Should wearers of sunglasses after dark immediately be put out of their misery? Or should it be deemed a lesser offence those times when you´re doing a fair impression of ol’ Mr Redeye? This information is for your eyes only. It’s a stylistic hot potato!! (catch) No, I’m not mad, simply talking about shades…..should they be worn at night? Is this the ultimate fashion crime ? What style of frame is suitable for the average modernist clubber? (if there is such a thing as an “average” mod).
Well it of course would be fair to say that it is entirely up to the individual. I know my fellow fashion scribe Richard H believes that it is indeed a heinious crime to sport shades after dark, and I would have to agree, unless you are either a celeb (which means you can commit all sorts of bizarre and wonderful fashion blunders and escape unscathed) or you just don’t give two hoots what anyone else thinks. However, let us admit that we have all wanted to don a smooth pair of sunglasses for an evening (let alone during a summer’s day) in order to achieve that sophisticated “rock star” kudos just for one night. Or could this just be me? Yes, I admit, I’ve done it! So, if you insist on covering your eyes on a soul drenched evening, at least do it with your “mince pies” encased in a decent set of shades.
Modernists have always been fond of eyewear, mainly because it was the fashion staple of all their early blues/r’n’b heroes, such as Sonny Boy Williamson and Champion Jack Dupree . On the soul scene it was also a predominant look, the obvious pioneer being Little Stevie Wonder (although he had other “issues” related to his eyewear…). It is from this early era that the Ray Ban Wayfarer became the first choice of sun deflecting lens for well groomed kids in and around London, and is still widely worn by those favouring the early look. When purchasing go for the original style, black all over (avoid mottled sunglasses, they are for Jaguar driving bank managers with pot bellies,) and make sure they are quite wide. They should almost look a little too big, as they stick out slightly at the corner of each lens. If in doubt, just ask for the classic “Jack Nicholson” shape. Of course, nowadays Ray Ban follow the “logo is everything” trend, and theirs will probably be emblazoned on the arm. Nevertheless, the look is timeless and instant modernist cred will be all yours!
And of course, onto the infamous “Liam” shades…. the Lennon style tinted thin silver framed style of sunglasses that dominated the scene throughout the mid to late sixties. These were sported by both savvy modernists and then simultaneously by “smelly” hippies, probably due to the fact that they were both reminicent of the Victorian Dandy era (think the Moody Blues or Procol Harum) and so fitted with all that poetry/bohemian stuff and that they just look plain stylish. The varying list of fans is a mish mash of sixties luminaries. Marriott oft wore the very thin rectangular style, in blue tint as did the lead singer of the Byrds in the US, Lennon of course either the octagon frames or the complete circle, in differing shades. Take a walk down Oxford Street and a pair can be yours for about a fiver, but as honest quality is everything, pop along to Kirk Originals in Covent Garden, off Neal Street and get a pair made for you by specialists. Pricey, but not that bad: I had a nice pair of Marriott style shades made there for seventy quid. (Their “ready-to-wear” range is actually more expensive). These are also a good choice as they compliment both casual and evening wear, and CAN be worn at night on the odd occasion, as they are tints as opposed to out and out sunglasses. If you’ve the right shaped face, bascially thin and long with a sizable hooter, they look quite good perched at the end of the nose. Very rebellious. Best if you decide that though.
Another style of sunglasses that became quite popular during the late sixties are the Aviators . Again, produced by Ray Ban, the style became somewhat over worked and oversized lens wise by the mid seventies; but by then everything was oversized and overworked, such as collars: but thats another road down which I’m not about to travel. The sixties aviators were sported not just by our mates over the pond but by bands such as the Smoke , and Clem Curtis of the Foundations. Go for the smaller style with more compact lens, in either blue or bronze tint. High fashion labels such as Gucci andPrada have been knocking their own versions out for a while, but the original makers are always the best, so stick with the Bausch & Lombs . These are best teamed with leather jackets or psychedelic print shirts (ensuring that the collar is authentic late sixties slightly wide and sharp…..careful or you’ll end up looking like a heavy from Hawaii Five-O).
Lastly, another slightly rarer style of sunglasses are the scooter frames, worn funnily enough, not just by scooter boys but by Soho stylists for a brief period too. The big, squared off Gucci and Prada (again) frames that seem to be superglued to every tanktop wearing spikey haired trendy this side of Timbucktoo, are a complete ripoff of the look first worn by modernists in sixties London. Unfortunatley as I have discussed with my editor Jules, these labels seem unable to produce accessories devoid of ridiculous branding. My search for these style of frames continues. If you are unsure of the look, it was worn most famously by Pete Townshend circa ’65-’66, and worn with the racing look predominantly, although he also wore it with a nice checked three button blazer, but that’s slightly risky if you ask me. Large frames, gold rimmed and tinted in greens, light blues and amber, they were soon taken on by the moddy boys and flashed on Brighton pier accordingly. Interestingly, they made a serious resurgence during the slightly questionable “revival” of the late seventies. If anyone knows where to purchase a clean pair please mail me!!
There are plenty of variations on these styles, and others altogether, and yet again, rely on your own stylistic preferences when it comes to colour, shape and clothing accompaniments. As for wearing them at night at your nearest soul den… well I’ll leave that up to you.
© Joel Maslin 2001 – 2012 Uppers [Published 13 February 2001]
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