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The Aviator

The hottest sunglasses are decorated with crystals, logos, cutouts and hardware

To keep the sun out of your eyes this summer, think glitzy and grand. The hottest sunglasses are decorated with crystals, logos, cutouts and hardware. Many are variations on timeless classics, done up in new shapes and hues.

One thing in common: they are all big in size.

The aviator, a wire-rimmed style with teardrop-shaped lenses, is among those enjoying resurging popularity. This style was created for military pilots in the 1930s by Bausch & Lomb, and its success launched the Ray-Ban line. A half-century later Tom Cruise ushered aviator sunglasses to the fashion main stage after starring as a heroic young navy pilot in the movie Top Gun.

One aviator interpretation is the Aero model ($350 to $400) by Oliver Peoples of Beverly Hills. It comes in three lens sizes, the smallest of which was introduced a decade ago and the larger versions added more recently.

"Aero is a style that everyone can wear, male or female," says Michelle Lynn Walnum, the company's global public relations director and corporate spokesperson. "Someone who is really young might buy it because they can get fun, colored lenses, and someone who is older might buy it because of the polarized lenses. You can also use the Aero as an optical frame, and with three different sizes, it fits even the smallest face."

"Oliver Peoples' specialty is taking classic shapes that were used decades ago and tweaking them into modern looks and then doing a wonderful array of colors and patterns," says Chris Foreit of D/Vision Optical in Wicker Park.

Another retro look making a repeat performance is the Wayfarer, also originally from Ray-Ban. The thick black plastic frames with flat, boxy lenses debuted on the silver screen with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961. Then along came Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, who wore them in their 1980 hit, The Blues Brothers, and many more celebs and athletes after that. Oh, yes, and Tom Cruise, again, in Risky Business.

Wayfarers have inspired dozens of renditions from Ray-Ban and others, including the gentler lines of Oliver Peoples' Ari ($260) and Prentice ($285) models. But Ray-Ban this spring re-launched its original model, RB-2140, ($195) in five frame colors and two lens shades: green and Havana.

All these oversized lenses, especially wraps and aviators, are good news for Chicagoans says style consultant Kate Shifrin of Chicago. "They really protect the eye," she says. "Here we have wind. We have sun. We have things pelting you in winter. You want to throw on a pair of sunglasses and have instant glam, but more importantly, you want them to work for you."

But don't look to Midwesterners en masse to embrace jeweled or neon colors in either frames or lenses.

"We have a pretty conservative fashion mentality," Shifrin says. "Out West, the hottest look is red sunglasses, but the palette here is more neutral, with a lot of greens and browns. Black-and-white is strong, and brown-and-coral is a pretty combination that is popular. But the number one seller is still black."

With the array of available options, selecting a pair of sunglasses can be confounding. The mavens say to invest in classics, which will be wearable for years to come, and then look into the trendier pieces.

"Everyone needs a great aviator and a great plastic pair, at a minimum," says Walnum.

Athletic types might add a sturdy, lightweight injected plastic style such as the sporty Nomad ($155) by Mosley Tribes, the Oliver Peoples young lifestyle brand, she says.

Foreit recommends sticking to colors that blend with hair and skin tones. "Some people like to coordinate with outfits, but if you don't have an unlimited budget, don't fight what naturally works on you," he says. "But if someone says I want to make a huge statement, I've got pearl white, fuchsia, pearlized--blue, every color imaginable."

Another consideration is the psychology of sunglasses. Certain styles and colors, perhaps because of their history or headlines, are associated with certain meanings. Cat-eyes are glamorous, for example, and big temples are faddy. Plastic frames pack a stronger design punch than metal ones.

"Sunglasses can be an extension of the message you want to convey to people without being overly bold about it," says Shifrin. "And they are disposable in that you can have several pairs. If you feel Top Gun today and Audrey Hepburn tomorrow, it can happen. You can be anybody you want without making a huge commitment."

Published: May 28, 2007
Issue: Summer 2007 Urban Living