Okay, so there aren't too many things a man can do to accessorize. Wearing stylish sunglasses is one of those things. Now, for years I was one who didn't care about the style aspect. Sunglasses were functional first and foremost and style came second. A couple years ago that changed, and like many things my tastes evolved.

I got into aviators late. I actually never tried a pair on until relatively recently, convinced that the square-framed navigator style suited me better. I was afraid the traditional teardrop aviator style would swallow up my face like my pair of hybrid-aviator Serengetis did. But I wore them because they had phenomenal eye coverage and head wrap. And really, too many men wear sunglasses that are too large for their faces anyway, moreso with aviators. It probably has something to do with "to look more macho, go large and in charge" thing, or it may have to do with many aviators being available only in larger sized lenses, because traditionally they were functional above everything else. Pilots needed eye coverage, ergo huge lenses. In any case, the large frames were a reason I didn't wear them for a long time.

Okay, long story short, I saw a movie. The star had a very particular pair of square Aviators. They were awesome and I wanted them. In the course of my searching for the exact model (which were Polo Purple label something), I was turned onto Randolph Engineering and American Optical. I researched that, not knowing at the time that Randolph was in vogue because of Mad Men. Now I don't watch Mad Men and I could care less what Don Draper is wearing, I just got the glasses. I liked the fact that they were military spec, made in the US, and the fit was tremendous. The problem was....I got curious about the more famous-shaped Aviators because of them. Traditional teardrop-shaped ones. So with the Top Gun soundtrack playing in the background, I'm going to compare two of them here.

First up...Ray Ban. The Original. Ubiquitous. I always avoided them because they were huge and I have a small face, but as it turns out, the 55mm lens size isn't too bad on me. The aviator shape makes the lenses seem not so big side to side. When I was researching, people either lauded Ray Ban or spit fire at it. Condemnations of "They suck now," or "They're made in China," or "They aren't what they were since Luxottica bought them!" were mixed with praises of "They're great" and "The lenses are awesome." And I saw at least one Youtube video comparing new Raybans with ones from 1995 and the guy preferred the new ones. So...whatever. Here's what I think. And this is an honest assessment since I wasn't expecting them to compare with the Randolphs at all.

First, since Luxottica owns 75% of the eyewear industry anyway, if Ray Bans suck, then I guess so do the vast majority of glasses on the market...and that's not true. And I've owned 2 pairs of Luxottica glasses that have been just fine. So I don't get the hate here. The construction on them seems fine and solid, though the temples are a little thin for my taste, but from what I gather they were designed to be "wire" thin anyway. Second, while some Ray Bans are made in China, the majority of the Aviator models are out of Italy apparently. Mine are. Anyway, the lenses are great and the temples fit wonderfully without adjustment, and the nose bridge is awesome...easily adjusable with curved nosepads. It feels light yet secure on my face. I'm not sure how the "gold" finish will hold up over time though. Overall the glasses do feel solid and not cheap. On my face, the 55mm lenses are just a tad large but not overly so.

So, with the classic out of the way, it's time for Randolph Engineering. They're on a bit of a wave right now in terms of visibility, and have eclipsed their older counterpart American Optical and these days, hold the majority of the contracts with the military and NASA. I already have their classic square Aviator and I wanted to go with American Optical for the traditional teardrop one, but only Randolph had it in a smaller 52mm size, with the AO starting at 58...way too big for me. And the Randolph was shaped differently.

The Randolph Concorde has a slightly softer take on the classic lens shape. The slant isn't as severe as on the Ray Ban. This aids in the overall look in my opinion. The frame also "curves" more, fitting the front of the face. The frame is thick and solid. It feels sturdy and high quality. The fit is snug and secure. It loses points in the nose bridge area though because it's tough to adjust. The sturdier frame means you really have to put some elbow grease into bending the metal stalks for the nosepads to ensure a perfect fit, because it ships with a stupidly narrow configuration that any grown man would find uncomfortable. With some effort, you can get it perfect, though. In all other areas I am impressed with it. The finish is bright chrome (I would've killed for it in matte chrome like the square Aviator), and like the Ray Ban, has a green G-15 lens that's just as good as the Ray Ban. Randolph fans say it's better but I think they're equal. And the frame and lenses and assembly are done in the USA...so that's a plus, though the nosepads are imported.

I got the Randolph first and I have to say that while the smaller frame LOOKS better on my face in terms of proportion, perhaps the 55mm lens on the Ray Ban provides a little better coverage. It's not very noticeable however, and in any case, Randolph skips the 55 size in the Concorde model...the next size up is 57. In terms of frame, the Randolph feels more solid, mostly because of the Ray Ban's wire-thin temples. And I don't know what the Ray Ban is made of, but Randolph makes a big deal about its 18% nickel/steel alloy being less likely to corrode and break. Ordinarily I would think that's marketing spiel but I've had glasses frames snap on me after a couple of years, so maybe that's something to keep in mind as an advantage. Randolph ships with a little screwdriver and extra screws and nosepads, a bigger cloth, and hands down the plusher case; the Ray Ban's case seems oddly hard.

Neither pair has hinges on the temples, which is something that I'm continually surprised about in sunglasses (though Serengeti has them). At this price point, ALL glasses should have hinged temples or at least the option for them. It eliminates the frustration of having to find the perfect width, since distributors or even manufacturers give false numbers. Luckily for me, the Ray Ban and Randolph both fit me like a glove and I couldn't be happier. Ray Ban has the better nose bridge hands down and I cannot complain at all about the feel or fit. In fact at this point (and I know they're brand new so it could get worse later) there's no real fault with the Ray Ban at all. The Randolph just feels a bit more solid and naturally hugs my face.

In terms of price they are about equal. Randolph is more expensive if you order direct or at some dealers, but there are places that sell the Concorde for as low as $109. The Ray Ban of course goes for around ~$100 or a bit lower. Is it worth paying more for the Concorde? If price is an issue, go for the AO General glasses. If you have an average to large head, the size will be fine. If you need a smaller size, I can recommend either the Concorde or the Ray Ban. Honestly I don't think Ray Ban deserves the sneering it gets. I could change my mind but it seems fine and high quality. It all comes down to taste.

So I hope this helps for some guys who are curious about different Aviators. Yes they're everywhere, but they're timeless and they look good (just get a pair that fits your face!). I should've worn them years ago. Now I always will.