Finally the brightness of summer is on its way. (We were getting worried for a while there; the Game of Thrones ads seemed ominously correct.) Now, for the harsh reality: you’ve had plenty of time during the last five months of gray to forget where you left your last set of sunglasses. If you’re in need of a new pair, the beloved aviator style, made popular by U.S. test pilots, and later, U.S. servicemen of all types during WWII, is always a standout choice.
The style’s popularity has endured for a reason. Aviators are as versatile a frame as you’ll find, pairing just as well with a suit as with board shorts. But while we love the original, it’s nice to stand out from the well-tanned crowd, too. We’ve picked out five alternative takes — each of which maintains the style and heritage of the classic aviator at a reasonable price tag — for your consideration this summer. Make a promise to yourself to keep track of them. Convinced? Read on.
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Ray-Ban Folding Aviator
Best New Twist on the Classic Aviator: Ray-Ban is considered the father of the Aviator frame — they were, after all, the company that released them to the public in 1937. The lenses have improved, the colors have gotten crazier, but the frame has stayed the same quintessential shape for over 70 years. This version brings the ability to fold your aviators up to the size of only one lens, making them perfectly convenient to toss into your pocket at the start of a cloudy day, just in case. If these existed in the ’60s, we’d bet McQueen would’ve had a pair on his bureau next to his folding Persols.
Best Aviator for the Price: The Raen Lomis takes the Aviator shape and remakes it in Italian Acetate, giving the sunglasses a more substantial look than the traditional wire frames — and making a more substantial statement when worn (we recommend channeling Rick Ross for optimal swagger). Offered in six different colorways, there’s a frame to complement any style. The kicker? Each pair has Carl Zeiss lenses with 100% UVA/UVB protection, and the $137 option is the cheapest polarized set on our list.
Quick science lesson for you. Light travels in waves. For reasons we won’t get in to, reflected light (which causes that glare we all hate so much) is horizontally polarized. Sunglasses with polarization filters block out all horizontal light waves, only allowing vertical waves to enter. Much like only letting your friends into the bar and leaving those unbuttoned-shirt douchebags out in the cold, this creates a good result: namely, cutting out much of the harsh light that hurts our eyes. Sure, it means a higher price tag, but when you’re trying to see the road, the trail or the hot girl tanning herself across the beach, they’re worth the premium.
Von Zipper Decco
Best Sports Aviator: Von Zipper is all about making cool looking shades for guys who get out and do stuff (usually crazy stuff involving boards, bikes, and/or big air). But even if you’re not shredding at Jaws, you can still look the part with the Decco. Its sporty, wrap-around Polycarbonate frame can take all the abuse you’ll throw at it and blocks sun and glare from all angles (especially the more expensive polarized option). It’s also affordably priced, a big plus, especially if you’re the guy who loses sunglasses every few months. Ahem.
Best Die-Hard Aviator: The Oakley Plaintiff holds true to the brand’s typical focus on (over)engineering. The frames are built from ultra-light hi-modulus C5 metal with titanium Mono-Shock hinges. In English, that means the hinges let the stems flex without mangling the frames, saving you big money next time you snag them on your t-shirt and rip ‘em off your face. The lenses are polarized and protect against harmful UVA/UVB/UVC waves. Like all Oakley sunglasses, the Plaintiff is made in the U.S.; call us homers, but that’s a big plus. If you want a subtle twist and performance upgrade to the traditional Aviator, the Plaintiff is your frame.
Oliver Peoples TheSoloIst Teardrop
Best Aviator for the Global Citizen: Though they’re technically a few seasons old at this point (they were originally launched in 2012), the vintage-inspired aesthetics of these finely crafted frames should never go out of style, wherever home happens to be for you at the moment. This particular set was one of the first two pairs to emerge from a collaboration between Oliver Peoples and renowned Japanese designer Takahiro Miyashita’s latest label, TheSoloIst. Lucky you for, the style is still available in four colors with polarized glass lenses. They’re classic, but also still on the cutting edge of global fashion — which in today’s jet setting is always a good thing.
Bonus: SUPER 49er Square Aviator
Best Bold Aviator: The SUPER 49er stacks futuristic (Acetate upper) directly on top of classic (hand-crafted Italian wire frames) to create the most, well, unique look on this list. For the price tag, we wish polarized lenses were at least an option, if not standard; that aside, the 49er is the type of frame that will draw plenty of jealousy from your friends and admiring looks from the right kind of people.