Tried & Tested: Shades of summer: There's more to sunglasses than looking cool. Our panel of experts puts nine pairs under the spotlight

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The Independent Culture
BUYING a pair of gunglasses isn't simply a question of finding a frame that suits: some give better protection than others from glare and ultra-violet light and have higher quality frames and lenses. Some lenses are more suitable for driving, others for sailing or skiing.

One indication of quality is a label showing that the glasses meet British Standard BS2724. This should mean that the lenses give good protection from ultra-violet light, won't distort what you see or break easily. But it doesn't follow that if the glasses don't claim to meet the British Standard, they aren't any good.

Glass lenses are heavier and more likely to break than plastic ones, but less likely to scratch. Photochromic lenses darken in strong sunlight, so save you from having to take your glasses off and on. Polarised lenses are good for driving and for water sports as they cut out the glare that bounces off horizontal surfaces.

You also have a choice between gradient and single tint lenses. Gradient lenses are tinted darker at the top than at the bottom. The lighter area makes it easier to read or look down at the dashboard, but could let in glare - so a single tint would be better for very bright conditions such as on water or snow.

Our panel tested a selection of glasses with different types of lenses and gave their verdict on style, value for money and quality.

THE PANEL

Caryn Franklin, presenter, The Clothes Show; Nick Trend, journalist and keen sailor; Darren Cumber, courier and despatcher; Jack Davey, former chairman of British Standards Institute committee on sunglasses and lecturer in the Department of Optometry at City University.

THE TEST

Jack Davey gave us his opinion on the quality of the lenses - for example, if there were distortions or imperfections - and the frames. The other panel members marked the glasses for comfort on the eyes, looks and style, value for money and how robust they felt. The scores were converted into a star rating.

***RAY-BAN WAYFARERS

pounds 69 normal price, summer offer pounds 49

Fashion classic or cliche? You won't go far wrong on the style front with Wayfarers, though you'll get no prizes for originality. The panel liked their looks but judged a couple of the others more stylish. Our expert gave them a glowing report: excellent lenses and frames, with no colour distortion. The panel found the frames heavy. Darren Cumber said: 'I liked the solid feel, but they are too heavy for sport. They came across as a bit bland. I wouldn't buy them as they are too expensive.'

**WAYFARER-STYLE

pounds 4.99, bought from a market stall The panel thought these tackier and less attractive than genuine Ray-Bans - though they may have been influenced by knowing they were from a market stall. 'Cheap and cheerful. You get what you pay for, and these would suit a person who rarely wears sunglasses. Naff,' said Darren Cumber. 'Their cheapness makes them more attractive to those of us who can never hold on to any facial accessory for longer than two weeks, but the fact that they are Ray-Banish means I wouldn't care if I did lose them,' said Caryn Franklin. Jack Davey rated the quality of the glasses, which have plastic lenses as opposed to the Ray-Bans' glass, lower than the real thing, though the frames are still 'acceptable'.

**** BOOTS DIAL .TX.- FIXED TINT 115h

pounds 14.99, conforms to BS2724 Good value for money and scored well for their looks. 'Pretty good: quite a natural light, comfortable and good value,' said Nick Trend. Although the rest of the panel didn't rate them quite as highly as the similar-looking Blue Gems, Jack Davey gave them a better quality rating. The lenses are of excellent quality, and the frames satisfactory. Little to criticise, though Darren Cumber worried they didn't have enough 'body' for energetic activities.

**** BLUE GEM

pounds 14.99, conforms to BS2724

The panel's favourite on looks and value for money. 'Very smart design. Good colour.

Perhaps not robust enough for sports, though,' said Darren Cumber. 'Light and comfy, sturdy on the face. They look slightly more stylish than the Boots Dial pair because of the heavier silver bridge,' commented Caryn Franklin. Jack Davey didn't think the quality of lenses and frames as high as some of the others, though still acceptable. They dim red colours so might not be ideal for driving.

**SERENGETI CORNING

DRIVING 5390

pounds 125, conforms to US quality standards An import from the US, these were voted among the best looking, even if exorbitantly priced. The brown lenses are photochromic, with a slight gradient tint, and are intended to be especially suitable for driving. Jack Davey thought, however, that while the lenses and frames were very high quality, the lenses weren't really dark enough to be effective and the glasses were really more of a fashion item. 'Lovely to look at and hold, pleasant to wear, felt comfortable across my nose. The little plastic nose protectors on the bridge acted like individual shock absorbers as I jumped up and down,' said Caryn Franklin.

**OAKLEY SUB ZEROS No4

pounds 90, conforms to US quality standards These glasses, with blue iridium lenses, are designed to resist the knocks and bumps of sports such as cycling or cricket. You would make quite an impact in these odd-looking items, particularly off the sports field. Darren Cumber loved their style and would wear them for sport, if not every day: 'Brilliant-looking lenses with superb frames. Very comfortable on the eyes. Driving with them is OK, but you have to ignore the looks you get from other drivers.' But Nick Trend thought that their lightness and effectiveness at killing the glare didn't outweigh their peculiar looks: 'Would you pay pounds 90 to look like a nerd?' Jack Davey thought the frames and lenses excellent quality, but warned that, as with the Blue Gems, the lenses dimmed red colours and so might be unsuitable for driving.

*SUN CLOUD ROSE 9BR

pounds 70, conforms to US quality standards The rose-coloured lenses of these American imports are specially processed for water, snow and mountain sports where you get lots of glare. But the glasses didn't appeal to our panel. 'John Major style frames with awful pink lenses - the worst of all worlds,' said Nick Trend. 'Completely revolting in every conceivable way,' said Caryn Franklin. Jack Davey thought the frames poor quality, but the graduated lenses are suitable for deserts - presumably more useful in New Mexico than in Newton Abbot.

**BOOTS METAL PHOTOCHROMIC

LENSES 5H

pounds 13.99, conforms to BS2724 Like the other Boots sunglasses, these had high quality frames and lenses, and it was much more apparent that they became darker in the sun than with the other photochromic pair, the Serengetis. But our panel didn't like their look or think they were good value. 'Very uncomfortable to wear, quite heavy with pressure points. Horrible style,' said Nick Trend. 'Horrible glasses, with boring lenses. I wouldn't wear them,' commented Darren Cumber.

**POLAROID PL445

pounds 19.50, conforms to BS2724

Though good value, the panel gave the style the thumbs down. 'Naffest style of all,' said Nick Trend. 'Light and easy to wear, but personally I wouldn't bother, due to the extremely passe Dustin Hoffman connotations,' said Caryn Franklin. Jack Davey thought the glasses, with their polarised lenses, were good for all uses. He noted some slight wavy distortion in the lenses, though.

Stockists: Ray-Bans are widely available; Blue Gem from Debenhams, House of Fraser, Dolcis and Next; Serengeti, from the Sunglass Hut and other stockists; for Oakley stockists ring 0462 815757; Sun Cloud, only available from Sunglass Hut; Polaroid from leading opticians and department stores.

NEXT WEEK: WEEKEND TRAVEL BAGS

(Photograph omitted)

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