Remember the band Timbuk3? Of course you don’t. But you’ve probably heard their 80s song, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” (Do yourself a favor and watch the music video.) It’s a song that inevitably pops into heads whenever the subject of sunglasses comes up. (It’s similar to the way people knee-jerkingly quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop when Amani Toomer played for the New York Giants, “It’s not a tuuuuuumor.”)
At the risk of pushing the Timbuk3 metaphor too far, they are an example of an under-the-radar entity creating something with enduring power. It’s something that’s true of actual sunglasses as well. The Ray-Bans, Oakleys, and Warby Parkers of the world make some truly exceptional products. But there is a downside to all that popularity, and it’s that you see them everywhere. It can be a little difficult to feel like you’re showing off your personal style when you see it reflected back to you by every other guy on the street.
That’s why most guys are better off with a more under-the-radar, but no less stylish brand for your shades, the kinds of sunglasses that prompt folks to ask “What are those and where’d you get them?” Because if your style is starting conversations, you know you’re doing something right.
So if you want to stand out from the pack, check out these lesser known sunglass brands. Just be prepared for the flattering questions that will come your way.
1. SALT OPTICS
Style to try: Roy, saltoptics.com
Salt has been around since 2006, blending California design with Italian materials and Japanese craftsmanship. The branding is discreetly placed on the inside of the temple, instead of some gimmicky logo on the outside. The Roy is a more squared-off version of a traditional wayfarer with two-tone frames that go from a bark-inspired color to clear.
2. RANDOLPH ENGINEERING
Style to try: Aviator, randolphusa.com
Just about every sunglass brand makes an aviator style, but Randolph Engineering makes theirs for actual pilots. The company began making glasses for the U.S. Air Force in the 1970s and continues to do so. Their Aviator style is made to military specs and feature bayonet-style temples that are designed to fit comfortably under a hat, or you know, a flight helmet. All of Randolph Engineering’s sunglasses are made entirely in the United States.
3. WYETH EYEWEAR
Style to try: Calyer, wyeth-eyewear.com
These are the sunglasses the cool kids are wearing. The New York brand takes inspiration from classic styles but then tweaks the silhouette and the fabrication to make the glasses feel extremely modern. The Calyer is a perfect example of that. It’s a beefed-up cateye shape that looks dope with frosty white lenses and black-and-white tortoise temple pieces.
4. GARRETT LEIGHT
Style to try: Mark McNairy No. 4, garretleight.com
It’s not surprising that a sunglass company founded in Venice has a distinctly laid-back California vibe. But Garrett Leight’s styles still feel very distinguished and pulled together, with a feel that is more old Hollywood than the modern reality-show version. It’s easy to picture someone like Steve McQueen wearing these shades, which are part of a collaboration with designer Mark McNairy.
5. SATURDAYS NYC
Style to try: Adrian, saturdaysnyc.com
Saturdays has always combined surf culture with urban life with its menswear. Since few items bridge the gap between those two world like sunglasses, it only makes sense that Saturdays launched an eyewear collection this year. The models, like the Adrian, all have a minimal look—and the blue color will make you think of the beach even when you’re trapped at your desk.
6. HAN KJOBENHAVN
Style to try: Paul Senior, hankjobenhavn.com
Today, Han Kjobenhavn is a staple of the exciting menswear scene in Denmark. But in 2008 it was only an eyewear company, and sunglasses remain one of the coolest things in the brand’s lineup season after season. The Paul Senior manages to look both familiar and completely new, which is the mark of a truly worthy object.