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Published Aug 8, 2022 10:10 AM

Maybe you aspire to the timeless flyboy style Tom Cruise made famous with his Top Gun aviators, or maybe you just need to replace the most recent bargain-basement shades to fall apart on your face. The timeless pilot sunglasses are a good look no matter what you’re wearing, and we found more than one way to make them your own.

Sure, you can always keep it traditional with gold frames and green lenses like our favorite pilot — sorry — Naval aviator. But there’s nothing that says you can’t make General MacArthur’s shades a little more feminine or black them out for a look that’s half tactical and half punk-rock. Take a look at some of the best aviators around, learn about polarized lenses, and upgrade your style while there’s still some summer left.

As I’ve pointed out before, these aviators are the real deal. They’re not only a quality product from a premium brand, but they’re also the exact make, model, and color combination sported by Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. If you want the real thing and some cinephile cred, look no further.

Ray-Bans have long been favored by style-conscious buyers who appreciate quality, and these RB3025s are built accordingly. Aviator sunglasses across the price spectrum might look the same, but these are subjected to much stricter quality standards than cut-rate imitators. You can expect tiny components like the hinges and nose pads to function smoothly for years to come.

Three sizes are available, but the movie star look comes from 58-millimeter lenses. The color should be green, and the lenses should be polarized. Ray-Ban’s high-end polarized lenses will help reduce glare, increase contrast, and improve visual clarity. Sure, these shades cost a pretty penny, but they’ll last years instead of weeks and look damn good the whole time.

Product Specs
  • Frame: Gold
  • Lenses: Green
  • Lens width: 58 millimeters
  • Polarized: Yes
Why It Made The Cut
  • The original, the best, and the aviator sunglasses we’d all be wearing if price were no issue.
PROS

Steal Tom Cruise’s look

Top-notch designer aviator sunglasses

Lots of sizes and styles to choose from

CONS

Priced higher than a Navy fighter jet

Ray-Ban manufacturing is no longer in the U.S.

You probably wouldn’t normally cross-shop these Jessica Simpson aviators with the other designer brand sunglasses on this list, but when they’re on sale for less than $25, it’s hard not to give them a look. If you’re looking for an affordable pair of aviators with a more modern, feminine twist, they might be just what you need.

One way these stand out from the crowd is the use of gradient lenses. While five color options are available, all of them use lenses that either get darker or change color from bottom to top. It’s a subtle difference that adds just a touch of personal flare. The frame color can be gold, rose gold, or silver.

The feature that will make it or break it for you is the stylized temples. Unlike classic aviators’ straight, slim temples, these get a chunkier piece of metal with a braided design and a Jessica Simpson logo. It’s not for everyone, but if you like it, you can get a hell of a deal on these.

Are these aviators on the same level as our other picks? Not even close. But then again, neither is the price. And poor Jessica probably needs a little help paying for paint correction after driving that beautiful Stingray all over the desert for the “Take My Breath Away” music video.

Product Specs
  • Frame: Gold
  • Lenses: Black
  • Lens width: 59 millimeters
  • Polarized: No
Why It Made The Cut
  • Sometimes we all have to put cost first. Fortunately, you can still get legitimate style and a good look without blowing the budget on sunglasses.
PROS

A more feminine take on the aviator style

Several modern lens styles available

Priced to sell, unlike higher-end aviators

CONS

Stylistic choices aren’t for everyone

Build quality isn’t premium

Let’s say you like the aviator look — maybe you’re even in the fighter pilot business yourself — but you want something a little different. Maybe someone in your life made aviators his signature look and you blame him for your dad’s death. Just spitballing, here. These technically aren’t aviators, but they absolutely need to be included on this list if you’re going to make an informed decision.

Like the RB3025s that landed our top spot on this list, these Caravans come in a classic gold and green color combo that looks like it belongs in a cockpit. They share the same 58-millimeter lens width, although the Caravan’s lenses are chopped short at the bottom for a more squared-off look that works well with different face shapes. If aviators tend to be too big for you, give these a try.

Another difference is that these green lenses are not polarized, although they do offer UV protection. That makes them less ideal for high-glare situations, but better for reading information on digital screens. Ray-Ban did see fit to give these lenses a color-enhancing treatment that produces a sharper, richer perspective that might help you see fit to forgive that old pilot instructor in your life.

Product Specs
  • Frame: Gold
  • Lenses: Green
  • Lens width: 58 millimeters
  • Polarized: No
Why It Made The Cut
  • This is the same brand, same heritage, and same quality as the Ray-Ban original — this time, just with an updated style that’s all your own.
PROS

Typical Ray-Ban sunglasses quality

A fresh look for a classic style

Lenses enhance color and clarity

CONS

The most expensive sunglasses on this list

Do they really cost this much to produce?

Some of you are scratching your chin and wishing that you could get something a little close to Ray-Ban quality without dropping hundreds of dollars on a pair of sunglasses. I have good news for you, because these Michael Kors aviators offer designer style and quality at a much more attainable price.

Instead of paying more than $200, these aviators will only set you back $70. At that price, you’ll still get name-brand quality from a respected manufacturer. Sure, the lenses aren’t quite on par with the top-shelf alternatives, but they’re noticeably better than cheap knock-offs and the frames will hold up better, too.

Some people will also go nuts for the blacked-out look of these aviators. This grayscale color scheme would look great dressed up or dressed down and adds a certain rockstar vibe to an old classic. The lens shape is also softer and more round than the traditional aviator design, so it might be a better fit for certain face shapes.

Product Specs
  • Frame: Black
  • Lenses: Gray
  • Lens width: 60 millimeters
  • Polarized: No
Why It Made The Cut
  • Get your pilot sunglasses with a modern, blacked out look. The rounder lenses lend themselves to more face shapes and the price is right.
PROS

Gray lenses in gunmetal frames look fantastic

Slightly rounder shape than

Ray-Ban RB3025s Lenses get a mirrored finish

CONS

Not strictly the original

Only available in one color

Things to consider before buying aviator sunglasses

Your buying decision is probably going to come down to price. Aside from that, there are some considerations you might want to be mindful of even if you can afford any designer aviator sunglasses you want.

Frame

It’s hard to get much information about sunglasses frames from an online product page. A premium frame and one that can barely support its own weight will look basically the same in pictures. Don’t expect the kind of information you’d get from a knife maker that lists detailed information about specific kinds of steel. As a result, you’ll have to go by manufacturer reputation to some extent. Brands like Ray-Ban can be trusted to build quality products that won’t rattle apart.

Lenses

Lenses, on the other hand, do have some objective qualifications that can be useful. The primary one is whether or not a given lens is polarized. Polarized lenses use a chemical treatment to filter incoming light before it reaches your eye. The result is a glare-free view that vastly improves vision — especially when you look at vegetation, snow, glass, and bodies of water. There are times, however, when polarized lenses are a liability. If you need to read an LCD display or spot ice on the road, for example, glare reduction isn’t a good thing. 

FAQs about aviator sunglasses

Q: How much do aviator sunglasses cost?

A: You can find knock-offs online or at your local gas station for a few bucks, but they’ll fall apart almost immediately. The aviator shades on this gear guide cost between $40 and $250 (at full MSRP).

Q: Do women wear aviators?

A: Yes, and they should because everyone deserves to look this cool.

Q: What face shape looks good with aviator sunglasses?

A: According to the people at Esquire (who are far more style-conscious than I am), traditional, teardrop aviators look best on diamond- and heart-shaped faces. I’d argue that anyone and everyone looks good in aviators. 

Q: Are expensive aviator sunglasses really better?

A: Sunglasses aren’t complicated, but build quality does matter. High-end sunglasses benefit from better materials and manufacturing techniques than cheap ones, though how much that’s worth is up to you.

Q: What’s the best way to clean aviator sunglasses?

A: All About Vision has a step-by-step guide to cleaning glasses, but it boils down to gentle soap and a soft, lint-free cloth.

Final thoughts

When it comes to aviator sunglasses, the designer sunglasses sported by America’s favorite fighter pilot are still the gold-framed standard. A pair of Ray-Ban RB3025s look great in uniform, a suit, or over a pair of board shorts. The cost of entry isn’t cheap, but you’ll enjoy a quality set of shades for years to come.

Methodology 

Aviator sunglasses have been around since 1936 when they were developed by Bausch & Lomb to protect pilots’ eyes from the harsh glare of the sun at altitude. Generals, actors, and rock stars have made the design a cultural icon for nearly a century. As you can imagine, the style has been picked up by countless manufacturers since then. A quick search on Amazon brought up seven pages of results — most of them from brands I’ve never heard of.

Out of respect for your money, I immediately discarded any products from dubious manufacturers and sellers. Only established, trusted names like Ray-Ban and Michael Kors made the cut. Oh, and Jessica Simpson because she did release a tribute to the Top Gun soundtrack back in the day.

For the most part, I stayed true to the original aviators with the timeless teardrop shape, although I had to make an exception for Ray-Ban’s Caravan shades out of respect for Goose’s son in the new Top Gun: Maverick movie.

Finally, I tried to hit a few different price points to put a quality set of aviators in everyone’s budget. 

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