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The Lowdown On Sunglasses

Originally Posted: July 07, 2009

Colin M. Graham

A couture take on the classic aviators, this pair of Santos Sport Platinum by Cartier blend tough guy machismo with high-end luxury style. Photo courtesy of grueneyes

Southampton - Now that it seems the dreary weather of June has now passed, and it is finally starting to feel like summer, it seems to be the appropriate time to discuss those quintessential warm weather accessories: sunglasses.

Sunglasses - like many other fashion accessories - can serve both style and utilitarian interests, and while this distinction is important, unlike other accessories one pair can often serve both needs, i.e. a great pair of Ray-Ban or Oliver Peoples lenses can look great and keep the sun out of your eyes, which, as I mentioned before, is becoming more and more important.

This iconic image of Douglas MacArthur landing on a beach in the Philippines helped cement the classic man's man style of aviator style frames. Photo courtesy of Blogspot.com

One thing that seems to constantly come up whenever the subject of sunglasses arises, is whether they are "real" or "fake." There seems to be two camps supporting two different schools of thought on whether it actually matters that your shades cost $20 or $200. Inevitably, we've all heard someone say "well I'm always losing or breaking my sunglasses so it doesn't make any sense for me to spend a lot of money on something that I might lose in a week. Besides these work just as well." To the first part of this statement I sympathize with the logic. As a person who has driven away from the beach with a favorite vintage pair of Bollé Cats Eye rims sitting on the roof of my car. I understand the pain of dropping money on a great pair and hearing the cringe inducing crunch when you accidentally sit on them a few days later.

But for the latter part, 95 percent of the time it is patently untrue that inexpensive sunglasses perform just as well at their duties as their more expensive counterparts. There was a time where I wouldn't have even thought about spending an extra $100 to upgrade to polarized lenses, "what does that even mean anyway" I would say, "they reduce glare? So what? I'll take the regular ones please." A few years ago, after, ahem, misplacing a pair of Ray-Ban aviators, I was gifted a replacement pair with polarized lenses and since then I have never been more acutely aware of lens quality.

These retro looking Bolle sunglasses are prototypical examples of the Cats Eye style frames that are making a comeback in the fashion world, albeit often in different colors. Coutesy of Kurzenbergers World of Glasses

In most cases (mainly the 95 percent I mentioned earlier) when you buy a pair of sunglasses, what you're really paying for is the quality or technology of the lenses; the exception being the instances where you're paying for the name brand design of the frame. Personally, I'm a huge proponent of sunglasses that marry quality frames with technologically advanced lens designs. Believe it or not there is a scientific aspect to lens technology. Depending on the application they are intended for; lenses have different coatings, materials, and other things like polarized filters to optimize your vision by say, enhancing contrast or reducing glare.

With the current concern about the harmful effects of the UV radiation, both to the skin and to the sensitive retinas in the eyes, going the extra mile and spending the money on quality lenses isn't strictly about style or comfort, it's a health decision.

Made popular in movies like "The Blues Brothers" and here in "Risky Business," Wayfarer sunglasses by Ray-Ban have been appearing all over the place, complementing various different contemporary fashions. Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

One brand that was highly successful in combining revolutionary lenses with durable frames was Vuarnet. In 1957 two French opticians, Roger Pouilloux and Joseph Hatchiguian developed the Skilynx lens, which reduced glare while increasing contrast in low-light levels. In 1960, the two paired with French skier and Olympic Gold Medalist Jean Vuarnet and began the eponymous company with an array of eyewear targeted for sports enthusiasts. Vuarnet sunglasses, especially their Cats Eye frame designs, were highly popular with both sportsmen and fashion forward consumers before almost falling off the map in the mid-1990s, being overshadowed by brands like Oakley and Ray-Ban. The company still exists, having updated much of their product line to reflect current trends, but with the resurgence in the popularity in the Cats Eye style frames, as well as a growing awareness that lenses that actually block 100 percent of UV light provide important protection for your eyes, a pair of classic Vuarnets captures retro style with contemporary fashion sense in an extremely high quality package. Since most people haven't seen them in awhile, sporting a pair of these will be sure to turn some heads.

Similarly to Vuarnet, Bollé sunglasses were originally designed with skiers and outdoor enthusiasts in mind that also became must-have fashion accessories. I love the look of their classic and retro frames, as well as some of their contemporary designs. I long to replace the clear nylon frames with the green arms and purplish blue mirrored lenses that flew off the roof of my car, and while that look might be a bit too retro for some, there are still plenty of other styles to choose from.

Another retro style that is becoming increasingly back in vogue are Ray-Bans iconic Wayfarers. Elevated to an almost cult status by the Blues Brothers and a BVD wearing young Tom Cruise, these shades have once again regained their popularity, appealing both to the "ironic cool" style favored by hipsters as well as surfers, prepsters and those who just appreciate the timeless look of these great looking frames.

Great sunglasses aren't always about classic style these Zenith sport glasses made by Tag Heuer represent the latest advancements in eyewear technology. Photo courtesy of grueneyes

If the Wayfarers don't really do it for you, another classic by Ray-Ban are their aviator sunglasses, which have enjoyed an enduring popularity since they were first designed back in the 1930s for military pilots. Fashions come and go but nearly every generation has given Ray-Bans aviators cool guy approval: if they're good enough for guys like Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Tom Cruise, and even General MacArthur, they're definitely good enough for you.

The aviator design has proven so popular that even high-end brands like Cartier have adopted the distinctive style. This pair, the Santos Sport Platinum available at Optyx by gruen in Southampton, is Cartier's couture take on the original aviator shape adding leather and wood detailing to create a fashion-forward balance of chic elegance with rugged masculinity they describe as "Top Gun meets the runway."

But sunglasses style isn't solely about sporty yet fashionable retro shades and new takes on traditional favorites: modern design aesthetics also work well with the right kind of look. Grueneyes also carries a new line of lenses for athletic enthusiasts seeking to maximize their competitive advantage while looking great doing it. From Tag Heuer, a company known for combining a high level of craftsmanship, functionality and style, these Zenith sunglasses are made for active lifestyles: the design of the arms ensures they stay in place even while working up a sweat, provide great contrast in almost any environment and are so light you might even forget you're wearing them.

Whatever your tastes may be, the diversity of styles and functions currently available in the world of sunglasses guarantees that there are a pair (or four) out there designed to fit any style, face, function and wallet. So get out there and find yourself some shades, your eyes will thank you.

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