocking up on sunscreen in preparation for the summer glare, it's an extra important time to protect our eyes. The key is finding the perfect style.

Sunglasses are the height of fashion, and are showing no sign of slowing down. They have been a real traffic-puller for retailers as consumers look to emulate celebrities -- and more importantly, protect their eyes from ultraviolet rays, glare and sunlight.

Selecting a shape

 "Sunglasses are a hot topic now, because they have changed. Large Jackie Kennedy styles are really in now," says Sandy Dumont of ( Indeed, style icon and First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis (shown below) is credited for popularizing the oversized sunglasses look back in the sixties.

Rogers suggests that when choosing glasses, the general consensus is that the shape of the frame should contrast with the shape of the face. "The size of the sunglasses should be in proportion to face size, i.e. small frames for the small face, and larger frames for larger faces." Sara says that for her own small, oval-shaped face, she had problems during the oversized trend to find glasses that did not overwhelm her.

But, Dumont says, "Avoid square frames -- they look too severe. Choose frames that have a slight roundness at the outer edges, both top and bottom. Sunglasses with wide arms are very fashionable now, and they also look dynamic."

Even with the best guidance, sometimes finding the perfect look is tough. "I've tried following different advice about finding the right shape for my face -- depending on who's looking at it, I'm heart-shaped or square -- and found that sometimes the glasses you think are the least-likely to look good on you, actually do," says SheKnows style expert Mary Jo Matsumoto. "For example, somehow this year I ended up with a pair of slightly oversized wrap glasses that sit on part of my face, and yet are amazingly complementary. They are also a deep wine color -- not a pair I would've envisioned myself buying."

Jessica Trent agrees that when choosing shades, it may take a little searching to find the right pair, because everyone needs to account for individual face shape. "That's why your friend's sunglasses may look fab on her but awful on someone else." She maintains that they are an important accessory item, so you should really make the effort to do it right.
Can't pick just one? It's fine to have several pairs, to match your various looks, outfits, moods -- or simply your needs.  Says Trent, "I have amber-tinted lenses for driving in dreary weather."

Choosing a colour

If you only get one pair of these big sexy-looking sunglasses, get a pair in black, Dumont says. "They are the most versatile, because they go with everything and look very sexy and fashionable."

Whitney Fajnor, marketing manager at Minimus, however, recommends looking for brown frames if your skin is pale. "Black frames and pale skin can look too drastic," she says.

Dumont suggests that sunglass fanatics should pick frames that make a nice contrast to their hair. "That's why blondes look so good in black frames, and redheads look fabulous in blue or green frames," she says. "If you have dark brown or black hair, white frames will show off your hair the most."

She says a good second choice could be a pair of white sunglasses, because they have a "high-fashion" look and make a great impact. What colour is your world?
"Some people just have a personal preference as to what color lens they like to look through, like 'seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses,'" says Jessica Trent, of Soda Sunglasses ( "Some prefer to gaze through a bronze lens, others prefer a really dark grey lens all the time."

Trent says gradient or "the fade lens" (as shown on the Michael Kors Rimless Aviator Sunglasses below) comes and goes with trends. "I like them on women, especially because they almost mimic eye makeup," she says. They offer darker coloration above your lid and your eye, but a lighter shade below. They are also easy to wear indoors.

Whitney Fajnor, marketing manager at Minimus, says, "I got my first pair of polarized sunglasses for Christmas, and now I can never go back!" Polarized lenses diffuse glare through the use of a polarizing filter that is usually layered within the lens. This allows better clarity in even severe conditions.

From a technical standpoint, Trent says bronze lenses are best for hazy days, as they provide a visible contrast in that sort of weather. Grey lenses are nice on really bright days, providing a bit more relief to your eyes because they offer more shade. "Polarized lenses are what I personally prefer all the time," says Trent. Polarized lenses cut down on reflection and glare like nothing else, and come in grey/smoke (the best all-'round color), bronze (increases definition without hugely affecting color) and amber (which blocks blue light).

"I like [polarized lenses] because they diffuse the glare on black pavement when driving -- and if you are at the beach or on a boat, look through a pair of these lenses and you'll actually see through the water a good bit."

Don't forget about photochromic lenses -- these glasses are light in the shade, but get dark in the sun -- and were first big in the 70s. "There is new, better technology with them now. They are great for people who love wearing their shades all the time, as the lens changes with the level of darkness."

Details, details

Rogers says that while oversized glasses are still in demand, the current trend is dramatic temples, as seen on this pair from Armani. "Shield and sleek wraparound styles made of resin are on point in terms of style," she adds.

Sunglasses, says Rogers, make a statement about you and are an indicator of your personality, attitude and sense of style. And unlike the cost of other true designer accessories, sunglasses are often affordable enough to offer a way for almost any woman to make a fashion statement. "For many people, they represent an opportunity to step into the world of high fashion at a fraction of the price, compared to other luxury goods."

1. Obligatory UV Lecture

No matter where and when you intend to use your sunglasses, make sure the lenses are 100% protective against UVA and UVB rays. The phrase “UV 400” means the same thing. Your lenses must protect your eyes against light rays up to 400 nanometers in wavelength. All high-quality sunglasses from the major sport brands do. Some fashion sunglasses do not. Many cheap sunglasses do not. Some cheapies will sport a vague hang tag that reads something like: “UV protective” or “100% UV.” Is that UVA and UVB? Maybe not. If you have any doubt, investigate. Or, buy from a reputable manufacturer. All sunglasses reviewed on this site provide full UV protection.

2. Should You Buy Glass Lenses?

The acuity of top-notch glass lenses is why I say “Great sunglasses are better than reality.” When glass lenses are carefully ground and polished, they have the potential to deliver the crispest optics imaginable. Great glass lenses have an element of snap, a startling clarity, that other materials can approach but never surpass. Glass, however, is tricky stuff to work with. Unless it’s sliced really thin, it can create uncomfortably heavy shades. Polarizing film has to be sandwiched between layers of glass, which means each eye is looking through two layers of bonded glass. Such processes are costly. You’ll always pay a premium for glass.
While glass is great for street or fashion wear, if your lifestyle might include impact with foreign objects, glass isn’t a great idea. It’s susceptible to shattering. On the other hand, it’s much more resistant to scratching than any plastic lens, even if the plastic lens has a fancy coating.
Finally, just because sunglasses are glass doesn’t mean they’re great. In the hands of the masters of the craft like Maui Jim, Costa del Mar, or Smith, they probably are. But great sunglasses with plastic lenses easily surpass mediocre glass shades. If you want the brilliance of glass, be prepared to shell out for the thrill.

3. Do You Want Polycarbonate Lenses?

Plastic lenses for sunglasses come in several flavors, including polycarbonate (PC), CR-39, and some proprietary materials. Polycarbonate is the best choice for action sports. Sunglasses made for the military (e.g., those from Wiley X, Smith, and Oakley) are invariably made with polycarbonate (PC) lenses. In fact, any premium sunglasses made to withstand occupational hazards are made with polycarbonate. If there’s a chance of a pebble flying into your eyes, of your taking an endo, or (heaven forbid) a chance of fragments from bullet fire hitting your eyes, you want PC lenses. For mountain biking, river rafting, rock climbing, volleyball, baseball, even golf, you want polycarbonate lenses.
Only polycarbonate lenses stand a chance of passing both ANSI Z-87.1 tests for impact resistance. In one test, a 25mm steel ball gets fired at a lens mounted on a face form. In the other, a pointed, 1.1-pound weight is dropped on a lens, also mounted on a face form. To pass, the lenses cannot shatter AND cannot make contact with the face form. The frame has to hold the lens in place, which means that the sunglasses must be very carefully designed and constructed. Cheap shades made from PC lenses are very unlikely to pass that latter test.
As for acuity, polycarbonate can approach the optical clarity of glass, but only when in the hands of a manufacturer with outstanding quality control. Oakley and Wiley X make great shades using PC exclusively. But cheap polycarbonate sunglasses can be dreadfully, eye-strainingly bad.

The downside of PC? Mainly its susceptibility to scratching. The best lenses receive a scratch-resistant coating that works well, but it can’t turn plastic into glass. Lousy PC lenses will scratch like crazy.

4. Do you want CR-39 lenses?

CR-39 is a plastic lens material that’s been around for more than 60 years. Its attributes include light weight, impact resistance, and, in the hands of quality manufacturers (say, Bollé or Costa Del Mar), outstanding optical clarity. For all those reasons, clear CR-39 is by far the most common choice for everyday prescription eyeglasses. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for sunglasses. How does it stack up to polycarbonate and glass? Far more impact-resistant than glass, but not as good as polycarbonate. More scratch-resistant than polycarbonate, but not as good as glass. But most importantly, CR-39 is not shatterproof, so it’s not your choice for action sports.

5. The scoop on alternative lens materials:

Polycarbonate and CR-39 have lately been joined by two other excellent plastic lens materials: SR-91, a lens proprietary to Kaenon, and NXT, originally developed to provide strength and clarity for combat helicopter windshields. Here on earth, both perform capably in impact-resistance tests. Both are shatterproof. We’re big fans of the optical clarity and the polarization (standard) of Kaenon’s SR-91. We’ll report from the field on NXT soon.