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The Lowdown on Expensive Sunglasses

Ella Kim

Posted on January 28 2020

The Lowdown on Expensive Sunglasses

What’s the difference between an expensive pair of sunglasses and a pair from say, Target? Is it really worth it?

I’m sure you’ve all read the news articles or heard of the 60 minutes piece on why eyeglasses are expensive. Many think it’s a Luxottica/Safilo monopolistic situation - charging high prices because they can. And at a glance, it might seem ludicrous to shell out over $200 for a pair of sunglasses when you can pick up a pair from Target for $10.

I'd like to shed some light on the main drivers of cost for the high price point of some of our sunglasses. To start, pricing and cost structure for sunglasses are not different from the rest of the retail/fashion categories. The tradeoff is in quality of materials, make and strength of the brand name. 


Acetate versus Plastic

You'll see that a lot of our frames are made out of acetate. Acetate is a bioplastic that is strong, flexible and hypoallergenic. It’s easier to reshape for fit adjustments and holds its shape over time longer than plastic. It is more resistant to pressure placed upon the frames and can bend further before breaking, hence glasses made from acetate are more durable. 

Visually, acetate carries richer colors and a much prettier sheen, compared to plastic varieties. To create the gorgeous colors in acetate frames, pigments are folded into layers of acetate, whereas multicolored and patterns in plastic sunglasses sometimes need to be painted on, increasing the likelihood of peeling and flaking over time. For the rich complexity of a gorgeous tortoiseshell frame, plastic just doesn’t cut it.

The best acetate maker is generally thought to be Mazzuchelli in Italy, founded in 1849. This great video on their company displays the craftsmanship involved in the production of high-quality acetate frames. Talk about satisfying. 


Brand Name & Design

With more expensive frames, you’re also paying for the brand name. Sunglasses have historically been a very brand driven category, and what you become a part of with high-quality frames is the brand heritage, design codes, and unique aesthetic. 

On the other hand, we are also committed to curating a diverse selection of newer, independent brands from around the world. Supporting independent design and discovering up-and-coming contemporary eyewear brands is also something to feel great about.

You can learn more about our luxe and indie brands here.


Country of Origin & Craft

Frames made in China are the least expensive due to relative labor costs. Japan is known in the eyewear industry to have the highest levels of craftsmanship for eyewear and tend to be the most expensive.

Most quality eyewear is made in Italy or France under the EU’s strict REACH chemical regulations. Manufacturing acetate involves involves a laborious process of stretching and layering sheets of acetate, which are then chiseled into frames and polished. Many frames from brands such as Article One, Barton Perreira, Thierry Lasry, Oliver Peoples, and Illesteva are handmade as well. Article One's film 'Labor of Love' about the two family-owned eyewear factories in Northern Italy that produce their frames, explains why we love partnering with brands like these.

Article One Eyewear: A Labor of Love from Jarod Taber on Vimeo.


Plastic involves a much less labor intensive way to make frames where the plastic is injected into molds, and thus a cheaper final product.


Quality of the Lenses

Most lenses are of a plastic variety. However, the more expensive plastics will have better visual clarity. Zeiss and Barberini, from a producer/brand standpoint, are considered best in class. CR-39 is a type of poly-carbonate lens that are considered a good benchmark for material for its lightness and optical quality. 


UV Protection

People often ask about UV Protection on frames of different price ranges on our site. Here’s the skinny: if it was legally imported into the United States and is labelled a sunglass, it should have 100% UVA/UVB protection. However, this is the regulation, but not necessarily the reality. That’s why we only work with reputable brands whose craftsmanship and quality I can trust—we take UV protection and eye health seriously (more on this later).

A good way to check if your sunglasses have proper UV protection is to take it to your local optician who should happily do it for free. There is also a way to do this test at home noted here, which frankly looks kind of fun.


At the end of the day

A drugstore pair might do in a pinch, but we hope this information can help you choose your frames with quality in mind, and to give you some peace of mind when choosing a luxury pair with Cloak Supply. The aim of our fit-focused approach is ultimately to help you navigate the headaches and confusions of shopping for sunglasses online. And sunglasses, especially expensive ones, are an investment. As we continue to work hard to bring you the best sunglasses, with the best fit, at the best price points, we hope you're willing to partner with us on that journey. 

So, what do you think? What other questions about eyewear or eyewear fit would you like us to explore? Sound off in the comments, email us at, or say hi to our online community over here, there's nothing we love and appreciate more than hearing from you.


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1 comment

  • Koriann Kuba Nakahara: January 29, 2020

    Great info!

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