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The thing about cool shades Fashion: From sports meets glamour to plastic meets metal, there's a lot going on behind those sunglasses.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The right pair of sunglasses can make anyone feel like a star.

Sunglasses are the ultimate look-at-me accessory. And now, the more austere metal designs of recent years have given way to candy-colored matte plastics, subtle cat's-eye shapes and funky retro styles. You can see the world through rose, blue or gold-toned lenses that reveal the eyes, rather than opaque black. Looks from the past abound, from the famous Jackie-O style to the soon-to-be-popular Michael Caine square frames.

"There's a lot of things going on," says Scott Woodward, director of global image marketing for Ray Ban. "There's a glam thing going on, there's a '70s influence, and there's also sport meeting fashion. Sunglasses have always been a fashion accessory, and unlike jewelry or watches, they're very emotional and psychologically driven. It allows you to play roles and project emotions."

"It can make a statement about who you are, it's an expression of yourself," says Jean Scott, vice president of product development of Luxottica Group. Luxottica produces sunglasses for design houses such as Moschino, Valentino, Armani and Brooks Brothers.

Designers are lining up to help the fashion-conscious: Gucci, Chanel, Cynthia Rowley, Isaac Mizrahi and more. Sporty styles from such lines as Black Fly, Killer Loop and Diesel appeal to hipsters. And familiar brands such as Ray Ban offer hundreds of styles to choose from. If a $200 pair is beyond your budget, chances are a cheap version is available somewhere.

Those in the sunglass biz agree: A lot of looks become popular on MTV, in films or on celebrities traipsing up the red carpet at premieres. Three brands in particular, Bada and Kata from Los Angeles and Italian Web sunglasses by Diego Della Valle, have built their reputations on famous people wearing their lenses.

"The baby boomers are reaching 50, and the biggest group of well-known movie stars is in that age group -- Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg," notes optician Carol Norbeck, a spokeswoman for the Vision Council of America. "All of these people have to wear eye wear, and because they are [wearing it] it gets hot."

Scott agrees. "We can all relate to this star or that star, and we tend to mimic them in ways we can. Eye wear is an easy way."

By the time an eye-wear style shows up on models, rock icons or movie stars in magazines, similar sunglasses are available in stores.

Consumers can buy a good pair in a mall or from an optometrist starting about $50; prices can go to $400 or more.

But if the style's the same, why not buy a cheaper version? Because, the experts say, really inexpensive glasses can have cool style but warped lenses, or a funky look without UVA protection.

"If you're just buying them to look cool and you want to wear them at night, go ahead," advises Norbeck. "But if you're going to go rock climbing or out on the water, you need excellent protection."

Buying a designer label is also one way to achieve a look for less than a suit or dress would cost. "A cheap sunglass is always going to be a cheap sunglass," says Scott. "But if you can't afford a $5,000 Armani suit, you can spend $175 on a pair of Armani glasses."

Shoppers should consider what they want to use the glasses for. "If the frame looks great and the lens doesn't do what you want, you're wasting your money," says Scott.

"The more help you feel you need, the more you should go to an independent optician who is more knowledgeable rather than picking them out yourself."

Buying tips

Go to an optical professional for input on face shape, colors and the UV protection you need, as well as adjustments for perfect fit.

Choose glasses by established manufacturers with labels that indicate the product blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Wraparound styles can block out some peripheral glare, but most eye damage comes from light entering head-on.

JTC Check the quality of glasses by holding them at arm's length and looking through the lenses to a line in the distance. Move the lenses across the line to check for distortion. Be sure the color in both lenses is consistent.

Choose a style that's the opposite of your face shape: Round glasses look better on square faces and vice versa. Triangular faces look best with wider frames, oblong faces should wear rounder or squarer frames, and the lucky oval-faced person can wear just about anything. And glasses with a prominent bridge can make a long nose look shorter.

The bigger the frames, the better the protection from UVA and UVB rays, not to mention future crow's feet.

Pick colors that go well with your complexion: brights, black and white for blue-based skin tones, earthy colors for those with yellow-based skin.

Don't be afraid to buy more than one pair. What works for a daily drive to the office won't work for weekend sports.

Do your homework before shopping, and take along a friend who has good taste.

Wear sunglasses even when the sky is overcast.

Top trends

Put your best face forward. Here's a quick look at what's hot in sunglasses this year.

Candy-colored matte plastics

Colored see-through lenses

Very feminine or masculine frames -- the unisex look is out

Aviator styles and softened cat's-eye shapes

Metal and plastic mixes in the same frame

Coming up

Gold tones replacing silver as the hot color in lenses and frames

Rectangular looks with designer labels

Brown, tortoise and bronze colors

A continuation of the vintage look in plastic

Plastic combinations such as layers or different colors on parts of the same frames

Pub Date: 6/12/97

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