First developed between the World Wars, aviator sunglasses quickly made the leap from technical equipment to fashion mainstay. The best aviator sunglasses are reminiscent of the distinctive double-bridge frames and larger-than-average lenses that have been featured prominently in movies like “Top Gun” and “Cool Hand Luke” and worn by everyone from Big Boi to Joe Biden.
Apart from their pop culture panache, aviators remain popular because, on most face shapes, they’re going to look good, according to experts like Anicia Scemangal, a manager at Devonshire Optical in New York. Scemangal says that while women are navigating toward heavy, chunky frames, thin aviators for men remain the most popular style in her store.
Style aside, the best aviator sunglasses are still used by pilots today. Chris Belfield, a professional pilot based in the UK, says that the reason pilots still love their namesake frames is the same reason the rest of us do.
“Classic aviators…are great because they offer a large surface for protection. When you are above the clouds and fully exposed to the sun you will be thankful for that, as the windshields don’t do much to protect you at all.”
What’s surprising is that despite the complexity of piloting, quality doesn’t hinder performance. “I work with crew who use [$5] sunglasses and crew who use [$250+],” Belfield adds, confirming that even some of those with the most to lose (vision loss means career loss in aviation) rely on cheap aviator sunglasses to get the job done.
Between the most popular brand (you know what it is) or whichever cheap aviator sunglasses the gas station has in stock, the best aviator sunglasses fall somewhere in the middle — durable, moderately-priced, and stylish enough to make a non-glamorous commute feel like cruising across the desert in a convertible (or over it in a supersonic plane).
The Best Aviator Sunglasses At a Glance
What the Experts Say
Scemangal said that aviators are a longstanding favorite among her clients, particularly men. She noted specifically the pop culture status they’ve attained, the fact that they cover much of the face (as she recommends all sunglasses do), and that they look good on most people, particularly when considering that the nose pads make it easy to have them sit higher or lower.
Belfield, who’s worked as a private pilot for the past five years, agreed that the large lenses on most aviators are largely why they remain popular among, well, aviators. He also noted specific factors pilots consider when choosing their own sunglasses, like UV protection and a lack of polarization, which can distort the modern displays on larger aircraft. Belfield added that he personally knows aviators who rely on cheap aviator sunglasses, a sure sign that a lower price doesn’t necessarily mean inferior quality.
Knockaround Mile Highs
Those who aren’t content with golds, greys, and gunmetals, rejoice! Scemangal told Spy that the most conservative Ray-Ban aviators (gold frames with dark green lenses) are her best sellers in the category, so bolder colors of the Knockaround Mile Highs like “green moonshine,” “Vegas velour,” and “vintage violet” are a great way to stand out from the crowd without spending all the money.
The $35 price tag means feeling good about buying multiple pairs of their cheap aviator sunglasses in different colors — a good thing since more striking colors won’t coordinate with as many outfits as more neutral colors will.
Warby Parker Braden Aviator
Made For: Guys who want cool-looking prescription aviator sunglasses. These retro-inspired frames are easy to have made to your own optometrical specifications.
Hot Take: The sequoia tortoise colorway is a refreshingly warm look in a category defined by cold metals and colors on the blue and grey sides of the spectrum.
Quay On The Fly (Small)
Made For: Guys who find that normal or oversized glasses (which many aviators tend to be) look weirdly big on their face.
Hot Take: This might be an Australian brand, but you don’t have to call these “sunnies,” Aussie slang for sunglasses, if you don’t want to. Quay serves up the best aviator sunglasses for small faces with their On the Fly style, a width of 137mm. It’s a hard product to find for guys with small mugs, or rather, a demitasse cup. For an extra $120, Quay will conveniently turn them into prescription shades.
Made For: Scemangal says the cardinal rule of glasses is to choose frames that contrast with the shape of your face. Rounder jawlines look best in more angular, less teardroppy frames.
Hot Take: The MVMT Navigator aviator sunglasses are a solid contract to those face shapes. The rose gold frame and grey lens combo is truly sharp. The only thing that’s missing is the bomber jacket.
Ray-Ban 63mm Aviator Sunglasses
ROI: Ray-Ban sunglasses typically exceed the $100 price point, especially for their new Bluetooth shades. But discount retailers will usually have a strong selection of aviators under $100 from popular brands — there’s no need to spend extra.
Hot Take: That cursive brandmark in the corner of the lenses does look good. Scemangal says that classic Ray-Bans are by far her best seller in the aviator category, and there’s a reason: for those committed to a truly classic look, they’re hard to beat. They might not be able to
Goodr PHG Polarized Glasses
Coolest Feature: It’s not the fact that Goodr names their shades like Fall Out Boy titles their songs. Instead, it’s the silicone-coated inserts hidden on the arms and nose of these frames that will keep them in place on even the sweatiest of faces.
Hot Take: It’s undeniably cool, but flying a plane is still a seated activity. These Goodr frames are the way to go for those who want the best aviator sunglasses that won’t slip off while running, biking, and all other sweat-inducing pursuits. Tip: they do exist in different colors but will be named differently.
Diff Maeve Aviator Sunglasses
Made For: Guys who find that normal or undersized glasses look weirdly small on their face. (These are nearly 50% taller than the frames from Quay.)
Why It Stands Out: The top bar on these frames bends over the lenses — a unique touch that sets these aviator sunglasses apart from the normal look. These scream Miami and would look great poolside.
Titus G35 Aviator Sunglasses
Made For: Those who need their aviators to provide more than protection from the sun. Guys riding their hog to the shooting range before heading home to work with their power tools are gonna love these.
Hot Take: Sunglasses like these that provide real protection can double as a real style statement: think of them as workwear for your face — they work to make faces cooler.
Zenni Premium Aviators (Transition Lenses)
Made For: Guys who need sunglasses and regular glasses but hate carrying around multiple frames.
ROI: Why wouldn’t the best aviator sunglasses be a 2-in-1? Zenni adds even more value by allowing shoppers to customize their frames all over. This includes tint color to protective coatings, and even engraving.
Read More: I’m Obsessed With My $20 Eyeglasses From This Must-Know Eyewear Brand
Carrera Hot Aviator Sunglasses
Why It Stands Out: These Carerra aviators eschew the thin metal frames most common in the category for an acetate and metal construction that, along with the oversized lenses, shields more of the face.
Hot Take: Some might find the metal accents and silver and black-striped arms a bit much, but sunglasses have always been a place where people can get away with a bit of stylish excess as long as it’s fun. These are fun, especially for driving around, wind in the face, but with a little extra coverage.
J+S Premium Aviator Sunglasses
Why It Stands Out: Sunglasses that cost under $20 have no right to be this good. With polarized lenses that cut down on glare and UV 400 protection, this bad Larry also has spring hinges that Scemangal recommends for greater flexibility. These frames don’t cut corners.
ROI: These cheap aviator sunglasses are inexpensive enough that buy multiple pairs and feel good about it instead of panicking when they fall out of the beach bag or fall into a manhole. For those who can’t keep sunglasses to save their life, it might be time for dad’s secret weapon: the sunglasses neck strap.
Kent Wang Aviators
Why It Stands Out: For a pair of shades that does everything, well comes in two sizes and three colors, it doesn’t come close to breaking the bank at just $55. That’s expensive enough to cover the high build quality and cheap enough that you can afford to snag a replacement pair if need be.
Hot Take: The aviator sunglasses from this “humble haberdashery” check all of the boxes. These Kent Wang frames are made of durable steel, and the lenses are the classic teardrop shape in a size 54 mm wide for the standard (57 mm wide for the large). That’s large enough to cover the entire field of vision, a size that Scemangal recommends for all sunglasses because more coverage means more protection. And speaking of protection, the lenses are rated at 100% UV 400 protection, the highest level available.
Randolph Aviator Sunglasses — Military Special Edition
Coolest Feature: These Randolph aviator sunglasses use a flat arm instead of a curved arm. Why? It sharply reduces ear fatigue that happens when wearing sunglasses for too long.
ROI: This is the exception. Are they expensive? Yes. Are they also handcrafted, made in the USA, and suitable for passing down from generation to generation? Also yes. Will people start calling you “Goose?” It’s a maybe.
Hot Take: Randolph has crafted some of the best sunglasses since 1973. They come in well above the average price point for aviator shades, but any list of aviators would be incomplete without a pair from Randolph Eyewear, the Randolph, Mass.-based manufacturer that’s made the standard issue military sunglasses since 1978.
Frequently Asked Questions About Men’s Aviator Sunglasses
Are aviator sunglasses in style?
Yes. They’ve never truly gone out of style and it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. That’s part of why there are so many expensive and cheap aviator sunglasses on the market.
Who invented aviator sunglasses?
Legendary aviator John Macready worked with Bausch & Lomb to develop glasses that would protect pilots’ eyes from the blindingly bright light of the stratosphere soon after they began flying planes that could go that high. His daughter told the New York Times that he gave the company “the original shape, tint, and fit” of aviators.
What face shape looks best in aviator sunglasses?
According to Scemangal, aviator sunglasses look good on all but those with very round or tiny faces. However, some brands do make aviator sunglasses for smaller faces.
Can you still wear aviator sunglasses if you’re not a pilot?
Yes, they look great no matter your profession or altitude.