Hamish MacBain explains why the seductive power of shades should not just be restricted to superstars
Consider, for a minute, the word you would likely use to describe the following: people who wear sunglasses indoors. People who wear sunglasses when the sun is not out. People who wear sunglasses with oversized lenses. People who wear round, rose-tinted John Lennon-style sunglasses. People who wear wraparound Bono sunglasses. People who wear mirrored sunglasses. People who wear sunglasses with bright-coloured plastic frames. Or worse still, white frames.
We are all thinking of the same word here. And it’s not a particularly nice or printable one. For the modern male who isn’t called Jack Nicholson and is not fronting a world-shaking alternative rock band (and even for a large percentage of those who are), the truth is that the wearing of sunglasses remains a minefield of ridicule.
FASHION OVER FUNCTION
Put simply: it’s very difficult to not look like you are trying too hard. The only surefire method of not being condemned forever as an intolerable, pathetic poser is to wait until the sun is burning your pupils to a cinder and your vision starts to feel like it might be about to take a permanent vacation, then discreetly slip on a pair of classic black Ray-Ban Wayfarers or similarly stylish-yet-safe rims. And of course, they must then be whipped off again as soon as you spot a cloud, or step into anything that could even vaguely be described as indoors.
Once upon a time, jeans were solely for manual workers. Trainers were for athletes. Fairly soon into their lifespans, though, these inventions’ practical attributes became unimportant. Sunglasses in their most primitive form were around a lot longer before that – in prehistoric times, Inuit people would fashion lenses out of walrus ivory with single slits in the middle, to keep out the sun’s harmful rays – but started similarly being worn in the late Thirties by US city dwellers who couldn't give a monkeys about shielding their eyes from the sun. They were wearing them because they wished to concoct an air of mystery and aloofness by hiding what their eyes could give away. A great idea. But an idea that famous people would quickly decide was too good to be wasted on mere mortals.
About three years after Cary Grant had eluded the police with his eyewear in North By Northwest, a singer called Roy Orbison left his glasses on a plane, and had to wear his prescription Wayfarers onstage. Teamed with his all-black clothes, he evolved from what Life magazine had described as an “anonymous celebrity” to having a “dark, moody persona”. The young Beatles went on tour with him, and took note. Soon sunglasses became the exclusive property of the brightest stars: ostensibly to “remain incognito”, but more importantly to assist with the retaining of their highly precious and hugely profitable allure. In a New York Times article dated 10 December 1964 (‘Dark Glasses After Dark: For The Eyes Or Ego?'), Gerald Freedman, director for Shakespeare In The Park, is quoted as saying: “If you’re really ‘in’ you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them indoors or at night because you’d look like somebody who is ‘out’ but is trying to look ‘in’.”
And here, essentially, you can substitute ‘famous’ for ‘in’, and ‘not famous’ for ‘out’. But why should this be? Why can you or I not turn up to the pub this Friday and sit there wearing mirrored aviators? Why can we not just say, “I am wearing sunglasses indoors because it looks cool”?
BACK TO JACK
There is a fantastic quote from our dear old friend Jack: “With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and 60."
The reality is that without his sunglasses on, Jack Nicholson would still look like a pretty decent, irresistibly dirty take on Jack Nicholson to most of us. Whereas the people who actually are fat and 60 – and even fat and 30, and just about getting by – need all the cachet they can get. We – yes, I’m talking about me, you, most of us – need a licence to wear sunglasses more than Jack or any of life’s born-cool people do. We need to take back sunglasses. Rather than just empowering the already empowered, sunglasses should be reclaimed to serve their original purpose.
And no, I’m not talking protection from UV rays.