Are Those Designer Shades Worth the Price?

When it comes to sunglasses, the best product doesn’t always go to the biggest spender. Here’s why.


It’s summertime, so you know what that means — trips to the beach with sunglasses perched on your nose. For some, the appearance and designer brand of their shades are just as important as those of their bathing suit and may even exceed its price.

The primary functions of sunglasses, whether designer or not, are to shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays, to boost visibility by eliminating glare and provide an optimal level of comfort. So why do people insist on sporting the most stylish and expensive pair of frames? Is the quality of designer shades truly superior, or are you simply paying for the logo?

In the video below, Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson explains why price is not the most important factor when you’re scoping out a pair of shades. Take a look, then meet me on the other side for more information.

Identical manufacturers

If you think buying high-end means your frames receive some form of royal treatment during the production phase, think again. In fact, Luxottica, an Italian-based company, manufactures shades for a number of brands all over the price spectrum, including the $500 kind.

The list on the company’s website includes: Anne Klein, Arnette, Bulgari, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Oakley, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, Tiffany, Versace and Vogue.

Brett Arends reported in The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that the company handles the design and marketing, as well as the manufacturing, of the sunglasses it makes.

Arends added:

The cost of a new pair of glasses will of course reflect materials and labor. But the price will also reflect brand values and marketing – and how much consumers will pay. Luxottica says it makes a gross profit of 64 cents on each dollar of sales. Even after deducting sales and advertising costs, overhead and brand licensing royalties it’s still making 52 cents. That’s some margin.

How to evaluate shades

Whether they’re designer sunglasses or of a much more modest brand, here are a few factors to consider when shopping for shades:

1. Ultraviolet ray absorption — both UVB and UVA. This is the most important factor to look for when purchasing shades, because failure to protect your eyes can lead to eye damage and disease. This chart on The Huffington Post explains some of the dangers.

The Foundation of the American Academy of Opthalmology says:

Look for sunglasses that block 99 percent or 100 percent of all UV light. Some manufacturers’ labels say “UV absorption up to 400nm.” This is the same thing as 100 percent UV absorption.

WebMD adds that this is another indication of lenses that provides the UV protection you want:

Lenses meet ANSI Z80.3 blocking requirements. (This refers to standards set by the American National Standards Institute.)

2. Polarization. This is helpful because it reduces glare reflected from flat surfaces like pavement or pools of water, which can increase your visibility while you’re driving, the foundation says. This has nothing to do with protecting your eyes from harmful rays.

3. The quality control test. To determine if nonprescription lenses are made well, the foundation recommends that you:

  • Fix your eyes on a tile or other object with a rectangular pattern.
  • Cover one eye. Hold the glasses away from your face.
  • Slowly move the glasses up and down and side to side.

If the lines in the rectangular pattern remain straight during the test, the lenses are fine. If they don’t, the lenses are likely made of cheap pressed plastic.

3. Frame design. The foundation says:

Studies have shown that enough UV rays enter around ordinary eyeglass frames to reduce the benefits of protective lenses. Large-framed wraparound sunglasses can protect your eyes from all angles.

WebMD says the next best choice is a really big lens that goes down to your cheekbones. You also want glasses that sit close to your face so that UV rays don’t leak over the top.

4. Lens color. You can minimize color distortion by picking gray, green or brown lenses, WebMD says.

The foundation’s EyeCare America website also explains which factors have little to do with the performance of the sunglasses you buy.

So, are the designer shades really worth the cost, or can you tolerate a more affordable pair? The choice is yours, but it never hurts to buy a slew of less-expensive pairs that provide the proper protection for your eyes. That way, you won’t miss them when you lose them.

Stacy Johnson

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