Why These Are Still Our Go-to Sunglasses After All These Years

square frame aviator american optics

The Square-frame Aviator: Why They're Still Our Go-to Sunglasses After All These Years

Ah, how the time flies. It’s been 6 years since the first time we wrote about the square frame aviator. Five since we showed you how Don Draper wore them in season 3. Unlike so many things in style (Wide leg! NO! Straight leg! NO! Tapered leg!) the square frame aviator has remained our go-to sunglass shape of choice. It doesn’t matter if you have a football head or a basketball head, the simple, classic look of a square frame will complement any face.

And just as we’re sticking to our guns on the shape, we’re still 100% confident on the brand. Introduced in 1956 as Flight Goggle 58, American Optics developed their “Original Pilot” sunglass for maximum protection and performance for American military pilots. Eleven years later Commander Neil Armstrong donned them on the lunar surface, which are now in the Smithsonian. Plenty of imitators have popped up, many for a ton more cash.

Since AO started manufacturing these for the military there are a few options to choose from. They’re available in 3 sizes: 52mm, 55mm, and 57mm. For most heads, I’d recommend the 55mm, the 52 is more of a women’s sized frame, and the 57, while only slightly larger than the 55, is better only if you’ve got a giant dome. Lens options include True Color, a distortion-free optical glass and hardened for scratch resistance; Color Correct, a polycarbonate cast injection resin forming the highest optical quality lens available; and both are offered in polarized versions. There are three temple shapes available, bayonet, shown here, wire spatula, the typical eyewear temple, and cable, the hooked wire that wraps around your ear.

The best part? The Made in the USA American Optics Original Pilot rings up at only $55 on Amazon.

But hey, if you don’t listen to us this time, we’ll be back in another 6 years telling you the same thing.

Pick up a pair on Amazon.

Sunglasses: always sometimes never
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Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.


  • […] After All These Years Ah, how the time flies. It’s been 6 years since the… Check out Why These Are Still Our Go-to Sunglasses After All These Years on […]

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    EB III

    AO Original Pilot are the best deal for sunglasses by far. Miles superior craftsmanship than buying a cheap pair at J crew factory (which I’ve done before) and about half price of a RayBan pair (which I’ve also owned) so if you lose (which happens) or break by accident (also happen with sunglasses) you don’t feel as bad replacing. I love Ray-Ban Aviator’s and wayfarers but the AO is such a better deal and I get more compliments about the AO than ever did for any Ray-Ban sunglasses I’ve owned. Thanks for introducing this back six years ago Andrew.

    • Reply May 3, 2015


      You’re very welcome! Glad you like them.

  • Reply April 28, 2015


    I purchased a pair of these when Primer recommended them a few years back. I love them. My initial pair (which was purchased in December of 2013) were 52mm and, I agree, were way too small. I purchased the 57mm after the first pair lens’ were scratched beyond use (My toddler got hold of them.). Unless I hit a windfall of money and become a sunglasses connoisseur, I will continue to purchase these as needed. The look and build quality are fantastic.

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Dan McKeown

    I stil prefer Wayfarers. 🙂

  • Reply April 28, 2015


    I LOVE that Randolph Engineering made your list. They may be pricey, but one cannot beat the service. They helped me find the right style for my face after the first few pairs didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped (I’ve only bought two pairs – and that’s because my first pair was lost/stolen). Even when I had a lens crack, they replaced it. I may have paid for shipping once or twice, but they’ve by far carried the bulk of it. Love them and have had them since 2011, I think. Will be my go-to for luxury sunglasses.

  • Reply April 28, 2015


    AO Pilots are my go to sunglasses for the aviator style. They are that the perfect point of affordable and high quality. I was devastated when I lost my pair and had to get some new ones right away. Ok devastated may be a bit strong, but I was upset. I like their heritage of being designed for pilots. I didn’t know that Neil Armstrong wore them, that makes them even cooler. It’s the same reason I want an Omega Speedmaster, because astronauts wore them, how much cooler can you get than a freakin astronaut? I digress, I love my AO Pilots and will continue to buy from them. The Randolph Engineering ones are a bit overpriced for my taste but I understand why people go for them.

  • Reply April 30, 2015

    Caesar Merlin

    Is it possible to get these with prescription lenses?

    • Reply April 30, 2015


      I believe an optometrist can put lenses in any frames.

    • Reply September 2, 2016


      Late to the party but to answer your question: Yes you can get prescription lenses fitted for these frames.

      AOs come from the factory with glass lenses – another plus IMO. However if you want prescription lenses those will be made in plastic. Bring the frames to your optometrist and tell them to match the color (if you like the factory color). I wear progressive lenses and have gotten AOs in a progressive prescription for the past few years without a problem.

      Good luck!

  • Reply May 1, 2015

    Daniel Bollendorf

    Picked up a pair of these at the local Army/Navy store for $9 a few weeks ago. Only thing that would have made them better is if they had the mirrored lenses.

  • […] American Optics, $55 | Henley: Old Navy, $15 (similar) | Slim Chinos: Gap, $60 (similar) | Sneakers: Vans, […]

  • Reply June 13, 2015


    Which of the two lens options would you reccomend?

  • Reply May 24, 2016

    Epic Understated

    Another cheap alternative that I found over the Internet are the ones made by Humvee. Humvee Military Aviators

  • Reply February 5, 2019


    I know I’m digging up a really old article, but I was just noticing that AO doubled their prices. I have to imagine they’re going to put themselves out of business given the tier of sunglasses they’re now competing in.

    • Reply February 5, 2019


      Are you looking on Amazon or elsewhere? I find they seem to fluctuate substantially on Amazon for some reason.

      • Reply February 5, 2019


        I took a look at Amazon and their own website (https://aoeyewear.com) – I’ll setup some Amazon price alerts to satisfy my curiosity. In the meantime, it appears the price increase was addressed in this article: https://aviator-sunglasses.net/sunglass-manufacturers/ao-eyewear/ao-eyewear-unboxing/

        Here’s the relevant excerpt:
        “The price increase may seem dramatic, in particular because the wholesale cost has gone up substantially. In addition AO is only selling to authorized dealers who maintain the pricing increase.”

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