Romantics claim that the eyes are the mirror of the soul. Strange, then, that at the first hint of sun, we pop on dark glasses. Do we want to look cool and sophisticated, or mysterious and remote? Certainly, in our lacklustre climate, there are few occasions when we need dark glasses for practical purposes. Even in Rome, where I lived for 10 years, they were never needed, except for reading in full sunlight.
The real purpose of dark sunglasses is to add a touch of separateness so that (back to the business of the soul) our true expressions, and therefore our thoughts, are kept secret. Add to this the fact that designer sunglasses – and who would dare wear any that didn’t have the right logo? – have been heavily sold to us as part of the paraphernalia of glamour, and you begin to see why, whether it’s summer in Ormskirk or Oxford Street, every third person is wearing shades.
Sunglasses make us feel great, because they help us to distance ourselves from the rest. We literally put a dark wall of glass between us. And yet the paradox is that we also wear them as a come-on, making us appear not only more sophisticated, but also intriguing.
Greta Garbo, who genuinely did want to distance herself, rarely ventured out in her later years without the protection of dark glasses. Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn looked so glamorous in them, women were sure the secret of their poise lay in shading their eyes. I guess it’s still these two media-manipulating star turns that most women are imitating. Better them than Victoria Beckham and other celebs, who, far from using dark glasses to encourage others to leave them alone, treat them as a weapon to attract and excite the paparazzi. For fashion folk who wear them indoors as much as out, they are invaluable for hiding the ravages of last night’s party and, when worn by Anna Wintour, totally disguising what is going on in the head.
(First published July 2006)
Photo's from left to right.. Audrey Hepburn, "Breakfast in Tiffanys". Marianne Faithful. Mia Farrow. 1967. Grace Kelly, "To Catch a Thief" 1954.