Everyone knows that sunglasses are supposed to make you look cooler. Few other accessories or articles of clothing have the same ability to instantly endow their wearers with a little extra swagger; and yet, we don’t often think too hard about which ones to buy. A lot of men are prone to picking out a pair of sunglasses only by virtue of the fact that they are sunglasses—no other considerations—whereas in fact, there are a lot of style-related factors to think about. Also, sunglasses are always long-term style investments: they’re meant to last you years, so it pays to put some effort into your selection of shades. Here are a few of the different kinds, and the basics that you need to know about each of them.
Aviators are no doubt the most common and most well-known type of sunglasses there is. Worn by actual U.S. Air Force pilots since the 30s, and most famously in Top Gun in the '80s, Aviators are characterized by their big, rounded, egg-shaped rims and their thin metal wire frames. But more importantly, they’re known for their badass, action-star appeal—perfect if you’re looking to project a little Americana ruggedness. Also, since Aviators are usually rounder than other types of sunglasses, it helps if you have a defined jawline and a longer, more square-shaped face.
On the other hand, you might consider wayfarers to be the aviator’s more refined, more artsy cousin—thick, trapezoidal, plastic or tortoise-shell frames that recall a mid-century brand of cool. These were famously worn by classic rockstars, jazz-and-blues musicians, and pop icons of the '70s and '80s, like Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson. But they were perhaps no more handsome than when John F. Kennedy wore them on vacation, epitomizing laidback class. Wayfarers are much more neutral and easier to pull off than most other types of sunglasses, and should be the shades of choice if you’re looking for a more classic, old-school look. Rounder face shapes work great for wayfarers, which are usually sharp and angular.
Somewhere in between the aviators and wayfarers, there are browline sunglasses: part plastic or tortoise-shell, part metal—simultaneously rugged and professional. These are an increasingly popular retro style of sunglasses that gracefully toe the line between hipster cool and classic style; which works especially well for with sharp, preppy dressers. African-American activist Malcolm X is the most famous icon of browline frames, who himself was often dressed in a suit-and-tie. Longer face shapes like oblong or rectangular work well for browline sunglasses.
Flat Top sunglasses are a more recent and less classic pair, but are still very much significant. Born in the late-2000s and adopted by pop icons of the time, like post-shutter shades Kanye West and pre-Purpose Justin Bieber, flat-top sunnies are characterized by the straight, bold browline. This gives them a futuristic, oversized look—a little like 3D glasses or a VR headset. They’re icons of contemporary pop culture and are closely associated with the concept of the Hollywood celebrity—so if you’re looking to push the boundaries and make an ultra-modern style statement, Flat Top sunglasses are a viable option.
Ironically, round-rimmed sunglasses are a great way to look edgier. They’re a bit more eccentric and fashion-forward than the common sunglasses, and look almost as if they’re reserved only for the fashion set. It certainly takes a special kind of guy to pull off regular round-rimmed sunglasses, but if you have the avant-garde fashion sense to go with them, they can really top off a look.
Double Bridge sunglasses, which are really having a moment right now, are the frames that have an additional bridge at the browline, or on top of it—they can be aviators, wayfarers, browline glasses, or round-rims, but with that little extra detail. There’s a wide variety of double-bridge sunglasses, from classic to modern, but having that extra bridge makes any pair an edgier options for guys with more modern style sensibilities. Consider it a small, but significant style flourish for fashion-forward dudes.
Clear or translucent frames are also a great way of adding a little flourish to classic sunglasses, giving them a fun little detail that stands out. Despite being clear, this type of frame is actually a little louder than solid blacks and browns, so proceed with caution. Clear frames are best left to younger, more playful style sensibilities—creative types who have the larger-than-life personality to match.
Sporty and outdoorsy types, on the other hand, can bask under the sun wearing sunglasses with colored lenses. Match the sunset and sea on your Instagram photos with bright orange, yellow, blue, or green lenses that really stand out. One cardinal rule: stick to the classic frame shapes like wayfarers and aviators. This balances out the bold colors, so there isn’t too much going on at once.