To See and Be Seen

After the war, the craze for sunglasses quickly resumed in full force. Advertisements began to emphasize smart styling over eye protection, and distinct men's and women's styles were developed. Sunglasses could now be purchased in drug, variety, and department stores, at prices from 25 cents to 25 dollars. With growing competition, established manufacturers increased their advertising and diversified; American Optical launched the "Cool-Ray" trademark, and in 1948 introduced inexpensive Polaroid plastic lenses. It became fashionable to have multiple pairs for sport, everyday, and even evening wear, and in colors to match particular outfits. Eyeglass wearers could have sunglasses made with their prescription, or choose from a variety of clip-on styles.

In the 1950s, to boost sales, sunglass manufacturers began coming out with new models every year, following the lead of the automobile industry. As with eyeglasses, the harlequin, or "cat-eye," shape was the dominant style for women, but sunglasses took the style to much more fanciful extremes. Sunglasses were made with carved, laminated frames shaped like flames, flowers, and butterflies, studded with rhinestones, imitating unlikely materials like bamboo, or trimmed with false "eyelashes" of raffia. Even relatively conservative frames were produced in bold and unusual shapes, colors, and patterns, and were given model names such as "Torrid," "Vivacious," and "Peekini." For men, new styles with clean lines and heavy plastic frames were popular, the most famous being the Ray-Ban "Wayfarer," introduced in 1952.

Whatever the frame style, sunglasses were also worn because of the air of mystery they imparted to the wearer. One could still hope to be mistaken for a celebrity such as Grace Kelly or Rita Hayworth, but sunglasses also offered, as a 1948 ad for the first mirrored sunglasses put it, "the wonderful fun of looking out at a world that can't see you" (Saks 34th St. advertisement for "Mirro-Lens" sunglasses, New York Times, 28 March 1948, p. 30). Dark "shades" contributed considerably to the "cool" of bebop jazz musicians and beatniks, who wore them even in dark nightclubs. Once the fad for wearing sunglasses at night caught on, however, it became harder to tell the "hip" from the "square"; as one observer told the New York Times in 1964, "If you're really 'in' you wouldn't be caught dead wearing them indoors or at night because you'd look like someone who is 'out' but is trying to look 'in'" (Warren, p. 66).

By the early 1960s, sunglasses were more popular than ever, with an estimated 50 million pairs per year sold in the United States by 1963. They were also available in more styles than ever before; Ray-Ban advertised "the see and be-seen sunglasses, [in] all kinds of designs—bold, shy, classic, crazy, round, oval, square, oriental" (Evans, p. 17). President Kennedy often appeared in public wearing sunglasses, and Jacqueline Kennedy started a fad for wraparound sunglasses when she began wearing them in 1962. Similar sleek, futuristic styles from Europe inspired Polaroid to launch the French-sounding C'Bon brand,

Bon Polaroid Glasses

Women model the latest fashions in sunglasses in California, 1941. Sunglasses first became popular as a fashion accessory in the 1930s. By the 1940s they were beginning to be offered in a variety of styles, some of them quite fanciful, such as the sunflower-shaped frames at the bottom right. © Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Women model the latest fashions in sunglasses in California, 1941. Sunglasses first became popular as a fashion accessory in the 1930s. By the 1940s they were beginning to be offered in a variety of styles, some of them quite fanciful, such as the sunflower-shaped frames at the bottom right. © Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

featuring "the St. Tropez look." Sunglass advertising was also taken to new and imaginative heights; the famous "Who's that behind those Foster Grants?" campaign of the mid-1960s, in which celebrities such as Vanessa Redgrave and Peter Sellers were shown transformed into a series of exotic characters by Foster Grant sunglasses, were highly successful in promoting the power of sunglasses to "subtly alter the personality," (Foster Grant advertisement, 1964, available from www.fostergrant.com) and release the wearer's inner tycoon or femme fatale.

In 1965, André Courrèges's sunglasses with solid white lenses and viewing slits were the first designer sunglasses to receive wide attention. They soon inspired other space-age designs such as Sea-and-Ski's "Boy-watcher," a seamless slit goggle that could also be worn as a headband, and a variety of alien-looking "bug-eye" styles, with frames in day-glo colors or shiny chrome. So-called "granny glasses" were also popular, as were large round wire-rims with lenses in pale psychedelic tints. Enormous round dark glasses, such as those designed by Emilio Pucci, were another style favored by celebrities late in the decade.

In the 1970s, the trend toward oversized designer frames continued. In keeping with the fashionable "natural" look, lenses became paler, with gradient tints in the same rosy shades fashionable for eye makeup. The eyes were now visible, and in the April 1977 issue of Vogue sunglasses were declared "the new cosmetic" (p. 146). As the decade progressed, expensive sunglasses by designers such as Pierre Cardin and Givenchy became sought-after status symbols, and were frequently worn on top of the head like a headband when not in use. Sporty mirrored styles were also popular, especially for men.

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