I’m from Maui, a place where polarized, UV-resistant eyewear, coupled with the right SPF and a swimsuit for every day of the week, is key year-round. But sunglasses only became a proper accessory in my own uniform—shifting from utility to a styling piece—when I moved to New York and later Europe. I learned that the right frames can subtly—or, let’s face it, boldly—define or transform a look. For some—think Bob Dylan, Steve McQueen, and President Joe Biden—sunglasses are integral to their signature style. It’s frankly hard to imagine, say, Elton John without his colorful shades or the late Karl Lagerfeld sans his ever-present black frames. For others, the ideal pair shifts depending on the garment or occasion.
This raises the question: How to go about selecting the perfect pair (or pairs) in an age of seemingly endless options? Let’s start with how sunglasses connect to the fashion industry; how they are largely an extension of a luxury label’s identity. Runway collections may define the visual language of a house, but the accessories (and fragrances) are the bread and butter.
Sunglasses are a way to buy into a label’s vision and aesthetic without breaking the bank. As luxury fashion brands started to transform into full-fledged lifestyle companies, introducing an accompanying eyewear line became the status quo. And with this boom in fashion eyewear, the market—and range and rate of production of options—has grown. Some license their own line through mega conglomerates like Luxottica (Ray-Ban, Prada, Chanel, Versace), Kering Eyewear (Saint Laurent, Balenciaga), and Safilo (Boss, Marc Jacobs), while others collaborate with independent sunglasses manufacturers, working hand in hand with them to deliver unique products each season.
To say the major licensing players dominate the market would be an understatement. But they aren’t the only ones in the field. There are independent companies that produce micro batches aimed at niche markets, often with a level of artisanship that’s rare in today’s oversaturated world. Look to these stand-alone sunglasses brands for a specific, fashion-forward vision.
Now back to the pertinent problem at hand: Finding the right pair from the right brand. Essentially, it boils down to what you want to convey and the intended use. How active will you be in them? Are they for lazing by the pool or walking through a city street? Is UV-protection a priority? The structure of your face is also a crucial factor to consider. The best sunglasses brands take all this into account, while also honing in on an aesthetic or design that helps them stand out in a crowded field. Ray-Ban, for instance, is synonymous with aviators; it really is the standard-bearer of the style. Jacques Marie Mage is celebrated for its sleek, bold frames that are beloved by musicians. And Garrett Leight’s pieces evoke a relaxed vibe reflective of Venice Beach. When it comes to celebrating the particulars, these labels are truly the pick of the liter.
As for me, a fashion writer and admitted nomad, I searched for something classic with just the right amount of edge and sophistication to elevate a casual look; a well-made square frame with an air of discretion. My pick? Gentle Monster’s Musee shades, a style that suits my personality, my lifestyle, and the circles I run in. That’s basically the gist to buying a set of specs, folks.
Looking for a pair to help define your identity? Check out this list of the best sunglasses brands, one or more of which will absolutely strike your fancy.
A list of the top sunglasses brands would be woefully incomplete without Ray-Ban, an eyewear OG. From its start as the go-to for pilots in the 1930s to its lock on the silver screen as the ongoing signafier of effortless cool, the brand is synonymous with low-key charisma (think Tom Cruise’s signature pairs from both Risky Business and Top Gun). Indeed, few frames are more timeless than the classic polarized Ray-Ban Aviator or Wayfarer, both style investments worth every penny.
Jacques Marie Mage
Dealan Rectangle Acetate Sunglasses
If you are looking for an ultra-luxurious investment piece, Los Angeles-based Jacques Marie Mage is the name to know. The small but mighty brand is celebrated for its dedication to fine craftsmanship, rare materials (think 18-karat gold frames and other precious metals), and limited-edition collections. Case in point: the Dealan, a discrete cat-eye frame named after Bob Dylan, produced in batches of 350.
Buy Now on Bergdorf Goodman: $895
When Illesteva launched in 2010, the Soho-based line quickly took the Big Apple—and soon Miami and Los Angeles—by storm. The brand’s Italian-handcrafted glasses are modern updates of old-school classics, just stylized enough to give stalwarts a hip appeal. Take the Leonard, Illesteva’s signature shade, named after the Tribeca street of the same name and inspired by the easygoing vibe of downtown New York City.
Coco & Breezy
Christelle Modified Navigator Sunglasses
There’s an unmissable cool to Corianna and Brianna Dotson’s glamorous, genderless eyewear, which became a fast favorite in the fashion and entertainment scenes as soon as the twin sisters—who also DJs and producers of house, R&B, and Afro-Latino dance music—introduced the line in 2009. Look to them for artfully crafted originals, such as the green, tortoise, and gold Christelle, which blends acetate with metal to accentuate the bone structure of a square-ish shape.
Buy Now on Saks Fifth Avenue: $225
Cutler & Gross
CR02 Rectangular Sunglasses
Founded in 1969 with legendary English frame maker George Smith at its helm, Cutler & Gross is synonymous with classic British style. The brand grew from a small shop in Knightsbridge to a global company still very much based in traditional artisanship, taking four to six weeks to produce each individual piece. What to look for in a Cutler & Gross design? Technical precision, for one. And a sleek silhouette, as is the case with the Irezumi-inspired CR02, which has an understated charm.
Hampton Sun Sunglasses
Ideal frames for minimalists, California-inspired Garrett Leight merges a relaxed Venice Beach vibe with refined, craftsmanship-led design. Its cured acetates are sourced from the top houses in Japan, Italy, and China, while the design is conceptualized in the brand’s studio in Downtown L.A. And the retro-styled Hampton Sun, an update of the P3, is its best-seller, its most definitive offering.
Buy Now on Garrett Leight: $445
Champion 65 Pilot-Frame Sunglasses
Founded in Austria in 1956, referencing the open-road auto race of the same name, Carrera has long been an icon of the independent eyewear market. It’s best-known for its oversized aviator shades and patented lightweight Optyl frames. They’re also a favorite of celebs, including Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr., and Sylvester Stallone.
714SM Steve McQueen Sunglasses
Steve McQueen may be the most referenced men’s style GOAT—and with good reason. The perfect worn-in leather jacket, a pinstripe blazer paired with a slim silk-printed tie, the shawl lapel cardigans: There’s a devil-may-care elegance to his well-defined look. Persol’s 714 model is part of “The King of Cool’s” uniform. Founded in 1917, the brand is also the inventor of the flexible stem system. It is the go-to for high-quality Italian eyewear.
O’Malley Round Acetate Sunglasses
The California-based brand’s first collection was inspired by a set of vintage American-made glasses found at an estate sale. Hand craftsmanship, vintage styles with geometric twists, and a love of tortoise shell hues make up Oliver Peoples’s DNA. The O’Malley, with its high-bridge fit and narrow hug on the face, is the label’s most recognized—and desirable—sunglasses.
Buy Now on Bergdorf Goodman: $482
Randolph Engineering x Todd Snyder Sportsman 23K Gold Sunglasses
Family-owned heritage line Randolph Engineering is known for its military-grade aviators (it has been supplying the U.S. military with the style for 40-some years). It also has the knack for integrating fashion’s most relevant connoisseurs of Americana into its evolving design language. Take the brand’s current collaboration with New York-based menswear staple Todd Snyder: The archetypical Randolph Engineering aviator shades get a high-octane 23K gold boost, with polarized mirrored lenses and an acetate brow bar and matching temple tips.
Musee Tinted Sunglasses
Korean eyewear label Gentle Monster has always been strong conceptually, grounding each object in a vision that touches on art, technology, pop culture, and space. It’s my personal favorite for designs that veer toward the avant-garde—although the label gives a thoughtfully understated sophistication to its classic frames. Wear the Musee for a sleek, Matrix-esque vibe, or look for its Maison Martin Margiela collaboration or Cai Xukun capsule for something truly unique.
When it comes to quality frames that won’t break the bank, Warby Parker’s sunnies are hard to beat. The brand is truly a disruptor, changing that way the landscape of the eyewear industry through its remunerative DTC platform. It carries an incredible selection, but the one that tops our list is the Durand, a style that is as classic today as it will be 10 years from now.
Alenuihaha Polarized Wrap Sunglasses
Growing up in Maui, Maui Jim’s sunglaases were, of course, a local staple. I saw them around the necks of paddling surfers, on the beach, on the golf course—just about anywhere the island’s intense UV-rays glared. The brand is a go-to for the active set, along with anyone who prioritizes eye protection. Go for the lava-hued Alenuihaha for a pair that will protect you on your next sun-filled adventure.
St. Louis Classics Sunglasses
When New Orleans native Stirling Barrett founded Krewe in 2013, his goal was clear: He wanted to change the way people interacted with his home city. It’s safe to say that he, in his own small way, succeeded. In New Orleanian culture, a krewe is a band that comes together to parade during Mardi Gras. This is exactly the vibe that the brand represents with its vintage-inspired frames, which take after landmarks and the lively atmosphere of the Big Easy.
Grenelle Round-Frame Acetate Sunglasses
Ahlem Manai-Platt came to Los Angeles by way of Paris, and her taste-driven eyewear, inspired by Bauhaus principles, beautifully fuses the energy of both cities. Take the Grenelle, with its sculptural frames that, like all of Manai-Platt’s designs, are developed in three specialized ateliers, passing through the hands of nine artisans before they reach your face.