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SHADES FOR ALL SEASONS

Since Bausch & Lomb developed its first line of Ray Ban aviators for the military in the 1930s, sunglasses have come full circle.

Invented for a specific purpose, sunglasses have evolved into a fashion statement. But now eyewear makers have returned to promoting the practical uses of sunglasses.Like athletic shoes, manufacturers find ways to market eyewear for all occasions: around the house, in the office, a formal reception, in the car, on the bike, on the slopes, in the boat . . . .

"Once viewed mostly as a fashion accessory, eyewear has evolved into protective eyecare," says Corning Optics, in promotional material for its Serengeti sunglasses, categorized not by style, but by how they are used.

Despite the trend toward practicality, manufacturers still want their glasses to look good. And it's the frames that make the "fashion statement," while lenses determine how effectively a pair of glasses protects the eyes from the sun (see accompanying story).

"A particular frame can convey a special mood or image, one that matches a person's profession and lifestyle," the Vision Council of America says, noting eyeglasses play a part in conveying the personalities of Jack Nicholson, Richard Gere, Prince and other celebrities.

Sunglass maker Riviera says '60s styles have returned this summer, with a '90s updated influence.

"The most popular designer sunglasses for men will be wire frames with round lenses," Riviera says. "For the more traditional man, classic aviator and rectangular frames are good choices."

For young men and women, the "cutting edge" is innovative frames in unpredictable shapes, Riviera says.

One of the more popular frame materials for this summer is tortoise - a hard, mottled, yellow and brown finish. "Tortoise is this season's rediscovered classic," says Sharon Stone, marketing manager for Serengeti. "They're popular and timeless."

For athletes who "live on the outer side of adventure," Bausch & Lomb, introduced the "Killer Loop" late last summer. The wrap- around eyewear features a light weight single lens in unique shapes and colors.

And for the truly fashion conscious, just one pair of sunglasses won't do.

For a practical purpose or not, "every woman should have a basic eyewear wardrobe of different styles for work, leisure and dressy occasions," says Carole Jackson, founder of fashion consulting firm Color Me Beautiful, which is working with the Vision Council to rekindle the fashion accessory angle for eyewear in general.

"One pair of earrings and shoes is not enough for a well-dressed woman," she said. "Neither is one pair of eyeglasses."