A Trip Down Memory Lane
The Roman emperor Nero reportedly used polished emeralds to watch gladiator fights in the colosseum to see more comfortably on sunny days. Were emeralds the first sunglasses? Woah!!! Unfortunately, holding emeralds up to your eyes isn’t very practical, nor are these precious gems accessible to the masses.
Let’s head North now, where it is believed that sunglasses originated as a solution to snow blindness, a painful eye condition that occurs when too much UV light hits the outer layer of your eyes, essentially causing an ocular sunburn. Ouch! Think back 2,000 years, imagine the highly reflective quality of snow coupled with extremely cold temperatures and dry air … the Inuit people needed a solution. Voila, the birth of sunglasses:
Now let’s fast-forward to the 19th century, when syphilis was rampant. Syphilis creates sensitivity to light, which created a perfect storm for the use of sunglasses … luckily penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
Coincidentally, just one year later, Sam Grant, who aspired to make combs out of material other than ivory or wood, sold the first pair of plastic injection-moulded sunglasses at Woolworth on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. His company, Foster Grant, became a global leader in the eyewear industry.
Today the term “glasses” is a bit of a misnomer, as virtually all modern eyewear is made from highly resistant resin. And, since 1936, thanks to inventor Edwin H. Land, a protective coating has been available to block out those nasty UV rays that can cause early onset of macular degeneration and cataracts. Prior to the invention of Polaroid lenses, tinted sunglasses only reduced the glare of sunlight.
Polarized or Not?
How can you tell if your sunglasses are truly polarized? Take a pair of glasses and look through them at a computer screen. Now turn the glasses vertically (at 90 degrees). If you can’t see anything through them, your glasses are polarized. Here’s an explanation of polarization:
An Incredibly Profitable Industry
Fast forward to 2018, when Italian frames manufacturer, Luxottica, and French lens manufacturer, Essilor, joined forces. Today Luxottica-Essilor dominates the business. Ray-Ban, Oakley, Chanel, Persol, Prada and numerous other prestige brands are in their stable, which also includes eyewear retailers Sunglass Hut, LensCrafters, Oliver Peoples, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical and others. In 2019, $4.8 billion was spent on sunglasses in the United States.
“Why are these things so damn expensive? The answer: Because no one is doing anything to prevent a near-monopolistic, $100 billion industry dominated by a single company from shamelessly abusing its market power.” (David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times)
Luckily for Luxottica-Essilor, Americans lose more sunglasses than any other nation, with 50 pairs lost every 6 seconds according to the Bureau of Accessory Statistics. I only seem to lose the expensive ones with the 1,000% markup that sends Mr. Lazarus’ blood pressure off the charts, why is that?
Apparently It’s All About Sex Appeal
Vanessa Brown, a cultural researcher, believes that the increasingly sought-after cachet of sunglasses comes from a sense of mystery. By partially hiding the face, sunglasses invite curiosity. Mystery and curiosity play a key role in human sexual desire. How attractive we find strangers is also strongly correlated with facial symmetry, a feature which sunglasses provide.
“With my sunglasses on I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them I’m fat and 60.” (Jack Nicholson)
“My sunglasses are like my guitar.” (Patti Smith)
On the topic of sex appeal, here are some pics of iconic sunglasses:
“I don’t have an iPod or a mobile phone or a computer. I do have a quarter of a million pairs of glasses but I don’t even have a mobile phone. If people want to get a hold of me, they can.” (Elton John)
Two songs about sunglasses that stick in our minds, even in 2021, include ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses” and Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night”. A third runner up, described as “every science teacher’s anthem”, is Timbuck 3’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”:
It’s summer, protect your eyes and make sure you look snatched while enjoying the good weather. Share pics with us here!
Now challenge yourself and your friends to our Shades of Cool Quiz of the Day, by downloading Quizefy from the app store if you haven’t already done so, then see how much you know and Strut Your Smart. Our Shades of Cool Quiz is only available today, then it disappears. We’ll be back again every Tuesday with a special blog posted at www.quizefy.com, along with a new trivia quiz on the same topic as the blog. Don’t forget to follow Quizefy in social media, so we can remind you of upcoming blog and quiz content.