Summer spectacular

Janet Fitch puts her shades on and examines the history, function and etiquette of wearing sunglasses. So make haste while the sun’s still shining.

The days when men didn’t make passes at girls who wear glasses are long gone. Sunglasses have become the number one fashion accessory of the Nineties.

The right pair of sunglasses signal cool, chic and sophistication. The wrong ones can blight your life, (stylistically speaking).

There’s a bewildering array of shades to choose from, and too many brand names to remember, from designers like Armani, Chanel, Christian Dior, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Paul Smith, to specialist ranges by optical manufacturers like Lafont, Kirk Originals, Olivers People and Cutler & Gross or, for excellent value, you can go to Boots.

Light-sensitive sunglasses which eliminate reflections were first invented in 1938 by the founder of the Polaroid company, Dr Edwin Land, although tinted lenses were worn at the beginning of this century. In 1939 Doctor Dalton, a chemist at Corning Glass developed light-sensitive glasses – an invention that was not patented until 1964.

The Fifties saw the proliferation of sunglasses as accessories with a widening choice of frames, and the cult following of film stars in dark glasses (one of Kirk Originals’ best selling styles is named Dean, in homage to its original wearer).

Most sunglasses are purchased for vanity. We buy the ones that look good, or if you’re a Chanel lady or a Gucci babe you’ll buy for brand.

Ideally, you should look at the practicalities: that they deliver the necessary UV protection – they ought to block between 15 and 35 per cent of light. Small lenses may not do the trick. Wraparound frames do, but can distort – I can’t negotiate the pavement in my glamourous mock turtle wraparounds.

Spending loads of money guarantees style but not necessarily greater quality than the 15 pair in Boots, whose standards are equally high.

In the US, and here, the ultra cool are buying snowboarding and surfing glasses by Stussy, the clubwear label (available in London at Bond, Newburgh Street and Slam City Skates, Neal’s Yard) or Arnette, (available in London at Plum, Berwick Street). The other in looks are big bug-eye glasses, (allegedly Bono bought his on the street for three quid) and the nerd look in general if you are rich and famous enough to carry it off.

The Eighties Raybans – Aviators or Wayfarers – are passé (although the Rayban brand is still the best seller in David Clulow’s 15 branches). Don’t throw them out as there is set to be an Eighties fashion revival this winter.

And what about people who wear sunglasses all the time? Madonna was quoted as saying that you must keep them on in a club for when the lights go up. And Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, rarely appears without them. However, constant shades wearing can be interpreted as a social solecism.

John Morgan, author of Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners says: “The wearing of sunglasses is innately frivolous and so not appropriate, unless necessary to your eyesight, at formal occasions, particularly weddings and funerals.”

Chris Sullivan, style editor of GQ and director of the Wag Club in London’s Wardour Street, is rather more forthright: “Sunglasses are only acceptable in sunlight. If I see someone wearing them in a club I think ‘what a berk…’ There are only two reasons for wearing them indoors – the folly of youth and pretentiousness.”

Latest articles