As with all areas of fashion, sunglass trends come and go. Those of us who are old enough to remember the ’80s can recognize the current recycled looks with the mirrored colored lenses (Vuarnets and Oakleys anyone?) and the sorbet-colored Wayfarer frames that look they were pulled out of a costume closet from MTV’s golden age. There are also the porny, dark-to-light gradient lenses that remind me of the bad guys from the first two seasons of Charlie’s Angels. If Foster Grant re-issued their 1970s collections and marketed them effectively, they’d probably make a killing. The pendulum swings back at some time or another, and I’ve been a victim of several of those swings over the years.
One pair of sunglasses that has never let me down is my pair of Ray-Ban Aviators. Like a lot of men’s style standards that live with us today, aviators had their roots in the military. With their signature dark or mirrored teardrop-shaped convex lenses, wire frames, double bridge and bayonette earpieces, they were designed by Ray-Ban for pilots in 1936, then made available to the public a year later.
General MacArthur surveys the beachhead on Leyte Island
Their initial popularity was boosted by images of General Douglas Macarthur landing on the beach in the Philippines in World War II. Since then, their popularity has ebbed and flowed over the decades. They were hot when Ringo and Paul donned them in the 1960s, and their sales exploded in the months following the release of Top Gun in 1986. In between, though, they were never “out.” Like many iconic and original staples of men’s style, they basically stood the test of time while other derivative designs and spin-offs came and went.
Over the years, Ray-Ban has gotten trendy with lens colors and gradients, but the frames themselves have remained the same, available in a black, gold, silver or gunmetal finish. To accommodate different faces, the original iconic design comes in different sizes: the regular RB3025 and the smaller RB3044 for “petite” faces. I actually have two pairs: one with original G-15 lenses and gunmetal frames, which go with everything, and another with silver mirrored lenses and silver frames, which go with almost everything. Both pairs are the smaller RB3044 frames to go with my Curious George monkey head. In addition to looking right every time, they feel weightless on the face and fold nicely into a breast pocket.
With a design that has stood the test of time, the Ray-Ban Aviator has served me well for decades. Like a crisp and fitted white dress shirt, a well-worn pair of 501s or a tailored blue suit, they always work. I never travel without them.
For our whole lives, we’ve been trained to believe that certain things just cost what they cost. We just accept it without questioning it, with little to no understanding of the structure of how things are made, marketed and priced. If Gillette sells four razor cartridges for $16, then that must be what they’re supposed to cost. If a pair of Oliver Peoples horn rims cost $350, then that must be what a smart-looking pair of horn rims cost. If a bespoke suit from a custom tailor costs $4,000, then that must be what a finely-crafted, made-to-measure suit must cost. And if it costs less, it must be either cheaply made or produced by unfair labor.
It’s a model that disrespects men who may have discerning tastes but not necessarily the means. In a post-crash, post-Occupy, 99% world, it’s a model ripe for disruption.
(Graphic suggested by Indochino’s brand-comparison graphic.)
In the past few years, a handful of game-changing companies have surfaced, rewriting an aging script by providing handsome, well-made, workable and affordable goods for discerning men who aren’t in the 1%. With direct connection to (and direct shipping from) the manufacturer and with the help of a little thing called the Internet, these startups decided to skip the layers of middlemen and provide quality goods and services directly to the customer.
In 2006, the expensive suit offerings from top designers and the subsequent expense of tailoring left Canadian college classmates Heikal Gani and Kyle Vucko discouraged and dissatisfied. So they came up with a business plan that enabled men to measure and order custom suits online. That plan disrupted the traditional model by eliminating the middlemen, i.e. “the layers of companies and individuals employed by fashion houses to purchase fabrics, manage suppliers and sell their products in overtly opulent retail stores.” In 2007, Indochino was launched. Today, Indochino remains a small outfit with about 60 employees in Vancouver and Shanghai, creating amazing custom suits and shipping them directly from the production facility to men all over the globe. They have no brick and mortar storefront and they do their own marketing, much of which happens with social networks and partnerships with bloggers. (Full disclosure: Indochino has provided me with a couple of suits to review in the past. I was just as enthusiastic about them when I bought my first couple of custom suits on my own dime.) Their custom suits range from $379 to $699. When compared to the four figures commanded by other exclusive retail outlets for the same service and quality, there’s no contest. Personally, it’s extremely hard for me to try on an expensive suit off-the-rack and get the same feeling I get from my custom suits from Indochino, especially considering the costly tailoring required to make the designer suit fit perfectly.
The custom-made Blue Sharkskin suit from Indochino. Cost: $399.
Dollar Shave Club
As of this writing, the handle and one blade of the Fusion Power-Glide razor, arguably Gillette’s most popular product, costs $11. A package of four replacement cartridges cost $16 at CVS. Mark Levine and Michael Dubin were two San Diego guys frustrated by the over-the-top design and cost of men’s shaving gear. In March of 2012, they launched Dollar Shave Club with a hilarious award-winning video starring Michael Dubin (“Mike”) that went viral. Dollar Shave Club works on a three-tier subscription model where men pay a monthly membership fee ($1/month, $6/month or $9/month, depending on the blade model) in exchange for a month’s supply of cartridges that are sent directly to the subscriber’s mailbox. The first shipment includes the razor’s handle at no extra charge, and a new supply of blades arrives every month thereafter. As a current subscriber to the 4X ($6/month), and as someone who has extremely sensitive skin, I couldn’t be more pleased. Are Dollar Shave Club’s blades any good? Just ask Mike…
Five years ago, I passed by an Oliver People’s shop and fell in love with what I saw in the window: a pair of very handsome horn-rimmed glasses inspired by those worn by Ari Onassis. I couldn’t really afford them, but I paid nearly $400 for them anyway. Advantage: Luxottica. In 2010, Wharton schoolmates David Gilboa, Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt and Jeffrey Raider founded Warby Parker, an online shop that offers beautifully designed and well-made eyewear. They sell exclusively through their own website, offering in-person try-ons in their New York City showroom and at participating boutiques around the country. They also have an at-home try-on option where they will send you five pairs to try for a five day period, after which you return the frames in the prepaid return box. Most pairs of glasses at Warby Parker cost $95, including prescription lenses, while none cost more than $200. How do they do it? I’ll let them tell you:
The industry is controlled by a few large companies that have kept prices artificially high, reaping huge profits from consumers like you who have had few other options. By refusing to deal with these companies and selling our glasses to you directly through our website, we cut out the middlemen who egregiously mark up prescription eyeglass prices. This makes it possible for us to offer you great-looking prescription glasses at a great price. We never compromise on quality or style — we simply give you direct access to higher quality, better looking eyewear.
The “Winston” frame from Warby Parker. Cost: $95.
And speaking of Warby Parker, the newest old business model shaker-upper is brought to us by Warby co-founder Jeff Raider and his former co-intern Andy Katz-Mayfield. Together, they launched a stylish and affordable shaving system this year called Harry’s (as in Tom, Dick and…). Like the founders of Dollar Shave Club, Raider and Katz-Mayfield created a smart solution for a great shave at a great price. Not only do they sell blades like Dollar Shave Club (not in recurring billing/subscription form), but Harry’s also sells different handle options and shaving cream. The two handsome handle options are: The Truman ($10, including one blade cartridge), which has a zinc alloy core and a polymer coating available in ivory, olive, orange or navy; and The Winston ($20, including one blade cartridge), which is constructed from precision-grade aluminum. The blades themselves are made from German engineers who specialize in honing high-grade steel, and the cartridges are sold in packages of 4 ($8), 8 ($15), 12 ($20) or 16 ($25). The lathering shaving cream, which features essential oils, peppermint and eucalyptus, was developed by the same chemists who’ve created shave creams for high-end brands. A 3.4 ounce tube goes for $8. The collection is very handsomely designed and wonderfully priced, offering another brilliant solution to the rip-off shaving racket. And for what it’s worth, Harry’s gear will look great in your bathroom, too.
The Truman Kit from Harry’s. Cost: $15.
When I created this blog, I decided that all the goods and services I covered must meet four criteria. The goods and services must be:
It’s exciting to witness a new generation of smart companies that disrupt an old, unreasonably-priced model by offering handsome, affordable, well-made and workable solutions. But not only is it fun to watch, it’s a pleasure to award them my business. I’m a happy customer.
A friend recently asked me whether or not thick, horn-rimmed glasses would be good for him or if they had become passé. Since the powerful influence of Mad Men‘s style started creeping into the mainstream, inspiring men even in the furthest reaches of the urban sprawl to go skinny on the ties and lapels, the unlikeliest of men have joined the Thick Rim Glasses Club membered by icons like Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Cary Grant, Buddy Holly, Swifty Lazar, Lew Wasserman, Robert Evans, the cast of Mad Men and any average Joe from the mid ’60s through the mid ’70s.
Men’s eyewear was good then. The frames were dark, angular and decidedly masculine. They were strong, yet elegant. Then, in the ’70s, when the wheels came off a lot of better style judgment, they became associated with old men, chemistry teachers and nerds.
But through the uncool nerd era of thick-rimmed wayfarer glasses, there were men who stuck to their guns, long ago adopting them as a fully integrated part of their public image. Back in 1995, long before Matthew Weiner created Lane Pryce and Harry Crane – a time when thick frames weren’t necessarily on the hipster radar, I met director Tim Burton, who was rocking a pair of the most genius horn rims I have seen to this day. Thick, angular, handsome frames with smoked lenses with a slightly blue tint. Beautiful.
From left to right, starting at the top: Cary Grant, Lew Wasserman, Buddy Holly, Michael Caine, Swifty Lazar, Jared Harris as Lane Pryce, Jack Nicholson, Tim Burton, Joe Hubrich.
About two years ago, friend and makeup artist Joe Hubrich found a great pair of big, thick glasses and made a clear decision to make them part of his increasingly public look. The glasses are huge, putting two, thick-rimmed, TV screen-sized lenses on his face. Joe has fully committed to them, and the effect is hilarious, decadent and wonderful.
On a more common man level, my own father, who wasn’t necessarily working the uber-thick Wasserman frames, always wore some variant of a large, thick, tortoise, square-lensed frame. From his early thirties until his death at age 53, the glasses had become such an identified, iconic, fully-integrated part of his public image. They were part of his face.
We tend to give artists and celebrities a broader license to take bolder style risks than the average person is willing to take. Perhaps timidity or fear inspires the “He looks awesome, but I could never wear that” phenomenon. The Mad Men effect has reminded older generations and shown younger generations that the 1960s were a golden age of design: furniture, cars, gadgetry and menswear, including eyewear – much of which has not been bettered since. Regular guys have been given the green light to dip into an aesthetic that their neat and funky artist friends have known about for ages.
As with all trend explosions, the fire will go out and the dust will settle. A lot of guys will shed their wayfarer frames and skinny ties and move on to the next trend or retreat to a safer comfort zone. What will remain unscathed among the casualties will be tried and true style standards and the real, aged-in-wood die hards who hold on to a signature look, no matter how eccentric. What makes it work is something that trend victims and tourists don’t have: commitment, confidence and unapologetic conviction.
My point is, to my friend and to the reader, if there is something that has always appealed to you, something well-chosen, something you really love – whether it’s suits, cowboy hats, unique sneakers, bowties, black mock turtlenecks, or badass eyewear from the glorious 1960s – wear it, own it and thoroughly make it your own. Fully commit, carry it with confidence and the look is yours.
Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in "Funeral In Berlin" (1966)
It perhaps began with his iconic three-time portrayal as Harry Palmer starting with The Ipcress File in 1965, but Michael Caine has displayed a spectacular, glorious, badass selection of eyewear over the years. From the chunkiest of horn rims to the understated wire frames he wears today, he has pulled off every pair with confidence and conviction. Fabulous.
In no particular order, here are some images for your enjoyment…
I love my Oliver Peoples frames, and I get complimented on them all the time, but they ran me almost $400. Never again.
In terms of taking the ridonkulous price point of designer eyewear and blowing it out of the water, the kids at Warby Parker brought the big guns. They feature stunning custom eyewear in a nice selection of vintage-inspired frames all for $95.
In a successful effort to make handsome eyewear accessible to normal 99% people with a sense of style, Warby Parker was founded by Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, Jeffrey Raider and David Gilboa “with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.” The did just that.
On their Web site, using plain English and smart graphs, they explain why glasses are so expensive at high-end boutiques and how they are able to do what they do (by eliminating the middle man). Their eyewear is available exclusively through the site, which features a nicely-executed “virtual try-on” application to help you fit your new pair with a photo of yourself. They also have an option where you can select up to five pairs to try at home.
And if that weren’t enough… for every pair of glasses they sell, they provide a pair of specs to someone in need with a program called Buy a Pair, Give a Pair.
Such a stylish, affordable and generous solution for handsome eyewear is thrilling. I like it… a lot.