Like so many other great ideas, sunglasses were invented in China and came to Europe with Marco Polo. Initially, they were used to hide one’s eyes and thoughts. It wasn’t until the mid-1700s that they joined hats and umbrellas as sun protection. In the early 20th Century, sunglasses really took off with sun-struck beach-goers and, in the 21st Century, both protection and fashion are equally important.
Modern shades may be marketed under several monikers: “Designer sunglasses” feature the trendiest styles, the highest quality and, usually, the highest price. “Fashion sunglasses” also feature great style, but without the name-brand price. “Sport sunglasses” can be very stylish, but their primary purpose is eye protection and form follows function.
Where fashion is concerned, you can wear any style, but specific styles enhance certain facial types, making a fashion statement that everybody will hear. In the final analysis, however, there are just two questions to ask about dark shades: Do you like the style? Do they compliment your face? If so, they are the right glasses for you.
Suit the shades to fit the features
Though many men are into brand name designer accessories, fact is that women tend to care more about clothing accessories and fashion. So, while the following guidelines refer primarily to ladies, most of the advice is equally applicable to gentlemen. Where sunglasses are concerned, specific styles work best with each of the five basic face shapes. The goal is balance — wear sunglasses that are what your face is not:
The square faced woman / the strong-jawed man
Epitomized by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1960s, she wore oversized sunglasses, popularizing a style still frequently often called the Jackie O. For women, the curvier styles, round or cat’s eye, will compliment your angular features. Men usually want a more strong-jawed appearance rather than less, so enhance the effect by wearing sunglasses with sharp angles.
The heart faced woman / the triangular faced man
To balance a wide forehead and narrow chin, choose sunglasses with cat’s eye frames or any with well-rounded edges; fashion sunglasses with a wider lower edge and no straight lines along the top work especially well.
The long or oblong face
Round or rectangular lenses in oversized frames are much recommended. Sunglasses with thick frames add width; tall or deep lenses and fashion sunglasses with decorative frames or vintage style also fit.
The round face
On a face with the most noticeable curves, sunglasses should have fewest. Narrow frames, frames with high temples and very colorful frames, like the classic tortoise-shell style, also add definition.
The oval face
Gently rounded curves work with virtually any style from dollar store to designer; those that look best are sunglasses which cover from the eyebrows to the cheekbones.
The first real sunglasses fashion statement was an accident. Aviator style shades were created for the military just before World War II and the glamour of the ‘ace’ included his fashion accessories. Those who couldn’t fly could still try to look cool in mirrored, teardrop-shaped sunglasses. Today’s aviator sunglasses make great accessories for almost any face, male or female.
Sunglasses buying tips
Regardless of style, sunglasses should protect your vision. Recent scientific advancements have greatly expanded understanding of the eye, creating materials to defend them.
The bright light of a cloudless day can be painful and distracting, so most people wear sunglasses when outside, especially while driving. At the other end of the spectrum, fog and smoke decrease visibility. The amber lenses which have become popular in recent decades filter out the additional blue light scattered by low-lying clouds, giving drivers a more balanced, clearer view of the road. Polarized sunglasses help cut down the glare of reflected light.
Ultra-violet radiation (known in ads as UVA and UVB) are known contributing factors to cataracts and other eye problems. Look for a UV-rating blocking at least 70-percent of UVA and 60-percent of UVB light. Really good sunglasses claim to block 100-percent of both.
The other main danger is impact damage. Flying debris ranges from annoying (like specks of dust) to sight-threatening (including pebbles kicked up by moving cars). The Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency which sets standards for impact resistance. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private organization dedicated to producing quality goods in the USA. “FDA compliant” and “ANSI compliant” are great benchmarks for any lenses; especially in sports sunglasses.
Sunglasses are one item where the highest price doesn’t always mean the best product: Some designer sunglasses may not include the safety features your eyes deserve. When buying online, you may find so-called discount sunglasses, allegedly from the top names, are, in fact, really cheap sunglasses — knock-offs instead of the authentic item.
Frames can be nothing more than thin metal wires that don’t even surround the lenses, or they can be large plastic casings that cover much of the face. Most frames are basically flat, so they can be folded into a pocket, but some people prefer the wrap-around styles that fit snugly against the head, entirely enclosing the eyes in shadow. Find something that you feel is well-made and sturdy and you’re good to go.
Lenses come in almost every color of the spectrum, including more than one. Glass lenses are still in use, but plastics have taken over most of the market. Polycarbonate lenses are the choice when working in hazardous environments, as they are darn near indestructible.
Bridge: The part of sunglasses that extends across the nose.
Cat’s eye: Most common in women’s sunglasses; these lenses are wider in the middle than on either side; with a greater curve on the bottom than the top.
Clip-on: Sunglasses that attach to prescription glasses with a mechanical or magnetic clip.
Impact resistant (also “protective glasses” or “safety glasses”): Lenses, usually polycarbonate, designed to absorb an impact. Remember, they are shatter-resistant, not shatter-proof. If you need these, choose only FDA or ANSI compliant sunglasses.
Polarized sunglasses: With a filter between the front and back surface of the lens, horizontally reflected glare is much reduced; very useful near water snow, ice, glass, etc.
Temple: The arm of the sunglasses, running from the ear to the lens frame.
Wrap-arounds: The lenses and temples curve around the head or the temple is about as tall as the lenses; they eliminate peripheral vision but add extra sun protection.
High-end sunglasses usually come with a case and a cleaning cloth. Don’t throw them away, even if they seem unimportant. The case will protect your new glasses far better than your pocket. The cleaning cloth will clear the sweat and dust off your lenses with the least probability of scratching them. You can also look for lens cleaning solution or wipes that will make your lenses spotless and streak free.
Are mirrored lenses better?
That depends on your attitude. If you’re looking to hide your eyes like the medieval Chinese who invented sunglasses, mirrored lenses are definitely the way to go. As for reduced glare or UV protection, they offer no additional protection over colored lenses.
What about gradient lenses?
These have a lot of color on the upper half and less (sometimes no) color on the lower half of the lens. If you’re activities vary and you need clear vision mixed with your eye protection, these can be a useful alternative.
What about prescription sunglasses?
Some cost a whole lot more than other corrective eyeglasses, but, if you don’t like clip-ons or the new over-your-glasses sunglasses, these are the way to go. If you hate to trade back and forth every time you walk through a door, photochromic lenses have a coating which darkens in bright light and becomes clear again in low light.