I’m not rich enough to buy cheap sunglasses

In Accessories, Designers, Friends, Sunglasses on September 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Over the past couple of years I’ve had a series of what felt like killer sunglass finds, in the form of really cool frames at ridic knock down prices.

Access to such style steals was one of the consolations of moving from beautiful Australia (sob sob), back to the UK, where there is such a plethora of great cheap fashion chains stores.

The first was a pair of oversized very black-lensed Jackie O-style numbers that people always asked me about. They were £2 in Primark. I grabbed the last pair (before running screaming from that horrrrrrible shop).

Then I found another really good shape, a kind of pumped-up cats eye from Dorothy Perkins for the greater investment of £6.

I’d love to show you how great they were but I can’t because both pairs have long since been assigned to the bin. They fell to bits. An arm fell off, a lens fell out, that kind of thing.

This year I headed back to the high street stores and found a pair similar to the lost oversized cats eyes, scaling up to a massive £8 outlay. The flare on the lenses was so terrible in bright sunlight they were dangerous to drive in. I threw them in my daughter’s dressing up box.

I had the same problem with a pair of pretendy vintage, actually made in China, Mad Men-style true cats eyes I bought on holiday in Corsica, for a rip off £25. They’re a great shape – for wearing indoors, on dull days.

A pair from Top Shop were a good big television size, but so heavy on my nose they were actually painful. They went to a charity shop. I think they were £12.

My next manoeuvre was to hit T K Maxx, the hugely successful chain which sells off terrifying amounts of random unwanted stock. They always have a large choice of low-rank designer sunnies pretty cheap. That’s because none of them are quite great.

But at that moment I was desperate for some serious sun block-out shades, so I dealt £22 for a pair by Moschino, despite the fact they have the designer name on the arm, which makes me shudder. And a little diamante which, in retrospect, makes me feel quite sick.

They got me home in strong low sunlight, but I very quickly came to hate them. I knew they were a compromise style I would never have bought at full retail. And they felt flimsy and naff on my face. I’ve stowed them in the car glove box in case of future driving emergencies.

Still determined to have a new pair of sunnies, my next move was a designer consignment boutique. I was tempted by a pair of massive D &G in a Union Jack print, but resisted when I realised they looked like they had cost £2 from Primark.

After trying on every pair in the shop, I finally dealt for a pair of discreet very dark tortoiseshell Calvin Kleins, once again compromising on the dreaded logo, for £26.

They have very good lenses. I hate them.

At this point I stopped and took stock. Over two years I had spent nearly £100 on sunglasses and still had nothing decent to wear. Shortly after that sunk in, I caught up, separately, with my two best gal pals and both of them had amazing shades on.

Really glossy black frames, in great, dateless shapes, fabulously dark lenses. Proper UV screening glass. They were both from Cutler and Gross, so we’re talking about £279.

That’s when the truth hit me. I’m too poor to buy cheap sunglasses. I need to invest in one really amazing pair.

So when I got an email telling me that my friend Tom Herrington (pictured below, wearing one of his own designs) had his new range of frames Rock Optika – available as specs or sunnies – in store, I waddled off there as fast as my fat little legs would carry me.

And I bought these fabulous sunglasses – the style is called Key Largo -but with much darker lenses, which I was able to specify. You can’t do that in Dorothy Perkins. They weren’t quite as expensive as Cutler and Gross, but very nearly. They were worth every penny.

They’re handmade in the Jura region of France, from super duper finest organic grade Italian acetate. The lenses are the highest quality and they sit lightly on the nose and ears, while feeling completely secure on the head. And the logo is discreetly hidden right at the tip of the arm, so it’s hidden in your hair. Here they are in the tortoiseshell (on Katherine).

For further endorsement of the excellence of the range, check out the post on RockOptika on the highly respected ‘eye wear’ website The Spectacle Showcase. And here is a link to the brand’s own site.

I’m absolutely mad about them and whenever I put them on I feel like a film star and because they were so expensive, every time I take them off I carefully put them back in their neat protective case.

I will never buy cheap sunglasses again.

NEWS FLASH: So many of you are asking on comments where you can buy RockOptika… Tom tells me he has had interest already (before this…) from a Melbourne retailer and they’re going to meet up at the big eyewear exhibition in Paris later this month. So fingers crossed. I’ll get him to keep me posted on stockists after that and will report back.



  1. Oh so true Maggie! It’s easy to forget that we also need sunglasses to fulfill a function (as well as providing form), and an el cheapo pair will never protect the peepers like a ‘proper’ pair that are actually designed to … you know, shade us against the sun. And on a cost-per-wear basis, a good pair will win out (I learnt that one from you!).

  2. And what about DIta Eyewear? Sunnies worn by all the celebs in LA and starting at $600!!!!!! you wouldn’t want to loose them.

  3. I gots me a pair of them there Optical Lounge glasses..I had to have them specially made for my Huuuuge head….best thing I ever bought!!!

  4. I just bought my first pair of ‘good’ sunnies as a 50th birthday present for myself. It’s insane that living in Queensland I have never had a good pair. I never feel drab when I have them on. I love them and you are right I always put them back safely in their case. I will have to keep my old ones for at the beach.

  5. I absolutely love those sunglasses – are they available in Australia???
    It is my dream to find a pair that sit lightly on the nose and ears. I’ve been down a very rocky road with Oroton sunglasses($200+) over the last few years – arms falling off, lenses popping out – and finally demanded (and got) a refund. Went out and bought a pair of Guess – reduced in DJs ($50) – which are a great shape, very sturdy, good lenses; but, oh so heavy that my ears are aching if I have to wear them for more than an hour – and they leave a permanent ridge in my nose. (And require a case as big as a small handbag!) I made the same mistake with reading glasses; falling for the fashionable heavy frames with a really wide arm that pull my ears off and cut my nose in half. I guess that’s the meaning of form over function…….

    • Fingers crossed they might be — Tom has already had interest from a Melbourne retailer and they’re going to see him at the big eyewear exhibition thing in Paris later this month. I’ll ask him to report back on stockists. They are brilliantly light, but not flimsy. My work glasses are a fab pair of Paul Smith vintage (which I also bought from Tom…) and while I love them, they are heavy on the old nose.

  6. These are truly stunning sunnies … Given we here in Oz wear sunnies so much of the year they really are an important wardrobe accessory … Where can we here in the world’s most livable city try these lovely numbers on? Then, of course, buy them?

  7. Ah, Jackie Kennedy – that’s who I want to be when I grow up…

  8. I finally found my perfect sunglasses. Rayban Wayfarers with polarised lenses. Got them 25% off so quite pleased about that!

    They’re classic, stylish, comfortable and I don’t squint! The money I’d spent over the years! On sunglasses that made me squint in the sunshine! For shame.

    I recently bought Rayban frames for my reading glasses, in a slightly more catseye Wayfarers shape. Tortoiseshell with purple on the inside of the frame. Love them!

    I only wish my husband who’d been urging me to buy “proper” sunglasses for years wasn’t so smug about it! 😉

  9. Maggie very surprised that you have only discovered the pleasure/necessity of good quality sunglasses. Your new ones are beauties. I’m sure you look as gorgeous as Katherine does in them.
    I always feel if I am wearing good sunglasses it does not matter what else is happening in the sartorial department. As Jackie demonstrates, they up the glamour!
    I am like you there must be no conspicous logos. They must fit, which is why it is worthwhile buying from a good optometrist, who will ensure they fit and suit your face shape.
    Anyway, enjoy those new sunglasses and make sure you look after them. Also, if you do get tired of them, don’t get rid of them, keep them for your daughter – but you know that!
    It is lovely to have you doing a post.

  10. As an Aussie I live in sunglasses – I have 2 pairs of Oroton sunnies – now 19 years old!! One pair has dark lenses and the other lighter for dull days. They too sit lightly on my face and I always feel glam – and they are always polished and put into their cases after wear. Having had many cheap and cheerful so called fashion sunnies, these classics are still with me – and they cost a bomb back then too. My other fall back pair is my husbands ray bans, the classic aviator ones.

    • Oroton was so good back then. I had an Oroton purse/wallet from 1982 to 1996 and only changed it because there weren’t enough card slots (remember the days when you only needed 3?) The one I replaced it with fell apart within a couple of years. Ditto a handbag from the early 80’s that I still have in perfect condition, but the one I bought in 1997 is crap in comparison. I wish I’d bought sunnies back then, too.

  11. Obviously everyone here has good eyesight. Go to any optomertrist, pick out a pair of frames & they will put any lense you want in them. While you’re there, get your eyesight tested – Medicare covers testing in Aust.

  12. I am relieved that I am not the only ‘slow learner’ out there. After years of buying cheap and cheerful sunglasses and losing, sitting on or dropping them etc. I invested in a great pair which I treasure, treat well and love to pieces. They are prescription, properly fitted and make me feel so verrrry cooool! ;-). And , having them for 3 years now I have probably saved money to boot!

  13. My nana gave me just two bits of beauty advice over twenty years ago – 1. Always put sunscreen on the back of your hands (the skin on the back of your hands being an ‘age’ giveaway) and 2. ALWAYS wear sunglasses when you’re outside (to stop fine lines around the eyes!).

    I’ve followed her advice (good advice at that – no age spots on hands, no fine lines around eyes) but the result has also been a 20 year sunglasses habit. I’ve never skimped – I’ve bought the best I could afford given that they are an accessory I wear every single day (even in winter).

    That said, I’ve probably only had five pairs in 20+ years – I’m currently wearing a sensational pair of large black D&G with polarised lenses (essential for Australian summer) and I also have a pair of Kate Spade tortiseshell frames with a touch of aqua on the arm – sounds yuck but they are good, fun, fashion frames. Together, they would have been $500. The investment? Less than 70 cents a day if I wear them for two years (I usually get 3-4 years out of one pair) – pretty good value compared to other ‘accessories’ such as bags and shoes!

  14. I’m the same as Rosie – bought a pair of classic black Rayban Wayfarers that will never date and make sure I always put them back in the case. Best $140 I ever spent and I was usually a $30 Sportsgirl sunglasses person.

    • Yes I’ve got some Wayfarers I’ve had since 1985…. £80 was a massive sum then, most I had paid for anythihg. Or was it £40? anyway it was HUGE and what an investment it turned out to be…

  15. I always spend extra on sunglasses.. I have to buy prescription sunnies and since Sydney is sunny more often than not, I’ve found the cheap sunglasses just don’t cut it. I have a fantastic pair of Beausoleil sunglasses with a subtle sprinkling of crystals around each lens (I promise you they’re not tacky – black crystals, match the glasses). The cost me a fortune but I feel fabulous in them and they’ve lasted beautifully.

  16. I love the glasses Maggie. I’ve had the same frames for last 5 years and am getting a little desperate for a change but seems there so few styles out there that aren’t narrow and rectangular. And the thing I like about these apart from their simplicity and cute little screws to the side, is the roundness of the frame, which do wonders for opening up tired eyes. Might have to do some online research to find out my chances of getting a pair in Melbourne!

    • Funny you should ask…. he’s already had interest from a Melbourne shop! They are going to see him at the big eyewear fair in Paris, later this month. I’ll let you know what happens. x

  17. Fun column! I adored Jackie O. i think I have one of most giant pairs of super super black sunglasses. They are old Dior. As one who has been wearing specs since age 8 and have visual disabilities, I can’t emphasize enough to everyone out there the importance of buying the best glasses one can afford. It matters! I consider my specs my major jewelry, so I spend as much as I can and it’s worth it. To brag, I spotted a pair of white Prada fames in the May issue of Italian Vogue. My dear opticians here in the U.S, could not get them, but the distributor had a friend in Italy get the frames for me and shipped them. They are fab and I only wish I looked a bit more like Lina Wertmueller. I had forgotten they were her trademark until a chum saw my new column photo and asked me I thought I was Lina! Ha!

  18. As I used to get long dull migraines every month, really good sunglasses were essential to coping with the pain. I find I’ve got to spend a minimun $300 to get glasses that feel ”aaaah” when you put them on; rather than ”argghh”.
    And yes, if you spend that much money, you take care of them. My sunnies usually last three years before some disaster strikes. My husband buys pair after pair of cheap glasses and I don’t think I’ve spent much more than him in the past 20 years.
    I’m currently wearing aqua square-framed Issons. They look wonderful but are not quite dark enough for a Melbourne summer and might have to be retired as winter sunglasses. So I’m on the hunt for a new pair of A-frames.
    I’m very keen to see the RockOptika glasses.

  19. I love my Gucci sunnies! Have had them for over 10 years and they look as good as new. Ones before them were Ray-Bans that finally fell apart after 15 years (I used to just throw them into my bag/car/pocket, quelle horreur). I’m seriously considering another Ray-Ban purchase (wayfarers of course). I’ve been tempted by the el cheapos many times but resisted. You’re so right, they just never look or feel as good. Salivating over your RockOptikas. Tell Tom he MUST open stores in Australia. Here sunnies are a medical necessity – doctors recommend them, the Cancer Council sell them (now THERE’s an ugly sunny, wraparound, and not in a cool Bono way). He’ll make a FORTUNE.

    • I agree, Wayfarers are a great choice especially if you can’t afford to buy new pairs on a regular basis. The added cost of having to get a prescription put in mine made me turn to them for my last sunglass purchase and they work a treat. May not have the pizazz of the latest styles but they always look pretty cool:)

    • He’s talking to retailers in Australia – will let you know what pans out x

  20. Hello Maggie, one of the good things about Australian shopping is Witchery sunnies – good UV protection (Australian standard), nice silver case, excellent styling and feel and generally about $50…

  21. I had a pair of $5.00 sunglasses from the pharmacy in the main street of Forster NSW and I have never had so many compliments. Unfortunately the frame broke before the holiday had finished and so did the replacement pair I bought on the next holiday. Now I have a pair of Ray Bans, good quality and a reasonable price.

  22. I don’t think you can live in Australia and not invest in good sunnies. I always go for polarised lenses and try about 100 pairs on before making a decision – because I know that they are the single thing that I own that I wear every single day. On a cost per wear basis, it is impossible to find anything that competes.

    Definitely something to invest well in.

  23. Oh Maggie, how wonderful to have a new stylenotes post from you!
    Of course you are completely right. Cheap sunnies always make you cry and usually sooner rather than later. Looks like you have found a wonderful option with the ROCK frames, great style and they do look QUALITY and perfect timing as you head into Autumn (challenge is of course to keep them in great condition for next summer?). My current favourites are white mother of pearl (huge) frames from Von Zipper (good lenses) and the trusty fall back (seemingly indestructible) with polarised lenses, black Oakley frogskins (excellent driving/glove box option).
    Enjoy your new frames! I bet you look smashing in them and gorgeous for the races.
    Regards, BG

  24. I bought agreat pair of tortoiseshell sunnies, hmm, maybe 10 years ago, from Myers. Suit my colouring perfectly and they go with everything.

    They weren’t cheap, I can’t even tell you the brand, but they are the best.

    I get the hinges tightened every few years.

    Dreading the day they give up the ghost!

  25. Dear Maggie,
    ‘ hope little Peggy’s start at her new school is a happy one for everyone concerned (guess that involves a new ballet school, etc too?). Friends of mine are about to move to New York from Tamarama. They have two girls (8 and 4 years old) and the eldest is not happy to say the least and completely convinced that she won’t make another friend as long as she lives (having to leave behind her two current besties). I hope Peggy takes to her new life like a happy little duck to water.
    Good luck and best wishes BG

  26. PS re the sunglasses; heard this once from a doctor in the media … never buy sunglasses that have cheap lenses, especially if the lenses are very dark. The darker the lense, the more the pupil dilates and if the lense is just dark plastic (ie no protection), simply more opportunity for the eye to be damaged/burned (sounds vile doesn’t it, but good reminder). I am almost sure that by law in Australia these days all sunglasses have to display a lense quality/% protection/polarisation indication at POS; not sure about other countries. BG

  27. Another advantage when getting glasses from a reputable manufacturer: if you don’t like your lenses, or if they have become scratched, you can order a new set to your specification from a sunglass repair company over the net.
    I used and the new lenses were shipped within the week, with instructions for installing. You can opt to send them your frame if you prefer.
    They have most big (and not necessarily very expensive) brands, like Raybans, etc

  28. Oh and yes, they can custom-cut too…

  29. I do have a couple of questions about these marvellous sunnies – what the heck is “super duper finest organic grade Italian acetate”? Acetate is a type of plastic (in this case a polymer made from acetic acid, which in industrial concentrations is highly poisonous and corrosive. It’s mostly derived from oil by-products like virtually all plastics). Acetate’s about as far from “organic” anything as it’s possible to get! Yes, even Italian acetate…

    Also, does the fact that they’re made in the Jura region of France really matter? Are sunglasses like wine, the terroir’s important?

    They do look very nice though, and I’m sure they’re well made and provide good protection for the eyes.

  30. Maggie! *heart* I thought you were dead….

    Style notes in SMH/Good Weekend was my teenage bible. I saved up and bought Shoe Money with cash from my first babysitting jobs. For the record I worked very hard at French and have since been shopping in Paris multiple times. I have also never owned white high heels and my current toaster cost $7.95 from Big W as I didn’t want to waste my pennies on functional rubbish when there were black suede stilettos calling my name.

    I am sooooooo glad to have found your blog. Straight to the top of my bookmarks.

    Much love.

    Quality Blonde 😉

    Oh and on topic yes, I have sworn off cheap sunglasses. Although this theory is somewhat compromised by the freebie pair that came with some glossy magazine or another earlier in the year. They are the perfect shape, size and tint. I keep them in the Chanel case which came with the beautiful pair my puppy used as a chew toy last Christmas.

    Annalou’s comment just prompted me to check – they are actually Witchery brand, so there you go.

    • Hi Grace Quality-Blonde, thanks for lovely comments, much appreciated. I do have a new weekly column in the Sun Herald and the Herald Sun – the S and M sections, respectively. And I will be posting a link to my online column on High 50 here each week, until I have time to start blogging regularly again. It just takes so bloody long to load the flipping thing up. The pics nearly drive me mad. So so lovely to hear you have got across the Paris shop. Oh the shoes…. Mxxx

  31. I share your queasiness about logos on arms, and I can’t believe I only came to this realisation quite recently. I’m feeling a wee bit smug about the pair of original Wayfarers my mum picked up at her local Vinnies for me. But oh, to have a pair of Cutler and Gross! (Have you been to their little shop in Knightsbridge?) One day, they shall be mine. Yes, they shall! xx

  32. Dear Maggie, Have you had time to check out The Slap series on ABC TV? 2 Eps screened so far and absolutely excellent. Perhaps you have read the book too? Best regards, BG

  33. i tend not to wear sunglasses cos i feel like i’m trying too hard…i keep buying them and never wear them :s

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