Sunday, June 16, 2013

Buying Sunglasses: Things I Look For

Buying sunglasses sucks. The last time I bothered to go shopping was two years ago when I decided my three year old pair could use an update. Four or five returns/exchanges later, I ended up spending $500 more than I wanted and had two new pairs of sunglasses -- one I don't really like.

Becoming an eyewear snob or connoisseur was not by choice. I can see about three inches in front of me without the aid of corrective lenses. My natural vision allows me to get up in the morning and shower, and then to find a pair of glasses or contact lenses. If we were still in the jungle, I'd be "taken advantage of" very quickly. On the bright side, it has meant that I have worn some sort of eyewear on an almost daily basis for more than a decade.
Maui Jims Cubed
In addition, the main reason that I moved from glasses to contact lenses was so that I could buy "normal people" sunglasses. In the past, I had to use regular frames replaced with a tinted corrective lens. Those had no coverage around the eyes. Four pairs of expensive sunglasses later and I've picked a few things up. Why not cheapo <$30 gas station pairs? I tried two pairs of those then realized they were not to my liking. A decade of wearing expensive prescription glasses and frames had poisoned me.

Sunglasses: UV Protection + Hiding
Tinted eyewear is just awesome. Two pieces of plastic or glass in front of a person's eyes and there's suddenly an heir of mystery to him or her. Knowing that it's difficult for others to see what you're looking at (or not) just opens up a world of possibilities too -- perv. Oh, and they should provide protection from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. That's an important one that cheaper pairs may accomplish though.

Expensive Sunglasses: Worth it?
Let's do some quick math. I wear my one favorite pair of sunglasses daily when I go outdoors. Assuming I'm a shut-in with a job, that's 52 weeks a year at 5 days a week or 260 days a year. Let's also say that I blew $300 on that pair and I've been wearing it for two years. That comes out to about $0.58/day for the privilege. Compare this with a shirt that's taboo to wear more than once a week that may cost $52 and up -- definitely up. If I wear the shirt weekly for two years, that's $0.50 a day. So, the cost of sunglasses is slightly more, but pretty comparable. Shirts may be seasonal and worn less than weekly, so keep that in mind.

I justify the cost of expensive sunglasses with the above and sleep quite well at night. There is no other item in my wardrobe that I can wear on a daily basis and not be socially ostracized for. And I think the durability is better than fabric too if you manage not to break them.

Which pair to get?

There are numerous brands, many of which are owned by the Luxottica brand. The most popular appear to be Ray Ban and Oakley. Do check out the Wikipedia article to see what brands and stores that this company owns -- you may be surprised.

My personal preference nowadays is Maui Jim. This is due to a number of things including a little bit of "exclusivity" as it's not as well known as, say, Ray Ban. Also, I click with their designs more, and I think that their quality is very good.

Ray Ban is probably one of the most popular brands and their designs are seen in many movies and TV shows. Just look for the white "Ray Ban" labels usually found at the top right corner of lenses (top left if you're looking at the person). Having owned a pair of Aviator 3025s, I can say that I was very impressed. Check out any eyewear store, or go to Sunglass Hut, and you'll find numerous other quality brands.

Style is a matter of personal taste. Maybe you're trying get something someone on TV or a movie has -- it's okay, I've done it. There are classic designs that never seem to go out of style and modern designs that go in and out with the season.

Classic-ish is where it's at for me. The most iconic and popular that I can think of are Ray Ban Aviators and Ray Ban Wayfarers. There are recent redesigns or takes on those classics available that look great too. Both pairs can usually be found in multiple frame and lens colors.

Oakleys are now also pretty big with some pretty popular designs like the Flak Jacket and Fives. And then there are a bunch of aviator style glasses from Maui Jim like the Coconut and Makaha. Go crazy and see what you like.

However, design goes well past how a pair of sunglasses look. Remember that thing about sunglasses protecting your eyes from UV? Ya, that's something worth considering. If you're not just looking for a pure fashion accessory, the style or design you choose may come down to how it fits your face and  how well it shields your eyes.

Fit and Coverage
There are various guides out there about how well certain frames look on certain face shapes. I think I have an oval face, which I think means most frame shapes work with. Thus, I don't put much thought into what designs jive with my face and I usually try everything on in the store. The classic style pairs that attract me generally look fine on my face.

What it usually comes down to is how well a pair of sunglasses fits my face. Does it touch my cheeks? Is my periphery completed covered by the lens, or are there huge gaps?

Cheek touching is annoying and does not make it easy to wear while socializing. Having the lens shift every time you smile, or even feeling cold metal on your cheek can get very annoying. One pair went back because of that.

I made the mistake of buying a pair of Aviators purely for fashion purposes. That was one of my least worn pairs because the design allowed light in at the sides of my face. And because the design was relatively flat, and I didn't get a polarized pair with an anti-reflective coating, a lot of light got reflected from behind me. After that, I made a few more mistakes that I mostly remedied with a "return-trip" to the store. The usual reason was due to issues with reflection despite an anti-reflective coating. The lesson I learned was that I should stick with sunglasses with a base curve of 8.

Base Curve and Bridge Width
From what I understand, the base curve is a measure of the curvature of a pair of glasses. The higher the number, the more curved and "wrap around" they should be. With my face, any pair of glasses with a base curve less than 8 means a lot of reflections and open area around the lens. These gaps tend to leave large areas in my vision unshielded, which is bad if I want them for UV protection.

Another important feature that I look for is bridge width. One thing that kills pairs of sunglasses for me is the bridge width or space between the lenses between the eyes -- nose bridge. Maybe it's a fit issue with many people, but not for me. The bridge width is important as my nose is relatively small and any width greater than about 14-16mm means that too much lights get in from the center. One very expensive pair I got stuck with has a width of 18mm and if I go about using my eyes normally, I tend to look through the unshielded gap between the lenses a lot. They work fine if I stare perfectly straight ahead though...

Lens Color & Material
I prefer plastic and grey colored lenses because they're usually lighter and don't distort colors much. A big reason I fell in love with Maui Jim is because they have a grey polarized lens that appears to only dim the light. When I go outside with a freshly cleaned lens, it's like I don't even have anything in front of my eyes and my eyes feel perfectly comfortable.

Otherwise, different colored lenses are supposed to be good for different things. Check out any online guides to see what the "official" explanations are. I think I heard something about yellow being better for when the sun's low? Go to the Maui Jim online store and look under "Lenses" for any pair for some details.

Having full UV protection may also be a pretty important feature.

Getting my glasses adjusted to fit my face is one of the last things I get done and probably spend the most time on. It's one of the most important things to do because I don't want to be one of those people with grand spanking new aviators hanging at the bottom of their nose.

When I finally settled on my newest two pairs of sunglasses, I got them adjusted by the employees at the store. However, they just never felt right even after a trip or two back. What eventually happened was I learned to adjust them myself. Not a good idea unless you forgot how much your glasses/frames cost, but I like to think that I am careful. That and I've stepped on my glasses a few times before and was forced to return them to "wearable condition" myself -- not completely inexperienced.

From what I understand, not all glasses are adjustable. Most of my frames have been metal with bendable parts. The one time I stupidly tried to adjust a mostly plastic pair that kept sliding down my nose, they cracked at the nose bridge. I ended up having to get an "emergency pair" at a small business a block away. Boy, was that a $400+ mistake. I got milked. I've heard that with the right tools, plastic frames may be ever so slightly adjustable, but obviously, check with a professional first -- see read the past few sentences to see what happened with me. Stores have been great to me whenever I went back to get adjustments made. And if they break it, there's probably a better chance that they'll replace it.

Keeping Sunglasses Intact
Wearing sunglasses on the top of my head was one of the greatest pleasures of my life up until a few years ago. One day, the wind took them and I now almost never wear them there. That and having no hair doesn't help keep glasses held to my scalp very well.

However, we had a pretty good run. I wore that set of Maui Jims for over 3 years before the wind took them and rolled them around the street for a dozen or so feet. Makes me mad just thinking about that -- especially because it happened outside my work place, which I hate. The good thing was that because they were polycarbonate, they didn't shatter. Despite having a scratched and chipped lens, I wore them for another few months after that.

The motto I live by now is, "if it's not on my face, it's in the case". My current $350 pair has been kept flawless with that in mind. There are only a few tiny scratches on the lenses and they may have been there since I bought them. Maybe partly manufacturing defects and being tried on a few dozen times at Sunglass Hut.

So that is what I look for in a pair of sunglasses. I'm itching to get a new pair, but considering how long it took me to find the current pair I'm in love with (four or five exchanges), I'm not going to screw with success. That and I don't want to blow another $350 because the pairs I have my eye on are that expensive. Consult your eyewear professional for more (accurate) information!

Sunscreen: Beating the sun, burning eyes, I hate you.
Usefulness of a Sound Level Meter
UV Beads: How to See Ultraviolet Light Indoors
Wearing earplugs in theaters, subways, concerts, everywhere!