A couple friends and me, all in our sunglasses. March 2012.

I stumbled upon this tidbit recently: Sources indicate that the Chinese invented sunglasses in the 12th or 13th centuries to hide the eyes of judges in the courtroom.

Today, we think of sunglasses as ways to protect eyes from glare. As a blue-eye who wears contact lenses, I'm extremely photosensitive: Even on cloudy days, I need sunglasses to see without discomfort. In fact, I wear huge, dark lenses to block as much glare as I can. The sunglasses I run in have smaller and lighter lenses, and there are times I have to tilt my head a certain way to keep the sun out.

I'm not trying to project any specific image with my sunglasses, I don't think. Sure, I picked sunglasses that I thought were more attractive on me than other, similar options. But that's it. I don't wear sunglasses inside and I don't wear them to camouflage my emotions or thoughts--although I suppose they do, when I'm wearing them. Is that a side benefit? I don't know. I don't have anything to hide.

Other people do wear sunglasses to hide: To avoid eye contact, which is so personal and revealing, and to conceal abnormal-looking eyes (like the blind, people with shiners, and weepers and allergy-sufferers).

And other people do wear sunglasses to project an image--or a personal brand. Think of Jackie O and her dark, round sunglasses. Jack Nicholson and his medium-dark soft rectangular lenses. (In fact, I found a funny and apropos quote from Nicholson in his IMDB biography: "With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson. Without them, I'm fat and seventy.")

And why did Corey Hart wear his sunglasses at night? The lyrics aren’t clear.

An interesting article by Audrey Nelson in Psychology Today pointed out that the mouth and eyes account for 56 percent of our attention when we look at another person. These features are the most expressive of our emotional state. However, she also noted that staring makes people uncomfortable--as does avoiding eye contact.

Not looking at someone shows lack of respect--people focus on people they feel are important, Nelson wrote. Studies show that people in subordinate positions look at people in superior positions more often. Conversely, staring is confrontational. When stared at, people in inferior roles look away more quickly than people in power positions.

That means if you're wearing sunglasses, you may be hiding your status or trying to elevate yourself above others: Sunglasses allow you to watch and even stare without people knowing you’re looking, preserving your purportedly disinterested "power" position. Hm.

So: Other than for sun protection, why do you wear your sunglasses?

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Reader Comments (8)

After extensive field testing, I concluded life just looks better through my RayBan subglasses.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Ha! Love it, Steven. I think life looks better to me through ANY kind of sunglasses. The sun came up during my run home this morning and I was completely blinded. Sunglasses, we love you!

July 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

Mainly I wear sunglasses to postpone my eventual cataract surgery. My eye doctor admitted that eventually everybody develops cataracts. It's just a matter of living long enough to develop them.

Sunglasses can help postpone this and the wraparound frames I use help with the annoying side sun you sometimes get while driving. If I thought I could get away with it I would wear steampunk goggles but that would probably draw too much attention to me (by the way this is very likely the only time anyone will ever use the word steampunk in your blog).

Since I can't stand contact lenses I have to get custom prescription sunglasses as well as regular lenses every few years. I thought about those lenses that turn dark in the sun but they just look strange. Not quite right somehow.

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

Oh, you never know, William. A strange steampunk resurgence seems to be underway. Who knows where it will resurface.

Maybe, to be less edgy, you could just wear a welder's helmet?

Oo. Or maybe we could make welder's helmets the new trend and find a way to cash out as gazillionaires?

What, no? Yeah. You're probably right.

August 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth


You take care of the marketing and I will research the vacuous minds of adolescents to try and predict the next wave of cheap tchotchkes that we can sell at grossly overinflated prices.

At worst it could be the next tamagotchi or at best the next pet rock.

August 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

Hey, if we could at worst hit the next tamagotchi, I'm IN.

August 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

I too am sensitive and usually wear sunglasses when I drive, even on cloudy days. And like William, I need prescription sunglasses so I always keep a pair in my car and the older spare pair in my husband's car. Since I am not active, I really only use them for driving or the rare occasions when I do participate in an outdoor activity (like a festival or outdoor photo shoot) or I am traveling and doing lots of walking around a city.

William - my husband has the transition glasses and he seems to be happy with them. They don't ever get too dark so it never looks too weird.

September 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterelaine

I'd imagine it'd be hard to shoot outside, then, Elaine! As a photographer, there have to be times you're dying for sunglasses but can't use them. Would be for me, anyway!

September 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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