It was early in 2018 when fashion icon Anna Wintour incurred the wrath of the social etiquette gods for wearing her sunglasses in the presence of the Queen of England. Not only was her decision obviously gauche, it was apparently completely unbecoming of anyone who would be invited to have an audience with the Queen. Wintour broke all the rules with that move.
Fast forward just a couple of months and the Queen herself was caught doing something no royal is ever supposed to do: she was wearing sunglasses in public. That’s right, the Queen was spotted at several events wearing a pair of amber colored shades with oval lenses.
So what gives? Are there really still rules for sunglasses, or have they all been abandoned in the era of 24-hour news and social media? Perhaps we should dig a little deeper.
When Sunglasses Aren’t Appropriate
Britain’s Royals have their own etiquette when it comes to sunglasses. For example, they are not supposed to wear sunglasses in public because it is believed that royal eyes should always be visible. Likewise, wearing sunglasses in the presence of royalty is considered an etiquette faux pas because it puts royal and guest on unequal terms.
There are other rules outside of royal etiquette. For example, Olympic Eyewear explains that it is generally regarded as disrespectful to wear sunglasses when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with someone. One obvious exception is when the sun is so bright that it is bothering both parties. If both parties agree to wear their sunglasses, all bets are off.
Wearing sunglasses indoors is also generally regarded as being inappropriate. After all, there is no sunlight to worry about inside a building. Wearing sunglasses indoors is seen as a way to hide something, which generally makes people at least a little suspicious.
When People Break the Rules
So, why do people break the rules? In Wintour’s case, she admits to wearing them in order to hide her emotions. She doesn’t want people to know when she is incredibly bored at a runway show. She didn’t want the Queen to be able to discern what she might have been thinking during their audience.
The Queen wore her sunglasses in public because she had recently undergone cataract surgery. The sunglasses were essentially protection for already sensitive eyes. By the same token, Bono is almost always seen wearing sunglasses because he suffers from glaucoma.
There are visually impaired people who always wear sunglasses so that others aren’t discomfited by having to look into their eyes. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are both very good examples. Keeping with the music scene, the late Roy Orbison wore sunglasses, at least early on, to hide his fear of performing.
Just Because They Can
Finally, there are some people who wear sunglasses at inappropriate times just because they can. Take Jack Nicholson, for example. Esquire recently ran a story detailing Nicholson’s penchant for wearing sunglasses whenever and wherever he likes. If there is anyone who doesn’t follow the rules, it is Nicholson.
One of the most egregious examples of Nicholson’s disdain occurred in 1975 when he stepped on the stage to accept the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He was wearing all-black wayfarers.
Olympic Eyewear says that the rules of wearing sunglasses are still alive and well. But in the age of selfies and online influencers, it seems they are only there to be broken. That’s okay – especially if you are a celebrity who gets to do whatever you want.