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The Boston Globe

Lifestyle

You gotta wear shades?

A look at the etiquette of keeping sunglasses on when and where the sun doesn’t shine

Sadly, I’m asking this question for personal reasons: If you wear sunglasses at night, or keep them on indoors, is any appearance benefit you’d hoped to enjoy negated by the very fact that you’re wearing sunglasses where the sun doesn’t shine — a style statement popularly associated with jerks or those with something to hide?

Starting around Memorial Day, a combination of factors triggered a descent into inappropriate accessories-related behavior. New to prescription sunglasses, I apparently found it too much of a hassle to swap them for regular glasses when I went inside.

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That, along with the euphoria at being likened to Jackie O — an essentially meaningless compliment paid to any woman with dark hair and large sunglasses — turned me into Anna Wintour, minus the wardrobe and authority.

Here’s the frightening part: No one said anything to my shaded face. If I hadn’t scared myself by keeping the shades on during an entire bar mitzvah service (in a sun-drenched temple, but even so) I’m sure I’d be typing with them on now.

But if you ask around — which I did — you’ll learn that many people wish they could wear sunglasses after hours (or at pretty much any hour). So why don’t we relax the rules, like we did for the color white, which once could only be worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day?

Wouldn’t we all win? Yes, and no, said Hadley Freeman, the author of “The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable.

“Think of it as being like the Tour de France,” Freeman, a columnist at The Guardian, wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “When so many of the competitors were on drugs, they all rode faster and looked impressive. So sunglasses are a little like that: Everyone looks like an imperious witch. The playing field is still level, but raised.”

‘Sunglasses are a tease. They invite someone looking at you to speculate, to think about what might be going on underneath them.’

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So true, and here’s why, according to Vanessa Brown, a university lecturer in the UK who became so interested in the power of sunglasses that she’s written a whole book on the subject, the forthcoming “Cool Shades: The History and Meaning of Sunglasses.”

“Sunglasses make people look more attractive for a whole variety of reasons,” she e-mailed the Globe.

“One very basic [theory] is that they impose a sense of bone structure which might be missing from your face. [Y]ou can ‘even out’ your features, make your eyes look bigger or wider apart, make a long face seem more heart-shaped, a round face more square and so on.

“But beyond this,” she continued, “sunglasses are a tease. They invite someone looking at you to speculate, to think about what might be going on underneath them. Are you looking back at them? They can’t tell. That means you might be looking right at them, or you might be totally uninterested in them.

“Crucially,” she added, “they also cover up the emotional expression of the eyes, which makes a person look less anxious, less care-worn, and less needy.”

In the early days, wearing sunglasses was a privilege limited to explorers, military heroes, and celebrities (above “Jersey Shore’’ caliber).

Now, of course, even children wear them (for eye health, except perhaps for the children of hipsters), and they’ve become such a fashion statement that they’re second in dollar sales only to cellphone cases, said fashion expert Marshal Cohen, senior industry analyst with the NPD Group.

For the 12-month period ending in May 2014, sunglass sales hit $3.8 billion, Cohen said, up 3 percent over the previous 12 months. He didn’t have statistics on nocturnal use, but did make a prediction about where sunglasses are headed.

“The future of sunglasses is you sitting on a beach not holding an iPad and reading a novel, but you sitting on a beach reading your novel on your high-tech sunglasses.”

In the meantime, those who break societal norms surrounding shades can expect pushback.

“I’ve gotten Yelps on it,” said Dean Mellen, a hairstylist who splits his time among Patrice Vinci’s Newbury Street salon, New York, and Los Angeles, and has developed a reputation for a signature move that involves him putting on tinted glasses when he finishes a haircut.

“It does panic people,” added Mellen, who says he dons the glasses to see better and wears tints so he looks better. “I have a big face,” he said, “and they fill the space.”

And then some. Mellen owns more than 50 pairs, in various shades. “I’ve got a guy in LA — a lens perfectionist,” he said. “I’ve learned so many lessons from him.”

One lesson not learned: Don’t wear them inside.

But as celebrities grow like kudzu on reality TV and the Web, fighting indoor usage may get harder. Robert Casey, owner of the Boston modeling agency Maggie Inc. blames the behavior in part on social media.

“Everyone is a celebrity in their own world now,” he said. “Most of the kids don’t realize that celebrities do it because there are cameras in their face, even when they’re inside. And Anna Wintour wears them [at fashion shows] so you can’t see her giving dirty looks about the collections. But the average Joe doesn’t have an excuse.”

I beg to differ.

Consider this frightening tale: Not long after she turned 40, an attractive female relative of mine was asked for her ID when buying wine at the grocery store. She took off her sunglasses to look for her driver’s license, at which point the clerk’s eyes zoomed in on her crow’s feet.

“Never mind,” she said, slipping the bottle of pinot noir in a sleeve, “you’re all set.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@
globe.com
. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
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