February 17, 2009

Put Your Stunna Shades On

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This week I solidified several things about myself that I probably already knew: 1) I really truly am terrible at math and even though I understand the motivation I really would rather NOT have the math distribution requirements; 2) It is virtually impossible for me to not rock-out hardcore in Libe café while listening to John Legend feat. Andre 3000 right now; 3) Sunglasses + ordinary day = EXTRAordinary day. Seeing as the first two are highly irrelevant to this column, you can probably figure out what today’s topic is.
Sunglasses in the winter, you ask?! And I say YES. (I apologize for the high-frequency use of capitals; I have to channel my energy from not breaking it down somewhere, and apparently it’s the shift key. Ah I LOVE John Legend.) Anyway, these last couple of weeks we have been having some lovely visits from the sun, and even if that day in the 50s last week was a complete anomaly, we can still embrace the beautiful brightness.
But while it is truly splendid for our happiness and our Vitamin D consumption, it’s still a little hard on our eyes, hence … sunglasses! Plus, they are a fun, exciting, easy way to brighten your outfit like the Sun (both celestial and journalistic) brightens your day. I was unfortunately sick in bed on our brightest and warmest days last week, but the pull to get to wear some shades was almost enough to get me out of my nest.
I’m gonna begin this discussion with a bit of history. The real history starts with — what else — the movie biz. In the early 1900s, silent movie stars wore sunglasses to protect their eyes from the very bright lights used on set. They also would wear them outside to hide their bloodshot eyes after long hours of filming in that light. Even as lighting technology improved, what was once a necessity had developed a fashion accessory.
Enterprising Sam Foster, founder of the Foster Grant company, picked up on the trend and was the first to market sunglasses to the masses. In 1929 the first pair of Foster Grant sunglasses was sold on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. The rest, as they say, is history. The popular Aviator style soon arrived, a product of an Army contract with Ray-Ban’s parent company Bausch & Lomb to make anti-glare protective glasses with better coverage than goggles. The shape of the lens that droops low on the face enabled pilots to have protection even when looking down at their instruments. They worked in conjunction with Edwin H. Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation, to use polarized lenses. This style, made available in 1937 to the public, is where Ray-Ban got its name!
Ray-Ban’s most popular, and oft-copied style, the Wayfarer, was first introduced in 1952 and was popularized by Hollywood celebrities like James Dean. Made with new technology in lightweight plastics, Wayfarers were one of the first designs to feature plastic frames and thick temples. To design critic Stephen Bayley, the “distinctive trapezoidal frame spoke a non-verbal language that hinted at unstable dangerousness.” Whatever the reason, the Wayfarer and Ray-Ban are doing quite well for themsleves. Visit the The Ray-Ban website and you can see all 19 colors of Wayfarer.
Now for some personal history. I bought my first pair of “big” sunglasses (faux-Chanel) from my favorite vintage store at home for $5. They were amazing, but they broke. I replaced them with similar ones from Target, and, until last year, they were my only pair. I now have eight pairs. Ah! I know I just freaked a lot of you out, including my mom, so let me explain. Up until a week ago, I had four pairs: The aforementioned replacements, a huge round pair with transparent red frames I bought in Taiwan, these kickin’ black plastic rimmed aviators I found on Slope Day last year, and these great new turquoise babies that are flat across the top with half-python detailing. Then, the Class of 2010 Council came out with their neon templed Cornell 2010 glasses for a dollar apiece. They come in neon green, orange, blue, and pink, and they were a dollar. So I got one of each! They’re Wayfarer style and you can get them from any Council member. I love the flexibility of having distinct styles that I can wear because the rest of the outfit and the hairstyle that I’m wearing affects my choice.
So, how do you pick the right sunglasses for you? Apparently there are seven face shapes: square, oval, round, diamond, rectangle, triangle and inverted triangle (often referred to as “heart-shaped”). I was going to try to tell you specifically what the common advice for each shape is, but it boils down to a sort of mathematic inverted relationship, otherwise known as balance. The gist: if you have an angular face, pick round frames, if you have a wide chin, pick wide frames, etc. etc. and so on.
Really though, I think that kind of advice doesn’t get you all that far. For example I discovered this morning when I was trying on a few pairs that the point on my nose that the glasses are meant to rest is higher than the level of my ears where the temple rests. This, I think, must be the explanation to why my sunglasses slide down just a little bit almost all the time. The sliding down can’t be avoided, but this anatomical quirk means that my sunglasses will always be at a slight tilt upwards, and the style needs to be able to do that and still look good.
Here is the step-by-step advice that’s going to be really super relevant and the key to everything: 1) Go to a store; 2) Pick up a pair of sunglasses that strike your fancy; 3) Put them on your face; 4) Find a mirror 5.) Assess; 5½) Ask a friend. There are conventions about what styles look good on what type of people, but in thinking about it for this column, I’ve realized it’s not really the “style” per se, (like aviator, Jackie-O, etc) but the exact size and proportions. Hence the need to be constantly on the look out for styles you want and to try everything on.
Many sunglass styles are pretty uni-sex, although they may differ slightly in their proportions. The exception here being I never ever want to see a woman in Matrix glasses (or a man, for that matter) and many of the more rounded, enormous Celebrity styles often look foolish on men. But I strongly encourage both men and women to try bold colored rims — if you’re not exactly a “bold color” person, forgo opaque bright plastic and go for a transparent color which will be interesting but less strong.
I think I’ve exhausted this topic, so I’m going to ride off into the sunset with my stunna shades on, leaving people to ask, a la the Foster Grant 1960 ad campaign: Is that … Alex Harlig Behind Those Foster Grants?