Better looking, better performing, better priced: it’s a good time to buy a new pair of shades.
Does the world really need more 1950s-looking hipster sunglasses? Absolutely—if the maker does something beautiful like carve the frames out of sustainably sourced trees. The look is authentic but also urban, in a Brooklyn sort of way. Put them on and the gray polarized poly lenses fight glare while improving detail. Things pop right away, because the neutral tint means your brain doesn’t have to make color adjustments. There’s some light leak at the sides, which means the Ontario ($125) doesn’t qualify as serious sports eyewear. Play all you want, though. Spring-loaded hinges, nicely inset, speak of solid construction. The Ontario is made to last, and admire, while giving shelter from the sun—like a tree.
Maui Jim Ikaika
BEST FOR: Kicking back in highest style.
THE TEST: This classy, big-guy number plays against type, looking very much like wrap-back shades for action sports—which the Ikaika ($249) absolutely is not, because the lenses are glass and prone to shattering when hit hard. The world never looks better than it does through those brown-tint polarized lenses, though, which pull up wondrous detail, depth, and contrast. The moment it takes to adjust to the color is more than worth it. Big lenses and wide temples take care of the eyes when sunshine bounces off the sea. In case things get a little wet, rubbery inserts hidden where the frames grip your nose help the Ikaika stay where it belongs.
THE VERDICT: Superior glass for ultimo optics.
BEST FOR: Driving and knocking around.
THE TEST: Bay Area newbie Sunski takes a deep dive pricewise and comes up with these quietly chic street sunglasses ($48) that are quite possibly worth twice what they cost. The view is bright and sharp-edged through sepia-tint poly lenses that are polarized and mirrored—features not normally found at this price. The electric purple hue of the mirroring adds some sizzle, and the translucent matte black nylon frames are cooler than they first appear. The flat-lens design lets in some light from the sides, but the frames are lightweight, comfy, and secure enough to let you jump into a pickup soccer game.
THE VERDICT: Megaton bang for your buck.
Electric AV 1
BEST FOR: Americanos at Malibu Pier.
THE TEST: Electric tweaks the timeless aviators formula by subbing in bronze polarized poly lenses for the classic gray-green glass. This yields two major benefits: (A) punched-up contrast, depth, and detail, and (B) safety, because poly won’t shatter should you inadvertently smash your face. Wire frames won’t do for especially hard-hitting fun, such as singletrack mountain biking or rugby, so the AV 1 ($200) comes down solidly on the street side of the street/sport divide. And yes, the style is favored by everyone from geezers on Harleys to ex-military RVers, but if aviators are you, bro, you gotta.
THE VERDICT: Vintage high-testosterone style.
Smith PivLock Overdrive
BEST FOR: Omnisport jocks.
THE TEST: Declare this a winner for gonzo gearheads into cycling, running, and all things aerobic under the sun. The highly versatile PivLock Overdrive ($199) comes with three pairs of high-quality poly lenses—clear, reddish to make things pop when light is flat, and green-mirrored gray for full-blast sun—and they’re easily swapped. A gentle squeeze and pivot (hence the name) of the temple piece and the frames open up. The big, wide, wrap-back lenses fend off wind and light like a single-blade sports shield, without that freaky look.
THE VERDICT: Really good at many things. But, for the price, polarized lenses would be nice.
BEST FOR: Weekend road biking, then errands.
THE TEST: Tifosi accomplishes some very deft line straddling here, creating a solid performer for citizen sports, especially cycling, that doesn’t look goofy when you’re out and about ($70). Slender nylon frames hold the head nicely, with sticky rubber where you need it to prevent slippage. Lenses wrap back and cover high and low, with artful little corner cutouts for defogging ventilation. Most important, sepia-tint polarized poly lenses defend against headachy bright haze and glare.
THE VERDICT: Comfortable to wear and, especially in conservative frame colors, for others to see you wearing.
BEST FOR: Roadies and runners who prize subtlety.
THE TEST: This new iteration of performance eye gear ($149) does the job for high-speed, windy, and sweaty athletics without making you look the least bit like a robo-eyed jackass. The view is high-res through polarized poly lenses that curve down toward the cheekbone for all-around coverage. Vent holes cleverly concealed high in the frames promote defogging air exchange, while the half-frame design makes for an unobstructed view. Head hold is enhanced by a stripe of sticky rubber running the length of the temples.
THE VERDICT: Real winners don’t need to get all aggro.
Julbo Tensing Flight
BEST FOR: Fast times on Mont Blanc.
THE TEST: Julbo designed the Tensing Flight ($170) with wingsuited BASE jumpers in mind, but we less extreme types also get a lot out of them; it did a number on wind and glare playing at the beach in L.A. and then did it again on a sled in East Coast snow. This featherweight, goggle-like unit comes with two sets of poly lenses: yellowish photochromic and dark mirrored polarized for searing high noon. Conventional temples swap out for an elastic head strap if you need ultra-secure head-hold.
THE VERDICT: Everything that matters—sharp optics, protection, and fine-tunable fit—is top-notch.