As we slide into the spring and summer months, you’ll no doubt find yourself reaching for your sunglasses more and more. If you’re still using some cheap shades from your local fast-fashion store, though, then maybe it’s about time you gave yourself an upgrade.
Considering how much they’ll be sitting on your face during summer, you’re going to want to invest a little bit of time and money into acquiring the perfect pair of sunglasses. For long-term eye care and comfort (and, let’s be real, style), you should consider dropping a bit of extra dough on them, though. In most cases, dope designs, technical tints, and high quality lenses don’t come cheap.
Here’s four things you need to know before copping a pair of sunglasses this season.
We’re all familiar with the classic silhouettes—aviators, wayfarers and the like—but have you ever considered how your eyewear aesthetically flatters (or fails to flatter) your face? Broadly speaking, there’s four basic head shapes: heart-shaped, circular, square, and oval-shaped.
A round, circular face shape will be better off with more angular frames, to create maximum definition. Wayfarers, in their near-universal appeal, will compliment this face shape, as will frames with a square silhouette.
Square faces will benefit from round frames, aviators, or shades with rimless bottoms. With a strong, structured facial build, you’ll want to opt for softer edges here.
For heart-shaped (occasionally referred to a triangle-shaped) faces, square frames, contemporary sport, and wayfarer silhouettes will suit better than others. Avoid top-heavy frames; the key for this face shape is balancing its natural—but varied—dimensions.
Last but not least, there are oval-shaped faces. For those blessed with this facial profile, finding sunglasses should be a breeze. Square-shaped wayfarer frames? Bingo. Circular frames? Go ahead. If there’s one thing you should be mindful of, it’s the “weight” of the frame. Too thick or too thin, and you’ll be over or underwhelming your face’s natural balance.
It goes without saying that the quality of your sunglasses’ materials will likely affect how much you end up paying for them. However, you don’t want to get caught paying premium prices for frames that are composed of plastic that rivals the physical strength of your credit card.
Metal frames, known for their malleability and corrosion-resistance, are common. They’re expensive, but generally worth the uptick in price. A subcategory in metal frames, titanium benefits from a lighter weight and scratch resistance, but often results in a higher cost.
For sunglasses that are going to see time in athletic and heavy outdoor use, nylon frames are a solid choice. Temperature-resistant and simultaneously flexible and durable, they’re a good option if you’re going to find yourself in some physically demanding situations. Grilamid is a non-brand specific nylon found in sunglasses, but some brands have their own riff on the material—Oakley’s is called “O-Matter.”
Plastic frames often get a bad rap, thanks to the cheap sunglasses you’ll find in bargain bins, drug stores and the like. However, acetate—often used in traditional eyeglasses—benefits from being stronger, lighter, and more colorfast than traditional plastics. Most frames you’ll come across are constructed out of acetate, and with so many benefits, it’s not hard to see why.
Tinted lenses aren’t purely aesthetic, they affect what light your shades will block out, and how.
Gray and green lenses are color neutral; they won’t visually affect the color of anything you’re looking at, while providing a slight boost to contrast in bright situations. It’s what helps establish them as the default tints in most sunglasses. Considering that they thrive in situations not unlike your average bright-and-sunny day, these are a solid all-around choice.
Yellow and amber lenses thrive in low-light situations, amplifying light, contrast, and depth perception. It’s because of this tint’s contrast-boosting qualities that they’re better for use in overcast—rather than truly sunny—environments. However, they also help your depth perception in relatively contrast-free environments—like when you’re trying to make out something in front of you on a surface that’s almost entirely white (e.g. a ski slope).
Mirror-coated lenses reflect incoming light back off their surfaces, making it easy to hide your eyes behind your frames—which, let’s be real, is probably why you’re wearing them to begin with. These are the best choice for those with acute light sensitivity, and for use in extremely sunny days. If you regularly hang out on a sun-drenched beach, then consider mirrored lenses.
Be warned: blue and purple tints (not to be confused with blue and purple chrome) are purely cosmetic. Don’t get duped into shelling out extra cash for something that’s not going to make a difference.
Thanks to major advances in lens coating tech, nowadays there’s a whole lot more than just glass filling your shades’ frames.
Photochromic lenses change darkness based on their exposure to light. While these sound practical at first, a single test with Transitions lens (or a comparable brand) at your local optometrist will reveal that this is mostly wishful thinking—not to mention corny. They take a while to transition, too. Your shades will look odd while they’re between stages, and you may find yourself surprisingly dazzled if you step into the sun thinking you’ll be protected.
Gradient and double-gradient lenses are tinted gradually from top to bottom or from both top and bottom. This creates a shading effect that resembles the duality of a bifocal, so these types of lenses are perfect for blocking out sunny skies and bright backgrounds while still being able to concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you. For those looking for driving or beach-ready sunglasses, these are solid options.
Polarized lenses are the most well-known advancement in lens technology, and for good reason. Technically speaking, they block horizontally vibrating light waves. In layman’s terms, this means you can kiss common reflective glare—which bounces off bodies of water or snowy slopes—goodbye. They’re perfect for use near water, snow, or when driving for a long period of time.
That said, polarized lenses often inspire retailers to add a significant markup to your shades. While they have their merits, they make LCD Screens (like the one on your smartphone) difficult to read, and in most day-to-day situations they’re not much different to your run-of-the-mill tinted lenses. Sure the salesman might be pushing polarized lenses, but doesn’t necessarily mean you need them.
Sunglasses really are as low-maintenance or complicated as you want them to be. But before you throw your hard-earned cash at your nearest eyewear retailer, think about what you’re really going to be using them for.
As always, we’d recommending getting out there and trying a ton of shades on for size before committing to a purchase. Just don’t stare too long, you’ll hurt your eyes.
For more in-depth consumer advice, dive into the rest of our Check Before You Buy series.