Sex, lies and sunglasses

British study shows shades are good for the ego.

By Jon Bowen
June 24, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Jeepers, creepers, where'd you get those awesome feelings of self-confidence and sex appeal? From your sunglasses, says new research.

Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychologist at the University of London who has studied the psychological effects of wearing shades, says that wearing sunglasses makes people feel more confident and attractive to the opposite sex.


"They make you feel mysterious, cool," Wilson says. "There's an association with the good life that adds to the aura. Hollywood, sports cars, all that." And the connection to the high life launches your ego into a higher realm of sexual confidence. "People report having additional courage to ogle when their gaze can't be detected. Sunglasses give us a degree of anonymity, because you can see but not be seen."

Wilson says people in sunglasses also do things they wouldn't normally do if their eyes were exposed -- sunbathe topless, for example. His research is based on a recent series of focus-group studies in which single-sex groups convened to discuss their attitudes about sunglasses.

According to Wilson's studies, men and women have different reasons for liking the look of sunglasses on the opposite sex. "In the case of men, there's a sinister appearance -- that lethal power that comes out of the unpredictability of what they're about to do. The sort of thing you see in Tarantino films. Some women like that." But when men see women in sunglasses, "They look more pornographic. Their eyes are gone and the body is emphasized, so you can project your own fantasies."


If the eyes are the windows to the soul, sunglasses are the curtains on the windows. "They carry a body language that's comparable to a lady's fan in Victorian times," Wilson says. "You can use them to create degrees of intimacy, you can do coquettish things." For example, dropping your glasses down to the tip of your nose to reveal your eyes works as a flirtatious, seductive gesture. Taking off your shades shows a desire to connect. Putting them on again, you shut yourself off. Casually twirling your sunglasses implies a footloose spirit.

As long as the sun shines, people will spend money on sunglasses. You can pick up a pair of dime-store cheapos, drop a couple hundred bucks on a pair of Revo wraparounds or plunk down $1,250 for a pair of Cartier 24-karat gold shades. According to Jobson Optical Group, an industry research firm, the worldwide sunglasses market in 1996 was worth $2.7 billion.

With all those sunglasses circulating, they're bound to get misused now and then. Picture, for example, the smug, self-deluded dude who insists on wearing his Ray-Bans indoors in a dimly lit bar as he scans the crowd for a viable femme to astound with his ultra-coolness. "There are times when it's inappropriate, even rude, to leave your sunglasses on," Wilson says. "If a man wants to chat up a woman and he's a real man, he would take the sunglasses off -- as if to say, 'Here I am, in the raw.'"


"Sunglasses have become an essential modern fashion accessory," Wilson adds. "People wear them because they feel they look good in them. You feel in control."

Wilson's study was funded by Dollond & Aitchison, a British optical company.

Jon Bowen

Jon Bowen is a frequent contributor to Salon.


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