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I’m not entirely sure of the origins of summer sunglasses, but I suspect the story went something like this: Summer sunglasses were once a necessary evil. On the sunniest, most delightful summer days, the blistering sun couldn’t be contained—leaving the world blinded (and in dire need of sunscreen). The era’s “it” girls lamented that they had to ruin otherwise perfectly balanced outside with something so clunky and dark; how dare anything disrupt their carefully crafted aesthetics? As time went on, however, the future Instagram stars of 2019 got their way. Sunglasses were no longer all function, no form; design became as necessary as practicality. Style and sun protection would never be mutually exclusive again. The “it” girls lived happily ever after—and everyone else did, too.
Whether or not this imagined oral history of summer sunglasses is true, there’s one nugget of reality embedded within it: Sunglasses used to be exclusively practical. Think of the sunglasses that pervaded your youth. They were ugly—and that was before “ugly” fashion was “cool” and “trendy” and “self-aware.” There was no irony embedded in those visor sunglasses your dad used to wear on family vacations. They were there for one purpose and one purpose only: To protect your dad’s precious eyes as he navigated unfamiliar highways in the stale-smelling rental car you snagged at the airport.
These days, though, we’ve all but inverted this expectation. Sunglasses are veritably cool accessories so decorative that, sometimes, they don’t even protect your eyes from the sun at all. The line between sunglasses and eyeglasses has become so blurred that when I stumbled upon a pair of clear, glitter-adorned eyeglasses labeled “sunglasses,” I wasn’t remotely surprised. I mean, the lenses were littered with silver glitter that would surely obfuscate the wearer’s vision, and eyeglasses are supposed to help you see more clearly. Have we reached an age where sunglasses are no longer defined by what makes them sunglasses—their ability to protect the wearer from the sun—but instead by what makes them not eyeglasses?
These are strange times we live in, but what’s exciting is this: The great sunglass identity crisis of 2019 has blessed us with a veritable plethora of cute summer sunglasses to peruse, to buy, to wear. And really, who has time for existentialism when there’s so much shopping to be done?
Grandpa sunnies, crafted for the modern age.
Don’t be surprised to catch people staring in the veritable mirror that is your sunglasses.
Ski goggles, but make them fashion—and sunglasses.
They may not block the sun, but they’ll sure look good in all your summer Instagrams.
Glorified purple-tinted glasses. But we’ll call them sunnies, anyway.
Sure to play well with your favorite tropical print shirt.
Aviators with a fraction of the metal.
Nothing says early 2000s like rimless, rectangular sunnies.
Your favorite tortoiseshell sunnies, made new again,
OK, if the previous pair didn’t qualify as ski goggles in your book, these definitely have to.
Basically a really pretty aqua mirror you can wear on your face.
A more classic frame, for the fan of how our grandparents did it.
Because pilots would be cooler if they wore hot pink sunglasses.
A classic frame, done in a decidedly out-of-the-box way.
Because really, who said your lenses and your frames had to connect?
When your frames feel vintage, but your shape is anything but.
I mean, why not tack a unibrow rim across the top?
Daisy-inspired without skewing terribly literal.
Because circles are just too obvious.
Big enough to shield your gaze from the haters so you can roll your eyes in peace.
They might not offer much shade, but they’ll certainly elevate your look.
The kind of thing your grandma probably wore back in the day.
We’re encountering a moment where truly massive sunglasses are as abundant as teensy-weensy ones.
Tinies just got tinier.
Basically a reflective shield you can wear on your face.
A statement sunny sure to play well with every ensemble you throw together.
Under-rims are the new over-rims.
A no-fail, statement-making addition to any sunnies repertoire.
Sunglasses that come with a built in sun visor? Trendy.
Red isn’t a traditional shade for shades, but it feels veritably futuristic—and statement-making.
Give us bedazzled anything, and we’ll be pleased.
Ski goggles are officially a lewk.
Because your penchant for pride doesn’t have to end when June does.
As fit for 3019 as they are for 2019.
Forever 21 calls these “party favor” sunglasses—but we’d wear them on the daily.
A gold metallic option, for the fan of a warmer palette.
Everything you love about heart-shaped frames, combined with everything you cherish about classic cat-eye sunnies.
Aviators that are just a touch more fun than the average.
Sunnies sure to render you the walking embodiment of the kissy-face emoji.
Orange and chartreuse make for a seriously underrated summer color combo.
Classic without skewing too conventional.
Why yes, those pearl-lined pink lenses do fold out to make room for the green tinies underneath.
A throwback to your favorite sunnies from the aughts.
Tiny sunglasses, done the heart way.
Fodder for your next Instagram.
Giving new meaning to the phrase “starry-eyed.”
A vintage frame with a classic lens.
Opaque enough to actually, maybe, protect you from the sun—despite the light lens color.
Basically just iridescent eyeglasses—but honestly, who’s complaining?
On the plus side, impractical sunnies are fit for wear on even the cloudiest, rainiest days.
Be the walking embodiment of the heart-eye emoji. Because you can.
Come to think of it, who needs rims, anyway?
Surface area? Check. Appearance? Check. Practicality—who needs it?
Willy Wonka-inspired, Urban Outfitters-approved.
Give off subtle kissy emoji vibes, no matter where you wander.
I have no qualms admitting these navy sunnies are cooler than I am.
They might not keep the sun from your eyes, but they’ll surely keep you looking all kinds of cool.
Heart-eye sunnies are, somehow, more fun when it isn’t Valentine’s Day.
A new take on bug-eye sunnies.
I don’t care if you did a straight-up rain dance to wish for tiny sunnies to exit the zeitgeist. They’re back, baby.
Bella Hadid has been trying to resurrect this frame for, like, a year now.
Don’t fret, fans of practicality—the black rendition is sure to shield your eyes at least a little bit.
Glitter lenses may be low-key ill-advised, but they’re definitely having a moment.
Make dad proud.
Sure to pair well with chic power suits and “ugly” retro ensembles, alike.
Also available in an equally cool olive green iteration.
So minimalist you might not even realize they’re there.
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A version of this story was originally published in April 2019. Updated July 2019.