Like so many other great ideas, sunglasses were invented in China and came to Europe with Marco Polo. Initially, they were used to hide one's eyes and thoughts. It wasn't until the mid-1700s that they joined hats and umbrellas as sun protection. In the early 20th Century, sunglasses really took off with sun-struck beach-goers and, in the 21st Century, both protection and fashion are equally important.

Modern shades may be marketed under several monikers: "Designer sunglasses" feature the trendiest styles, the highest quality and, usually, the highest price. "Fashion sunglasses" also feature great style, but without the name-brand price. "Sport sunglasses" can be very stylish, but their primary purpose is eye protection and form follows function.

Where fashion is concerned, you can wear any style, but specific styles enhance certain facial types, making a fashion statement that everybody will hear. In the final analysis, however, there are just two questions to ask about dark shades: Do you like the style? Do they compliment your face? If so, they are the right glasses for you.

Suit the shades to fit the features

Though many men are into brand name designer accessories, fact is that women tend to care more about clothing accessories and fashion. So, while the following guidelines refer primarily to ladies, most of the advice is equally applicable to gentlemen. Where sunglasses are concerned, specific styles work best with each of the five basic face shapes. The goal is balance -- wear sunglasses that are what your face is not:

The bright light of a cloudless day can be painful and distracting, so most people wear sunglasses when outside, especially while driving. At the other end of the spectrum, fog and smoke decrease visibility. The amber lenses which have become popular in recent decades filter out the additional blue light scattered by low-lying clouds, giving drivers a more balanced, clearer view of the road. Polarized sunglasses help cut down the glare of reflected light.

The other main danger is impact damage. Flying debris ranges from annoying (like specks of dust) to sight-threatening (including pebbles kicked up by moving cars). The Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency which sets standards for impact resistance. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private organization dedicated to producing quality goods in the USA. "FDA compliant" and "ANSI compliant" are great benchmarks for any lenses; especially in sports sunglasses.

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