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Few pieces of clothing have as much character as aviator sunglasses. The slightly round, guitar pick-shaped shades have been a staple of American style for decades, largely thanks to appearances in movies like Top Gun, Drive, Scarface and the James Bond franchise. And it’s hard to see that changing: The best aviator sunglasses will always be a badass statement — no matter the current fashion trends.
Originally invented in 1929 by Bausch & Lomb for U.S. military pilots (hence the “aviator” name), the original aviator sunglasses were quickly picked up by the masses. Realizing that they had (somewhat accidentally) created a stylish pair of shades, Bausch & Lomb launched a civilian brand, Ray-Ban, to sell its aviators. The military sunglasses would go on to become an uber-popular fashion statement in the seventies and eighties, making appearances on celebrities including Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury.
But, compared to other shades with a history of coolness, aviators have something special: they look good on almost anyone. The rounded lens, strong brow and delicate metal frames are flattering on nearly any face shape or gender and, while they’re a statement piece, aviators are actually quite versatile. Stylish people of all ilks have worn aviators with everything from swimwear to jeans and tees to full suits — and they’ve looked great doing it.
The Best Aviator Sunglasses
If your current sunglasses lineup is lacking a pair of aviators (or if you want a new pair to add to your collection), we’re here to help. Below are some of the best aviator sunglasses to buy right now, with picks from brands like Ray-Ban, Gucci and Persol.
1. Ray-Ban RB3025 Aviator Classic
The Ray-Ban Aviator Classic — the one that started it all — is still one of the best pairs of sunglasses around. Boasting a thin metal frame, a slightly oversized fit and a shape that’s been largely unchanged since the thirties, the shades are about as timeless as they come. This pair, featuring green lenses and a gold frame, showcases the most classic colorway. They’re also polarized, ensuring maximum glare reduction. Wear them on vacation with swim trunks and a tee, or rock them with a slick suit to weddings or business meetings.
2. Persol Po0649 Aviator Sunglasses
Persol’s aviators were a hit in the fifties, favorited by the King of Cool, Steve McQueen. They’ve recently come back into vogue as stylish dudes channel mid-century trends, and Persols can now be seen on the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Gosling. With their balanced shape, keyhole bridge and arrow markings at the temples, these classic 649s are gorgeous, of course, but they’re also very well-made: Persol’s polarized, crystal-tempered lenses provide extreme clarity and give everything a soft, almost cinematic hue. Rock these with slacks, sneakers and a suede jacket for a modern mid-century look.
3. Quay Australia High Key Mini
We love classic sunnies, but some modern shades give the old guys a run for their money. These High Key Mini aviators from Quay are one such pair. They’ve got the bones of a classic aviator — a thin metal frame and large, circular lenses — but they modernize the look with brown and pink mirrored lenses, a thicker brow and subtle notches at the bottom. These are the mini version of Quay’s High Key frames with a 53-millimeter lens width. That’s still quite large, but the “smaller” size makes the shades work with most face shapes and head sizes.
4. Gucci Aviator-Style Tortoiseshell Sunglasses
These Gucci Aviators inject some of the Italian designer’s signature flash into the old-school shape. Seen from the front, the tortoiseshell frames showcase a retro-inspired rectangular shape and minimal detailing. On the arms, you’ll find some branding in the form of green and red striping, as well as subtle gold-tone logos. As a whole, the shades are bold yet wearable. Team them with spiffy designer swim trunks and slides or baggy blue jeans and a white tee.
5. Tom Ford Ft0693 Aviator Sunglasses
These Tom Ford aviators encapsulate the designer’s talent for elevating American staples. Although they’re very similar to the military classic, anyone with an eye for style will notice the subtle differences in these shades: the metal frame is accented by touches of tortoiseshell acetate while a brow bridge balances the aviator shape (and makes the sunnies more durable). Branding is kept to a minimum, save for the Tom Ford logo on the edge of one lens. They’re just as versatile as any pair of aviators, although we think they work best with killer business suits.
6. Garrett Leight Harding 49 Sunglasses
Rocking aviators can be harder for those of us with small faces, which is where these Garrett Leight sunglasses come in. Dubbed the “Harding,” the shades feature a lens width of 49 millimeters and a sturdy acetate frame. The frame’s look, which successfully alters the classic aviator, is a recreation of the glasses style favored by American writer Arthur Miller. The CR-39 lenses, meantime, offer more durability than glass and boast an olive tint. Ideal for grown-up yet casual looks, the shades work well with jeans or chinos with polos or button-up shirts.
7. Cartier Eyewear Aviator-Style Gold-Tone Sunglasses
Rappers — arguably the most influential people in fashion these days — are reviving the nineties trend of Cartier eyewear. And it’s easy to see why: Cartier sunnies offer jewelry-like style in flattering, wearable shapes. These gold-tone aviators, for example, upgrade the traditional look with an angular shape, subtle branding at the temples and a premium titanium build. We love them with casual staples, such as a polo shirt and shorts, as well as dressier fits like slacks, button-ups and a trench coat.