When Joan Erbe feels a bit blue she slips into something pink -- as in pink sunglasses. If she's feeling tres chic, she reaches for her round-rimmed tortoise shells.
"I make whatever I wear match the glasses," the Baltimore artist says. Except for the day that she quickly revamped one pair of sunglasses by painting it blue. "I have to wear glasses and some of them are [prescription] sunglasses . . . so I might as well be interesting. I have, oh, six or seven pairs."
Aah, words the eye wear industry loves to hear.
These days, the future looks bright indeed for sunglass designers: As baby boomers age, so do their eyes -- hence increased fashion interest in glasses. In addition, with increased concern about the sun's effect on vision, more and more people may be eyeballing life not through rose-colored glasses but darker-hued shades.
"Sunglasses are no longer thought of as just a fashion accessory," says Tricia Smith of the Vision Council of America, a trade group. These days "people need to protect their skin and their eyes if they're outdoors."
But that sounds sooo boring. Not to worry, Ms. Smith hastens to add. As Ms. Erbe has discovered, sunglasses are still lots of fun.
The right sunglasses can give you a glamorous look -- what better to wear at the beach with your underwire, sequined, retro bathing suit? If going glamorous isn't you, shades can lend you an air of aloof mystery, the look of power or a just-got-off-the-slopes, ultra-cool style.
What's hot in shades this year is either old -- as in the retro look -- or very, very new -- as in the futuristic look, says Ms. Smith.
"There's the vintage look that takes the form of '30s and '40s round retro frames or cat-eye glasses, she explains. And designers have evoked other decades, as well. For example, Bausch & Lomb's Ray Bans that come in modified cat eyes in gold tone metal, about $145, evokes images of the '50s or before, as does Mary McFadden's Hollywood collection, about $80 at Sunglass Hut stores. Christian Dior's "Jackie O"-inspired, large, round frames in colors from red to olive -- that go for around $110 at Sunglass Hut and Saks Fifth Avenue -- are reminiscent of the '60s.
On the flip side of retro is, of course, the future.
Futuristic shades have "heavy, dark plastic frames -- almost a pop art kind of style with over-sized, wide temples," Ms. Smith says.
Another sure sign that you're eye to eye with fashion? Wearing tortoise shell shades. Or, even newer, sporting marbleized frames, which are tortoise shell frames gone colorized: Purple mottled with blue, black with gold, red with black and so on, says Neil Rothstein, president of Optical Images in Pikesville.
Whether you want to look cool or old school, mild or wild, there are sunglasses out there for you, says Eileen Shear, co-owner of Bernard Shear Opticians on Reisterstown Road, which carries more than 2,000 pairs of non-prescription eye wear. Here are what some experts considered the foremost shades of fashion:
If glamour is your game, go with sunglasses that have an "upsweep" to their frames, says Ms. Shear. Try for cat-eye glasses or any slightly pointed shape that evokes the look of movie stars of the past. Or, for a dressier look, go for frames with sequins or stones.
Desperately seeking a high fashion look? Try the futuristic styles. Jean Paul Gaultier's metal frames (ranging from $175 to $400) come in widely different shapes covered with high-tech, futuristic detailing -- such as tiny screws or nuts and bolts.
Want to be as cool as your kids? Frogskins by Oakley were big with teen-agers before catching on with adults, says Pete Siegle, vice president for merchandising for Sunglass Hut. These sunglasses combine the futuristic look with an athletic appeal. Selling for $35 to $55, they were first popularized by cyclists on the Tour de France and skiing stars. "It's a cutting-edge kind of look, he says.
For those who want to cultivate an air of mystery, the "Jackie O" look is a sure bet. Unfortunately, the large frames are one of the harder styles to wear -- high cheekbones and small noses come in handy.
For the power brokers among you (or for those who wish they were), the smaller ovals and smaller round frames in tortoise shell, black, or black and gold may be for you. These glasses are what Ms. Shear calls "traditional but different" because they are vintage shapes that have come back in style. "These glasses say: I'm fashionable, but I have my head on my shoulders," she says.
Last but not least, for folks who have eyes for nothing but the future, Mr. Siegle of Sunglass Hut predicts the sunglasses worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the soon-to-be released "Terminator 2" will be ultra-high fashion. At $198 a pair, the tough-looking, super-dark shades (style No. 58230 by Persol) ought to be.
But if they aren't? Just who is going to tell Arnold he's out of fashion?
Choosing the right pair
So you want to be cool in your shades? But what about all the talk about ultraviolet (UV) rays? Do you really have to spend $200 on a pair of sunglasses that you may lose at the baseball game?
No, says Dr. Sheila West, associate professor of epidemiology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital and principal investigator of the ongoing study of the effects of sun on Chesapeake Bay watermen. "If you want to go for fashion sunglasses, go for what makes you happy and don't worry
about spending a lot of money."
Two things to keep in mind when shopping for shades: "The dark color of the lens has no bearing on how effective [at absorbing UV rays] they are," she says. "Nor is there any direct correlation with price."
However, a voluntary labeling system has been set by the Sunglass Association of America and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Watch for these labels if you want to know how effective your glasses are at absorbing the sun's UV rays:
Cosmetic: Blocks at least 70 percent of UVB (ultraviolet-B) and 20 percent of UVA (ultraviolet-A) rays; recommended for around-town use.
General purpose: Blocks at least 95 percent UVB and 60 percent UVA rays; recommended for outdoor activities.
Special purpose: Blocks 99 percent UVB and 60 percent UVA rays; recommended for use in bright environments such as ski slopes and beaches.