The Complete Aviator Sunglasses Guide: What to Know Before Buying a Pair

Everything you've ever wanted to know about aviator sunglasses

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What are Aviator Sunglasses?

Aviator sunglasses are a style of sunglasses distinguished by their large teardrop-shaped lens. They originated in 1936 after being developed by Bausch and Lomb so that military pilots could protect their eyes while flying. The large lens is essentially a practical way to block the sun from all angles—something that is crucial while flying.

Since the 1930s, aviators have evolved into one of the most popular styles of sunglasses. While classic versions are still popular, there are a million different takes on the design that make aviators one of the most adaptable types of sunglasses out there.

Types of Aviator Sunglasses

Classic Aviators

Randolph Engineering

Classic aviators have a thin metal frame. They generally come in silver or gold with dark lenses. You can buy these from brands like Ray-Ban, or Randolph Engineering. You also don’t have to look far to find cheaper models on the high street.

Plastic-Frame Aviators

Warby Parker

Plastic or acetate frame aviators have the same shape as classic aviators but use a plastic frame. The plastic is thicker than the metal which means they are typically more oversized than even classic aviators.

Square Lens Aviators

Square-lens aviators similar to regular aviators but have a slightly squared-off design. The squarer they get, the less aviator-like they are.

Top-Bar Aviators

Ace and Tate

Top-bar aviators are those with a thick bar running across the top part of the lenses. This bar is often metal, although can be wood, plastic, or another material to make them a bit different.

How to Wear Aviator Sunglasses?

One of the reasons aviators are so popular is because they go well with pretty much anything. You can dress them up in a suit or tuxedo, or dress them down in jeans and a leather jacket. Here are some examples of times when people have worn aviators to great effect.

Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: If you want to dress your aviators down, look no further than how Brad Pitt pairs them with worn-in jeans and a casual shirt or denim jacket. The aviators Pitt wears have a thicker brow and a distinct red lens that go really well with the more casual outfit.

Lionsgate Television

Jon Hamm in Mad Men: At the other end of the scale, look no further than Jon Hamm who in Mad Men pairs aviators with a sleek tailoring and skinny ties to devastating effect. The aviators Hamm wears have a simple metal frame and dark lenses so they go well with his tailoring.

Adam Sandler in Murder Mystery: Perhaps the ultimate showcase of how aviators go with anything is Adam Sandler’s character in Murder Mystery. Sandler manages to wear the same shades with both a simple t-shirt and shorts combo, and a full tuxedo. Impressive.

Will Smith in Bad Boys For Life: In Bad Boys for Life Will Smith pairs aviators with a smart casual outfit to great effect. Also, note the embellishments on the temples of the aviators.

Aviator Sunglasses Brands

Pretty much every sunglasses brand has their take on aviators. Here are some brands that are particularly well known for the style.



The original Bausch & Lomb aviators design is now sold by Ray-Ban as their classic aviators. These have everything you’d expect from a classic pair of aviators including the large ear-drop lens. Ray-Bay Classic aviators are available in several frame and lens color combinations. The brand also produces a lot of different takes on the style which are well-worth looking at if you like aviators but want something a bit different.

Randolph Engineering

Randolph Engineering

Randolph Engineering do a variety of aviator styles including a classic pair. Randolph sunglasses are hand-assembled in the U.S. The brand gets its aviator chops due to the fact that in 1978 it began to produce the shades for the U.S. military, which it still does to this day.

AO Optical

AO Optical aviators have the honor of being worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moon landing. The brand’s original pilot sunglasses are slightly more squared off than a classic pair of aviators and come in three frame colors.

Other Brands


Of course, these aren’t the only brands that sell great aviators. We’ve recently seen plenty of other brands that do their own unique takes on the style including RetroSuperFuture (pictured), Dolce and Gabbana, and Mykita.

What Face Shape Suits Aviator Sunglasses

Aviator sunglasses are surprisingly forgiving and they go with most face shapes. The variety of takes on the style means that even if classic aviators don’t suit you, you may be able to find a pair that does. They go especially well oval and square face shapes. Round faces should look for a pair of aviators with a more squared-off design to balance out their features.

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