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

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Sherrie Ludwig

    If you fall for the “designer” advertising ploy, you deserve to get burned. Do you think there is a “Christian Dior” still out there, knitting each pair of pantyhose with his own hands? (Hint: he’s been dead for a while). The only true designer anything is when you go to a custom jeweler or atelier (look it up) and have your measurements taken for a made-to-order piece, with fittings and consultations, then pay large bucks for the completed thing. Otherwise, you are paying good money for, in essence, nothing. If you cannot tell good design from bad, or suitable design (for you) from unsuitable design, just buy the cheapest that will serve the purpose, and save the $$. Embroider some silly design on your KMart polos, and tell everyone it’s a new and hot designer, you had to stand in line and pay big bucks for his exclusive material, shh…it’s the in-thing, but you don’t want it spoiled by the masses. Your friends will either get the joke or turn themselves into knots trying to find them.

  • Taxpayer

    I have known for a very long time that Luxottica is the company responsible for almost all eyeglass frames. However, I’ve found that frames made in Italy (with the designer names that go along with Italian goods) last much longer than those made in China. For me, it’s less expensive to pay more for Italian made frames than to buy cheap made frames that last almost a year.
    The higher cost for Italian made frames is more than just paying for the name. Just like a Cartier watch costs more than a Timex.

    • That’s a fair point. However, if you are just going to replace them every summer anyway because you want the latest style, you might as well go for the cheap Chinese ones.

  • The choice is up to you, ’cause they come in two classes: rhinestone shades and cheap sunglasses, oh yeah.

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