This who’s who in cool sunglasses is your must-have shopping guide.
In the 1940s, legendary jazz musician Lester Young — also known as the “President of Jazz” or “The Pres” — used the word “cool” to describe something as hip and fashionable. From then on, “cool” was no longer just a word to indicate the weather. As people began hearing the word more and more, Young’s usage of “cool” became increasingly popular. Today, people use “cool” to describe something in a positive way without even thinking about it.
What’s cool and what’s not changes constantly and consistently shapes modern trends, from the cars we drive to the music we listen to. And of course, it influences fashion.
Sunglasses are sometimes an afterthought — something you throw into your bag on a sunny day. But often, a cool pair of sunglasses can be what turns an everyday outfit into a fashion statement.
If you’re searching for your own pair of cool sunglasses, what’s cooler than looking at the people who epitomize being cool?
The British royal family
Whether it’s bingeing on “The Crown” or it was staying up to watch the wedding of Prince William and Catherine (Kate) Middleton in April 2011, keeping up with royalty has become a worldwide obsession.
If you’ve jumped onto the royalty fandom bandwagon (or if you were the first one to board), then there’s nothing cooler than a pair of royalty-inspired sunglasses.
The No. 1 royal to channel with sunglasses is undoubtedly Kate Middleton.
She became an instant fashion sensation from the moment she was thrust into the international spotlight. When Kate wore a blue Issa wrap dress for her engagement announcement, the $535 dress sold out within hours. It eventually became part of mainstream fashion, with British supermarket chain Tesco selling their own short-sleeved version for just $25.
Kate’s presence in the fashion world hasn’t died down. A survey conducted by the Fashion Retail Academy in London in 2020 found that nearly half (47.8%) of people surveyed named Kate the top royal fashion icon.
One of the accessories Kate frequently wears is Ray-Ban sunglasses. She’s been spotted wearing several different pairs, so we can guess that Ray-Ban is one of her favorite brands.
Get the look:
Want to emulate the fashion-forward princess? Try the Ray-Ban Wayfarer II shades that Kate wore to the 2019 Wimbledon men’s single final — they’re available for $169 (other frame colors/lens tints are $154) directly from Ray-Ban.
Get a similar look for less with big, round lenses and a slim black frame, like these $39 Hideout sunglasses from EyeBuyDirect.
Kate’s sister-in-law Meghan Markle has also been a major fashion influencer since she stepped onto the royal scene: Her simple, long-sleeved, off-the-shoulder wedding dress inspired a flurry of look-alike gowns.
Though Meghan and Prince Harry have decided to take a step back from their roles as senior royals in January 2020 (a step known to the Twittersphere as #Megzit), royal fashion fans haven’t forgotten about Meghan. In the same Fashion Retail Academy survey where Kate Middleton was named the top royal fashion icon, Meghan came in second.
When Meghan arrived in the U.S. for her baby shower in February 2019, she was wearing a pair of Le Specs Air Heart sunglasses. These chic, retro sunglasses sold out almost immediately, and stores couldn’t get them back in stock fast enough.
Get the look:
The most iconic feature of these shades is the size, so if you’re shopping for your own similar pair (that’s not from the Le Specs brand) look for sunglasses that are oversized, dark and have a slight cat-eye shape. And to go completely authentic Meghan, grab a pair that has flat lenses rather than curved ones.
Fortunately, at $69, Meghan’s Le Specs are already on the more affordable side. But if you want to treat yourself to a more expensive and luxurious pair, you can also get the Meghan look with these Polo PH4148 glasses ($137).
All hail the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II may be in her mid-90s, but that hasn’t kept her from fashion stardom. Named the third most influential royal fashion icon behind Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, the Queen has also made headlines for her sunglasses.
While she’s worn several types of sunglasses during her long reign, the ones she wore in 2018 were particularly attention-grabbing. There were even multiple articles in popular fashion magazines like Vanity Fair and Harper’s BAZAAR devoted solely to her shades.
The Queen was spotted wearing small sunglasses — one of the latest trends — at events such as a Buckingham Palace garden party and the Epsom Derby.
The glasses appeared to have photochromic lenses, which are clear lenses that transition into sunglasses when exposed to sunlight. According to a Buckingham Palace spokesperson, Queen Elizabeth started wearing the glasses more frequently after having cataract surgery.
Get the look:
For your Queen-inspired shades, look for a small pair that has a light-colored frame and lenses with a brown or amber tint.
The royal men may not have come out on the top of the royal fashion influencer survey, but there’s no doubt that their prince status makes them inherently “cool” — which makes their fashion choices equally cool. So if you’re in the market for cool sunglasses for men, look no further than the royal family.
Princes Harry and William, and their father, Prince Charles, almost resembled a team of secret agents at a 2017 event in Lille, France, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
All three were wearing classic dark shades. Harry and William sported some cool Ray-Ban sunglasses (Wayfarers), while Charles wore an almost identical pair that appeared to be Persols. According to a 2017 Harper’s BAZAAR article, the men’s inspiration may have been John F. Kennedy, who often wore Ray-Bans at official events.
And there’s no denying that JFK had the “cool factor.”
Get the look:
For your prince look, go for a classic Wayfarer-shaped frame in a dark color, like these Ray-Bans for $132. And if you’re going to be spending time at outdoor sporting events like the princes, make sure that any pair you get offers good protection from the sun’s UV rays.
Cool sunglasses for women from the silver screen
You don’t need to take your fashion cues from real people. Movies and TV shows provide fictional characters that still offer plenty of inspiration.
Miranda Priestly (“The Devil Wears Prada”)
“The Devil Wears Prada'' was essentially a fashion show within a film. The movie featured more than $1,000,000 worth of costumes, including $40,000 fur coats and $12,000 handbags.
Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly was known for her high-fashion wardrobe, which included Versace sunglasses, an effortlessly cool accessory.
Get the Look
If you’d like to borrow Miranda’s style but don’t have the budget for designer brands, don’t worry — you don’t necessarily have to spend as much as you would on a pair of Versace shades. Look for big, gold, oval-shaped frames with brown-tinted lenses that mimic Miranda’s, like these $103 Ralph Lauren sunglasses.
Elle Woods (“Legally Blonde”)
The character Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is known for her charm, spunk, intelligence and long blonde locks. And when she shows up to Harvard Law School in a pink leather skirt and jacket, it’s clear that she’s also one to make a fashion statement.
Pink is Elle’s signature color, so it’s not surprising that she is seen several times wearing sunglasses with very noticeably pink lenses. Elle’s rectangular lenses make appearances throughout the whole film, including when she says her famous, “I object!” on her Harvard admissions video essay.
Get the look:
Ray-Ban makes a few pairs of Elle-worthy pink-lense shades, including the Nomad Pink Fluo, which sell for $205.
If pink lenses aren’t your thing, but you still love Elle’s style, you’ll still do her proud in any pair with pink frames, sparkle or a big, bold design.
Holly Golightly (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”)
When Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) stepped out of that cab onto New York City’s Fifth Avenue, she became an instant icon. Her long black Givenchy gown has been credited as modernizing the concept of the “little black dress” — a simple dress that exudes elegance and a wondrous lifestyle.
For some viewers, the gown may have stolen the show. But her look would not be complete without the accessories — pearls, satin gloves and those signature dark, oversized tortoiseshell sunglasses.
Get the look:
There’s a common misconception that Holly’s sunglasses are Ray-Bans, but they are actually Oliver Goldsmith’s Manhattan model.
A pair of Manhattans from Oliver Goldsmith goes for nearly $400. Fortunately, there are plenty of less expensive look-alikes. When you’re searching for your pair, keep dark, tortoiseshell and slight cat eye rim on your checklist. Polo sunglasses are almost identical and, at $137, go for less than half the price of the Oliver Goldsmith brand.
Cool men’s sunglasses — TV and movie style
Just like the leading ladies, men in TV shows and movies are always wearing cool-looking sunglasses.
Maverick (“Top Gun”)
The movie “Top Gun” is such a classic that aviators at the US Navy’s fighter pilot school (which is actually called TOPGUN) get fined $5 every time they quote the film.
But it’s not just the movie’s quotes that have rubbed off on viewers.
Tom Cruise and Ray-Ban cooperated on a product placement deal that put aviator sunglasses on Cruise’s character, Maverick. The two had done a similar placement deal just a few years earlier with “Risky Business” and had seen sales of Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer shades skyrocket. This second product placement deal did the trick again — Cruise’s Maverick was a cool guy with sunglasses, and in just the first seven months following the release of “Top Gun,” sales of these aviator sunglasses rose by 40%.
Get the look:
Any pair of aviators that are gold with green lenses will get you that “Top Gun” look. But to be as authentic to the film as possible, go with the Ray-Ban brand ($153).
Boss Godfrey (“Cool Hand Luke”)
In the 1967 film, Paul Newman plays Luke, a Southern man who is sentenced to two years on a chain gang in a prison camp. Refusing to listen to authority figures, Luke keeps escaping — and subsequently getting recaptured.
The chain gang is run by the Captain (Strother Martin) and Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodward). Throughout the movie, Boss Godfrey never talks — and he also never removes his famous mirrored sunglasses, earning him the nickname “the man with no eyes.”
Get the look:
If you’re looking for a pair of “Cool Hand Luke” sunglasses so that you can be like the mysterious Boss Godfrey, you’re going to need aviators with mirrored lenses, like Fatheadz Vortac shades, available for less than $100.
James Bond in...every James Bond movie
There is certainly no shortage of sunglass inspiration stemming from the “James Bond” series of movies. The many James Bonds in the line of James Bond films have gone through sunglasses from designers like Persol, Tom Ford and Calvin Klein. The beloved character wears some of the coolest men's sunglasses around.
So admired are Bond’s sunglasses that even before the 2021 film “No Time to Die” was released, fans got a sneak peek at which glasses they could expect.
The movie features three different pairs designed by luxury brand Barton Perreira specifically for the film:
The 007 Joe has a black rectangular frame with vintage gray mineral glass lenses.
The 007 Norton has a tortoiseshell frame with bottle green lenses.
The 007 Courtier is an aviator style with a titanium brow bar and gray lenses.
All three pairs have “007” inscribed on the temple and come with a cool limited-edition sunglasses case (also complete with the 007 logo).
Get the look:
A pair of Barton Perreiras will set you back up to $625, so if you don’t have quite that much to spend, find a pair of cool cheap sunglasses that still has those key style features. For the 007 Joe, try this pair of Polaroids for $68 (or less). For the 007 Norton, this pair of Banana Republic glasses for around $100 will get you that tortoiseshell frame and green lenses. And for the 007 Courtier, try $63 Fossil frames.
Whether they’re movie stars, singers or politicians, celebrities are among the biggest influencers on American fashion.
There’s very little that Beyoncé can’t do, so it’s hardly surprising that she has made waves in the fashion industry.
Beyoncé released a visual album called “Black is King” in July 2020 on Disney+. In an Instagram post, she shared that the album was created to present elements of African tradition and Black history under a modern lens, as well as to explore self-identity and legacy building. Rolling Stone described the album as a “statement on Pan-African identity and idealism.”
“Black is King” garnered praise for more than its messaging. It’s also been lauded as a fashion triumph, with Vogue calling it the “Afrocentric Fashion Moment We’ve Been Waiting For.”
In the album’s many videos, Beyoncé rocked multiple pairs of sunglasses from designers Poppy Lissiman and a-morir, including:
Cat eye frames with red lenses (Poppy Lissiman)
Yellow frames with crystals (Poppy Lissiman)
Elongated black skinny shades (Poppy Lissiman)
Oversized black square frames lined with large crystals (a-morir)
Cat eye frames with a crystal and pearl trim, hand paved with silk Swarovski Elements crystal (a-morir)
While the a-morir glasses cost several hundred dollars, the Poppy Lissiman shades sell for $150 or less.
Get the look:
If you’re not an a-morir or Poppy Lissiman girl, you can try these replacements:
Red-lensed cat eye frames from Vogue ($111)
Yellow frames with crystals from Jimmy Crystal New York ($53 or less)
Black skinny shades from Vogue ($110)
Black embellished frames from Quay ($65)
Pearl cat eye sunglasses from Lele Sadoughi ($195)
Opt for any of these fabulous shades and style yourself like Beyoncé, for less.
Singer Elton John is known for his out-there fashion choices — and that includes sunglasses. In fact, he’s rumored to have more than 250,000 pairs (although he has denied claims that he books separate hotel rooms just to store his shades).
His signature style includes heart-shaped sunglasses with red lenses — one of his iconic pairs was even stolen from a museum in 2015. But he doesn’t just stick to hearts; his star-shaped glasses are arguably just as well-known.
Sir Elton has also gone over the top with sunglasses, wearing pairs embellished with feathers or with lenses covered in crystals. Even when he goes the “tamer” route, with simple circular shades, the lenses are usually a fun, get-noticed color.
Get the look:
Crystals and feathers aren’t the preferred route for many people. But you can get yourself a more subtle, Elton John-inspired heart-shaped pair for only $39.
Jacqueline Kennedy set the stage for First Ladies serving as fashion icons. Known worldwide for her clothes, hats and sunglasses, her name quickly became synonymous with style.
A few decades later, Michelle Obama had her turn on that stage. In addition to her four initiatives during her years as the First Lady — advocating for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education and international adolescent girls’ education — she was also always dressed to impress.
Whether it was her organza flower-covered Jason Wu inaugural gown or one of the many outfits she wore by Black designers, Michelle was frequently lauded for her clothing during and after her tenure as First Lady.
When it comes to sunglasses, Michelle generally chooses darker colors. Regardless of whether she chooses small round frames or large rectangular ones, she always looks exceedingly elegant in her sunglasses.
Get the look:
For your Michelle-inspired look, you’re best off choosing a pair that’s dark and understated (like a classic black Wayfarer-type style for $71) — and of course, pairing it with both a stylish dress and unapologetic confidence.
Golfers might not be fashion kings and queens, but they definitely know their sunglasses. Some golfers take their shades off between swings but wear them at all other times on the course to protect their eyes from overexposure to harmful UV rays from the sun. Others wear special golf sunglasses that help them better read greens, see the ball in the air or detect contours of the course.
Many pros — including Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter and Beatriz Recari — have been spotted wearing cool Oakley sunglasses on PGA, LPGA and European tours. That’s no surprise, considering Oakley specializes in athletic sunglasses and offers glasses made with the golf game in mind.
These glasses don’t just do the trick on the golf course — with their futuristic-looking frames and brightly colored lenses, they’re also fashion statement-worthy.
Get the look:
If you’re a golfer, Oakley sunglasses are gold standard for sunglasses for the green. Golf.com recommends Targetline glasses with Prizm lenses that can be had for as little as $68.
Cool kids’ sunglasses
Even if being cool isn’t your top concern, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t need to know about cool sunglasses. If you have a child, knowing what’s cool and what isn’t could mean the difference between your kid actually wearing the sunglasses you buy them and leaving them at the bottom of their backpack.
“Cool” is one of the top words in a kid’s vocabulary and it’s also one of their top motivators. Ask them why they like something, and you will probably hear, “It’s cool.” Ask them why they don't like something, and you will (unsurprisingly) get, “It’s not cool.”
Even if you think your child has zero interest in fashion, why not have them pick out their own pair? If they don’t have a preference, buy something classic, like black Ray-Ban wayfarers (starting at $40 on sale), that won’t go out of style and will always make them the cool kid with sunglasses.
So, what is cool these days?
Just what is “cool”? The answer changes frequently. The cool sunglasses brands and styles of today could easily be a no-go tomorrow.
Whether you’re shopping for your child or yourself, remember that the No. 1 ingredient to looking cool in sunglasses isn’t the glasses themselves -- it’s your confidence. It doesn’t matter if you buy the season’s hottest pair or if you grab the first pair you see. As long as you feel cool, you’re sure to look cool, too.
READ MORE: Top 10 sunglasses brands
Page published in February 2021
Page updated in May 2021