Their distinctive curvilinear shape, double bridge, and can’t-see-me reflective lenses have kept them in heavy rotation for so many years (since 1936, to be exact) that aviator sunglasses are one of the rare style pieces that actually earn the word “iconic.” Another word aviators earn: “universal.” As in, they work for almost any face in the universe: round, long, heart-shaped, square-jawed, balloon-cheeked, lightly jowly, alien-eyed…you get the gist. For both those reasons, brands new and old keep making—and remaking—the trusty aviator, blending the classic lines with new technologies. Here are the best aviators out there.
Ray-Ban Aviator Evolve
A quick history lesson: aviators were first developed in the ’30s by Bausch & Lomb for military pilots, replacing cumbersome goggles, then marketed as Ray-Ban Aviators (Ray-Ban was owned by B&L until 1999). General Douglas MacArthur made ’em popular in 1944 when he was photographed wearing them in the Philippines during World War II. The Aviator Evolve, shown here, stays true to that original silhouette but adds a new lens that darkens when exposed to Miami-Beach-at-noon levels of light, so no matter where you go, your eyes are protected from sun and strain.
Old Hollywood Cool
Tomas Maier TM0003S
Aviator frames are traditionally made from metal because lightness is key when you’re flying planes, but chances are you yourself aren’t doing barrel rolls at 20,000 feet. Tomas Maier mixes in some ’70s louche-ness by crafting these aviators in slick tortoiseshell acetate (he’s made others that mix acetate and metal too. The result? Old Hollywood debonair meets modern badass. That’s a good place to be.
The U-S-A! U-S-A! Option
The brand Randolph prides itself on having been made to military standards since 1982 and was founded a decade earlier by Jan Waszkiewicz, a Polish immigrant and navigator in the Royal Air Force. Today, despite having a global purview, the brand is manufactured and developed entirely here in the United States, the only remaining metal eyewear manufacturer to do so. And the process isn’t easy, either, with high-grade metals being manipulated by hand in a process that often takes more than 200 steps. It’s for that reason that these sleek frames look good and are powerfully resilient. Also, the gray polarized lenses diminish glare while allowing for colors to come through without any distortion.
The Laid-Back Classic
Oliver Peoples “Benedict”
Oliver Peoples is a relative new comer in the world of eyewear design (founded in 1987). Maybe it’s that youthful energy that enables this West Coast brand to infuse even the most angular, artsy frames with the easygoing air of sunsets and baja pullovers. That blend of relaxed SoCal vibes and vintage design is especially on display in their its “Benedict” aviator, where an ever-so-slightly curved brow bar gives the classic minimalist frame some subtle, swooping personality.
5 More Aviators We Love
Angular and Luxe
Tom Ford Chase Sunglasses
$395, Tom Ford
Tom Ford makes the slightest of changes to the classic shape, but it makes a big difference. Keeping the sleek utility, the slightly angular top bar and upper lens rim have a distinctly modern feel.
Painless to Replace
UO Aviator Sunglasses
$18, Urban Outfitters
Who says you have to pay more than a hundred bucks for a pair of quality sunnies? Or even $20? If you’re the type who loses your sunglasses everywhere (WE FEEL YOU), might we suggest an affordable pair that won’t have you cursing the heavens or feeling like you’re just setting money on fire?
Sleek and Seductive
Saint Laurent Classic 11 Sunglasses
$380, Saint Laurent
With their blue frames and silver-colored metal, these are a slightly fresher, airier take on the classic aviator look. Consider these for warmer days when you want to look less like a cop.
Flashy and Retro
Gucci Square Frame Metal Sunglasses
With the slightly squared lens shape and the retro-feeling green lens/gold frame combo, these have just the right amount of vintage vibes and built-in swagger. That they come from Gucci mix-master Alessandro Michele makes them even better.
Classic and Modern
Warby Parker Dempsey
$145, Warby Parker
What’s the saying? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, Warby Parker knows better, and crafted their by-the-book aviator style from premium Japanese titanium and tricked it out with a subtle contrasting temple tip for good measure. The result? Understated perfection.