Sunday, October 4, 2009
Sunglasses as Marker of Cultural Difference
In sunny Hawaii, I was surprised to find that alot of people don't wearing sunglasses on a daily basis. I mean, don't get me wrong, people do wear sunglasses. But it's not as prominent, noticeable or necessitated as in other cities.
In L.A. for example, almost everyone I know wears sunglasses...every day and during every outdoor moment. And it's not that the sun shines brighter in LA than Hawaii--because it doesn't. So it seems that sunglasses play a different role in SoCal life than it does in the Aloha State.
There is a particular cultural attitude toward sunglasses in L.A. Perhaps it's Hollywood's influence that makes sunglasses a cultural necessity to the way we live. Afterall, when you see a movie star on the red carpet what's the first thing they usually do? Pull down their shades and smile for the paparazzi. And if they're lunching at a popular Beverly Hills spot, what do they do? Keep their shades on--to look cool, remain unnoticed, and signal a desire for privacy. So, it's not that people in LA are consciously trying to imitate this Hollywood lifestyle, but I do think that a subtle scent of this sunglass-attitude has infused itself into the fabric of So Cal's unquestioned social mores.
In LA, sunglasses serve first as a fashion accessory and second as a functional piece.
In my recent return to LA I smile whenever I and my friends whip out our sunglasses at the brink of leaving any building. In a recent photo I took with friends, the first thing I noticed was that we were all wearing sunglasses. My brother uses 13+ Oakley sunglasses on a regular basis, my friends spend hundreds of dollars for each pair they own, and I usually switch between three different pairs depending on the occasion (evening glam/day time professional/outdoor athletic)--although I usually end up loosing all of them and relying on one inexpensive pair day in and day out.
In Hawaii, I think that folks are just as fine with the naked eye as with a pair of sunglasses. The cultural attitude toward the framed pair, is more relaxed. It's a matter of personal choice and preference...and a role and matter of functionality. And it's kind of nice that way. After all, you get to see the whites of people's eyes when they talk...you learn to appreciate seeing sun rays in their natural beauty, and if you ever forget your pair at home, you never need to feel "naked" without them. It's freeing, really.