Fashion in Film: Sunglasses

Sophia Satchell Baeza

Ten years from now we may be watching films on the beach through the lenses on our Google sunglasses. If this is the case, I ask you to think back to the sepia-tinted days when sunglasses were just a fashion statement, a way of dodging paps or sun, or for simply looking cool, regardless of the weather. Famous sunglasses in film have now become iconic of particular character types – just think of the The Big Lebowski/ Fear and Loathing tinted aviators of the all-American slacker, the heart-shaped glasses of the nymphet or the neon wayfarers of the MTV generation. Oh, and as this list shows, it really is allowed to wear sunglasses indoors. As long as you reference the relevant films.

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1963)

This is the case of the most famous sunglasses that never were. In an early scene in Kubrick’s Lolita, we see the nymphet herself (Sue Lyons) reclining on the lawn in a two-piece swimsuit, as she darts Humbert Humbert a saucy glance over her cat-eye sunglasses. This scene merged in the public imagination with that famous publicity still (used for the poster, and numerous subsequent book covers) which shows Lolita in red heart-shaped glasses licking a lollipop. Thanks to the film, these shades have become a staple of fashion spreads, hen nights and Halloween, and a by-word for nubile, precocious sexuality.

They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)

Could this be the greatest film about sunglasses? Outcast drifter “Nada” (Roddy Piper) finds a pair of black sunglasses which allow him to see the totalitarian commands behind mass advertising, in a world ruled over by aliens. Says ‘Nada’: “I'm giving you a choice: either put on these glasses or start eatin' that trash can”.

Electrick Children (Rebecca Thomas, 2010)

A wayward Mormon who thinks she’s being impregnated by a Blondie cover-playing tape deck, dons some heart-shaped Lolita shades, hitches a lift to Las Vegas and falls in love with a skater boy. 

The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)

Elwood: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses."
Jake: "Hit it."

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961)

Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) wore a pair of black wayfarers by Oliver Goldsmith with an LBD and simultaneously provided the world with the only look worth sporting at a cocktail party.

The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)

Say no more. Thankfully I didn’t witness too much of the '80s first-hand, so missed out on a supposed cultural fad sparked off by Arnie’s use of cyborg glasses (really? Is this true?).

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Would you take psychiatric advice from this man? Hawaiian-obsessed psychiatrist, keen surfer and collector of cocktail umbrellas Dr. Jakoby (Russ Tamblyn) wears sunglasses with one lens tinted red, the other blue. Why? Because it makes the world appear three-dimensional, of course.

The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)

Walter Sobchack is back from ‘Nam and needs to chill the fuck down. To do so, he sports a fetching pair of amber-tinted aviator Ray Bans and goes bowling with The Dude.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)

If you’re somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs begin to take hold, you’re likely going to need to protect those peepers from permanent sun damage.

Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)

Tom Cruise in his hotty heyday was very much the Man in the Ray-Ban(s). For more details on Cruise and Ray-Bans, continue to scroll down. For further information about my fetish for pre-90s era Cruise, buy me a drink.

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Jodie Foster rocks the green shades in a dodgy New York diner as child prostitute Iris.

Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

Tyler (Brad Pitt) matches his bright red leather jacket with a pair of these badass red-frame squared Oliver Peoples glasses. Shame about all that hair gel.

Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)

Ultimate band-aid Penny “We are not groupies” Lane (Kate Hudson) had the boho look down well before Sienna Miller started traipsing down Wholefoods in a paisley maxi. Those bluey-purple sunglasses are now an iconic image on account of the film poster. Key fashion tip: Wear at night, with an afghan, while waiting for a rock star in a dodgy carpark.

Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)

Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer)’s fondness for various debilitating vices (which includes her love of low-on-coverage, high-end disco couture) may be her undoing. However, she sparkles in a white silk suit and skirt, matching hat and those stylish cat-eye sunglasses. She sure loves the white stuff.

Ray (Taylor Hackford, 2004)

Jamie Foxx plays the famous rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles, who lost his sight at the age of seven. All he needs to do is stroke a woman’s wrists and he knows if she’s a babe – who needs glasses?

Poison Ivy (Katt Shea, 1992)

Professional Dad-seducer Ivy (Drew Barrymore) can do no fashion wrongs in this.

I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)

Cate Blanchett astounds as Bob Dylan, the black wayfarers he made so famous become one of many defining features in her gender-bending performance. Heath Ledger wears aviators for his interpretation of Bob.

Risky Business (Paul Brickman, 1983)

Oh, woops. I must have let another Tom Cruise film slip in. But seriously, this man can wear a pair of Ray Bans like no-one’s business. Ray-Ban’s product placement relationship with Cruise is often cited as one of the most successful in history, with a 50 per cent increase in sales of Wayfarers that year. Ray-Ban would later work with Cruise on Top Gun for the aviator model. Just look at those creepy cheeky eyes peeking over the glasses in the famous film poster

True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)

Loud, hyper-tacky Americana is the name of the fashion game for Alabama. The neon-blue and cow-print colour clash complements the neon-drenched lights of Scott’s lurid L.A. landscape. In many ways, Alabama’s is The Perfect Outfit: if only there wasn’t a danger of being arrested.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2013)

Costume designer Heidi Bivens must have had a field day with the good-girls-gone-bad outfits of our Spring Break rebels. Neon-tinted sunnies are the perfect match for skimpy swimsuits, Skrillex and Benoît Debie’s candy-coloured cinematography.

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