Focus

Are sunglasses essential to look cool?

We all know at least one person who never takes their sunglasses off… even at a party. And that’s not to mention the host of celebrities who have made wearing sunglasses part of their brand: Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld and DJ Snake to name just a few. So, is wearing sunglasses both day and night really the height of what’s cool?

It was Jack Nicholson who started the debate twenty years ago when he said “with my sunglasses I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and sixty”. Today the question still stands about the role that these accessories play, especially when there are some people who wouldn’t be seen without them. I’s a question put very succinctly by the website The Cut: “Why does everyone look hotter in sunglasses?”. But finding an answer isn’t easy. For some people, a man or woman wearing sunglasses when there’s no sun has a seductive air of mystery. Why? Because we can’t see through the window to their soul, that traditional idea that the eyes reveal our emotions. The result is titillating curiosity and a strong desire to know what is hiding underneath.

The eyes: a source of information and an expression of human vulnerability

Lecturer in Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University and author of Cool Shades: The History and Meaning of Sunglasses, Vanessa Brown explains that the eyes are both a source of information about a human being and evidence of their vulnerability. A significant part of our judgement about others comes from eye contact. With a simple look, we can gauge an idea of the potential intelligence, the confidence and the sincerity of the person in front of us. Wearing sunglasses removes any possibility of this first impression and the judgement that we can make when meeting someone for the first time. Brown points to Hollywood stars as the ones who have made the accessory an essential part of a glamorous wardrobe. In the 1950s and 1960s, stars who wanted to avoid being recognised in public or harassed by the paparazzi would hide behind dark glasses. She adds that at that time, the camera flashes would even explode in the faces of the celebrities. It was therefore a means of protection in more way than one. Sunglasses were a way of seeing without being seen as well as a way to hide the eyes and the emotions they communicated. It’s something that Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue US, has also understood. The queen of fashion is rarely seen without her legendary sunglasses, even wearing them while sat next to the queen of England. When pictures emerged of the two women sitting next to each other on the front row of the Richard Quinn show at London Fashion Week, Wintour wearing her signature shades, the Brits on Twitter were up in arms about what they considered to be a sign of disrespect. But Wintour knows what she’s doing. As she explained to an American magazine a few years ago, her sunglasses are there to stop anyone from being able to see what she thinks of a collection or even if she gets bored.

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When sunglasses make a star

When it comes to France, one can think of artists like Maître Gims, DJ Snake and Daft Punk who themselves went even further, choosing helmets to hide their true identities (which are now known and have been for some time now). Photos of Gims without sunglasses are rare, inexistent even, so much so that the accessory has become his trademark. He wouldn’t be the same without them, as he explained in an interview with Sandrine Quétier: “at first they were just sunglasses, I thought it was stylish”. When he found success, he decided to keep what had become part of his character. “It creates a barrier between me and this world of success. My sunglasses have become a safety barrier. Without them, I’d feel pretty bad. It would be impossible for me to go on stage without them.” DJ Snake also told Moucloud Achour on his programme Clique that he decided to wear sunglasses when he started mixing in front of big crowds. “As soon as I was in front of 50,000 people, I would panic. Panic is a big word but I really would lose it.” He explained that it was also about finding some anonymity in order to live a somewhat ‘normal’ life and not be recognised on the metro for example. “You can’t become a victim of your success. You have to know how to take a step back and come back to real life for a moment.” And as for jazz icon Miles Davis, he had a less glamorous reason for deciding never to remove his sunglasses: avoiding eye contact with racists. Beyond the glamour, sunglasses worn in all circumstances are a way to hide one’s emotions and keep the person opposite at a distance.