When did sunglasses get so expensive?

This summer’s version of the “it” bag, designer eyewear is bigger than ever. But should we be spending a fortune on fancy sunnies when we're only going to lose them at the pub, wonders Laura Craik

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By Laura Craik on

“I wear my sunglasses at night,” sang Corey Hart in 1984 (younger readers may better recall the 2000 version, by Tiga, though it was no less dire). “Don’t switch the blade on the guy in shades, oh no. Don’t masquerade with the guy in shades,” Hart sang, adding yet another entry into the already heaving cannon that is Mindless Eighties Pop Lyrics That Sound Deep But Aren’t. The song is yet more evidence to support the folly of wearing sunglasses at night: sooner or later – sooner, if alcohol is involved – you will lose them. Everybody knows this. It’s just the law, like wearing SPF in hot countries. There is a song for this, too. It’s called Always Remember To Wear Sunscreen. But I digress.

I wore my sunglasses at night, and even though they were only with me due to what I fondly like to call “an afternoon drink and then suddenly darkness”, I lost them. I was sad, clearly, but not inconsolable, having paid something like £15 for them from ASOS. Had I paid three figures, I would have been a darned sight sadder. And sweary. Which is how more and more people must be feeling these days, given the soaring cost of sunglasses. Despite it being easier than ever to buy a decent, serviceable and fashion-forward pair of UVB Protected sunnies for under £20, the market for expensive designer eyewear (they don’t like to use the term “sunglasses” – too Benidorm) is booming. And when I say “expensive”, I mean £799. That’s the cost of a pair of square framed crystal embellished sunglasses by Gucci. Christian Dior’s “So Real”, meanwhile, cost £540. Although to be fair, they do have a leather trim – presumably for those who don’t find regular sunglasses sweaty enough.

What’s with these crazy prices? I partly attribute it to that Instagram-friendly desire for visually arresting merch that will cut through the noise and be noticed, which has allowed brands to pimp up their sunnies with more bling and more off-kilter design features (witness the extreme thinness and absence of nose bridge on Dior’s So Reals). Then again, if you want a madass pair of sunglasses, the high street has them in droves. I give you Topshop’s white and frosted blue mirrored “Kooky”, priced £22

More likely the main reason for the price hike is to fund the extreme effort currently being put into making designer sunglasses real wow items. Ones that, like skirts and shoes, change with the seasons, and should be purchased accordingly. At a time when rocketing leather costs (and, let us be frank, sheer greed) have seen designer handbag prices climb routinely into the thousands, luxury brands have needed to find a new product category to act as a “gateway” purchase that will entice customers into store and eventually lead to them buying other (hopefully more expensive) items. Enter, stage left, a glossy ad campaign featuring a top model shot by a top photographer looking moody in a pair of shades. Sorry, EYEWEAR.

Some might argue that while it is easy to sell the “It” bag package of exquisite leather, master craftsmanship and superior design, it’s harder to justify the markup on a pair of sunglasses. Earlier this year, a Channel 4 documentary set out to examine the Italian manufacturer Luxottica, and found that in some cases, its manufacturing process costs as little as £10, yet its glasses retail for £100. The reason? Luxottica (which produces eyewear for brands including Ray Ban, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace) controls 80% of the market.  

All brands will charge customers whatever they can get away with, and nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything. The fact that Luxottica has sold 83 million pairs of sunglasses and makes a £465 million profit seems to indicate that in the quest for the perfect sunnies, we are willing to spend. Because we’re all a bit obsessed with our sunnies, aren’t we? Even if we have a drawerful, we’re all still looking for the perfect pair. In your case, it might be a pair that give you the cheekbones of Angelina, the mystique of Winona and the nonchalance of Kate Moss. In my case, it’s something that will prevent my eyebrows poking over the top like two surprised caterpillars. I’m still looking. And for as long as I’m still looking, I’m as susceptible to a £300 pair of Miu Miu catseyes as the next woman with freakishly high brows. But my advice? Don't spend a fortune on sunglasses people, and don’t wear them at night. For never was there a worse time to lose them.

Five of the best affordable sunglasses







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Laura Craik

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