August 3, 2021
Melinda Head

Shades of Cool

Sunglasses, the ultimate fashion accessory that also serves an important functional purpose as we battle climate change

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:

Tiny slits cut into bone, leather, metal or fashioned from beads dramatically reduced the 80-90% reflection of sunlight from snow. Known as ilgaak, iggaak, nigaugek or nigauget

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.

Woolworth, Atlantic City in the early 1900’s

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.

Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid lens

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:

Elton John is believed to have more than 250,000 pairs of sunglasses. Say each pair cost a paltry $175, that rounds out to almost $45 million. This celeb clearly has a sunglasses fetish

“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)

John Lennon’s trademark round sunglasses, also known as Windsor or Teashade glasses. John was originally fearful of being seen wearing glasses, preferring to wear contacts instead

Janis Joplin and her rose-tinted glasses

Groupie Kate Hudson’s sunglasses in “Almost Famous” (2000). This is a movie everyone should watch

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Truman  Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) wearing Manhattan sunglasses

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in “The Blues Brothers” (1980), wearing original Wayfarers made by Ray-Ban. Also worn by Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Roy Orbison, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant, among others

Enzo Ferrari said: “The only true love can be a father’s love for his son”. He wore black Persol sunglasses every day for the rest of his life following the death of his son, Dino, from muscular dystrophy at age 24

Joe Biden is an aviator sunglasses President. The original green-tinted aviator was developed in the 1930s to protect pilots and sailors from the hazards of high-altitude and marine glare. American Optical, Bausch & Lomb, the Chas. Fischer Spring Co., Wilson Optical and Rochester Optical are contractors who produced the government-specified frames and lenses, not Ray-Ban

Barack Obama wearing OPLL Sun frames. Mr. Obama turns 60 tomorrow – Happy Birthday, Sir!

John F. Kennedy with daughter, Caroline (soon to be U.S. Ambassador to Australia) wearing American Optical’s Saratoga sunglasses

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was BIG on sunglasses

 Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel, Fendi and his own brand. “I had an interview with a journalist once … she said: “It’s impolite, remove your glasses”. I said, “Do I ask you to remove your bra?”

Elvis Presley in his iconic sunglasses

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s iconic white sunglasses designed by Christian Roth

The Wachowski sisters’ movie, “The Matrix” (1999), holds the record for the most sunglasses ever featured in a single film. All the protagonists wear rounded lenses, while antagonists wear rectangular lenses

Sunglasses Tunes

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”:

An incredible ZZ Top “Cheap Sunglasses” street jam by talented guitarist, Robin Spanell. You can tip him here

Here is Corey Hart doing a cover of his own song, “Sunglasses At Night” – WOW!!! I like it more than the original

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, 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.

Coming Up For Quizefy

Every day:  a new trivia Quiz of the Day on continuously changing topics. Available for 24 hours only

Every Tuesday:  our FACT-ory blog on, with a matching Quiz of the Day in our Quizefy app. Read our blog for hints that will improve your Quizefy score

Every Sunday:  the Week in Review, our comprehensive review of national and global events in the past 7 days. This would be a great addition to your Sunday routine

Always:  trivia questions on a myriad of topics that you can choose yourself
Tuesday, December 05th: The Game Awards
Wednesday, December 06th: Action on Violence Against Women
Thursday, December 07th: Chanukah
Friday, December 08th: Crossword Solvers Day
Saturday, December 09th: World Techno Day
Sunday, December 10th: Week in Review
Monday, December 11th: National App Day
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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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