Shady Characters


Three shades of shades: The Anna Wintour-inspired black frames, modern Aviator and Clubmaster.

There’s nothing more annoying than having someone ride your bumper in a traffic jam.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is doing roadwork along Interstate 95 during the holiday shopping season, creating backups in the southbound lanes. I was trying my best to be patient when I noticed a late model Honda Accord practically in my back seat.

As we inched through traffic, the young woman behind me remained too close for comfort. I looked at her in my rear view mirror and it all made sense: she was wearing the most ridiculous sunglasses I’ve ever seen. One look at her shades and I knew she’s clueless. Who would wear huge sunglasses with white rims the size of ski goggles?

“What is with the sunglasses?” I muttered, sounding like a character straight out of Seinfeld.


It felt like the woman’s sunglasses were this big. But they actually were more like the shades below.


The sunglasses provided a welcome distraction for a few minutes. I wondered if any of her friends thought they looked silly too, but were too kind to say anything. We all bite our tongues when someone wears a surprising new pair of shades or glasses, but sometimes it’s impossible to keep quiet.

This happened the other day during lunch with an old friend, who has always worn his signature round wire-rim glasses. He startled me when he put on a pair of retro Clubmaster glasses, which made him look like Truman Capote.

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I wasn’t prepared for my friend’s new Clubmaster frames. Then again he looks good in round wire rims too.

“What are you doing?” I asked, studying his new frames. “Are you trying to be a hipster or something? Where are your old frames?”

My friend was a lot more tolerant than most people would be in that situation. Most people would tell me to buzz off and mind my own business. But glasses and sunglasses say a lot, making an instant statement to the world that we’re dorks, don’t give a damn, want to look cool, hip, sexy, trendy, irreverent or didn’t have time to put on eye makeup.

They’re one of the few things we wear on our face and significantly affect our appearance yet they’re often bought with very little thought or deliberation. We go into stores, try on frames while salespeople peer, and choose something. It’s a little like buying a bathing suit: you want to find something and escape as quickly as possible.

But like many things in life, the frames often look very different when you get them home, making you wonder what you were thinking when you bought them.

The Curmudgeon recently bought new frames for his prescription lenses. I was thinking something classic and sexy along the lines of Tom Selleck’s specs in Blue Bloods, but no. He arrived home with a pair of glasses that are squarish and boring, no better than the smaller square frames he replaced.


I was hoping the Curmudgeon would pick out something like Tom Selleck’s Ralph Lauren frames (above). But he chose a squarish frame. His brother Ted, left, chose a similar frame. The kid in the middle doesn’t wear glasses.

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“Seriously?” I said when he came home with them. “This is what you came up with?”

“I asked you to come with me to the optician and you refused, so this is what you get,” he said. “The woman at the place took one look and said they were me.”

So I have another woman to blame. I should have known. Guys will believe anything a woman other than their wife tells them. This is why so many guys are walking around with ho-hum glasses and bad toupees. They’re listening to women who don’t have a real stake in the game.

I used to wear glasses for distance. On my first newspaper job, I was wearing glasses when one of the Curmudgeon’s friends entered the newsroom and whispered, “Who’s the librarian?”

Yea, I looked like a first class dork. I switched to contact lenses, but am among the small percentage of the population whose distance vision actually got better with age. I don’t need glasses for distance, but am helpless without readers. I’ve got about a half-dozen pairs around the house, though I’m often without them when I need them most.

I never cared much about sunglasses until the early ’80s, when they became a status symbol for me and every other yuppie on the planet. We can credit Tom Cruise for starting the trend. He wore Ray-Ban’s original Wayfarers in the 1983 movie “Risky Business.” I don’t know what was more memorable: Tom dancing around in his skivvies or wearing his mega-cool shades.

He followed them up with classic Ray-Ban Aviators in 1986’s Top Gun. If Cruise isn’t getting a cut of Ray-Ban’s sales action, he should be. The man’s almost single-handedly generated billions of sales with his movie roles.

I bought my first pair of Vuarnet sunglasses – black lenses with black frames –  in the ’80s and wore them as I tooled around in my red Saab 900 with its removable radio (remember those) listening to Tears for Fears and Whitesnake. It was the Reagan area, a time of upward mobility when people judged you by your car, clothes, timepiece and eye gear.


I bought my first pair of Vuarnet sunglasses in the mid-80s. Here, Mick Jagger dons a pair.

I bought my second pair of Vuarnets after I lost the first pair after about two months. When I lost that pair, I stopped wearing expensive sunglasses. I was barely getting by on a reporter’s salary and had no business buying expensive shades, at least during my salad days.

I took the plunge again about 15 years ago, shifting to Ray-Ban Aviators. They’re predictable and unoriginal, but they’re classic and cool. And I was flattered beyond words when a female lifeguard at a pool pulled me aside and said, “I like your sunglasses.”

But I lost that pair and then broke another. I replaced that pair, and broke them again. They are now sitting in my purse, broken and of no use to anyone. I’m now running around with a pair of $15 sunglasses that I bought last summer in London, and a pair of $25 Goodr sunglasses, which are good for running (or jogging or plodding as the case may be.)

But as is the case in Christmas shopping season, it’s often impossible to resist a chance to gift ourselves. This occurred during a stop to the Sunglass Hut to purchase a present for a loved one. As I was about to pay, the saleswoman told me I could save $40 on a second pair.

Well, maybe just a quick look. I asked about Ray-Ban Aviators (will I ever learn?) and the girl scrunched her nose.

“Maybe it’s time for a new look,” she suggested. “Try these.”

I tried on a new pair, and then a second. And then I stumbled across maybe the greatest invention I’ve seen in a long time: a machine that takes your headshot and lets you see what you look like in your sunglasses. The machines, called Smart Shoppers, are located in Sunglass Hut stores. They allow you to try on frames that are not in stores, buy them, and have them directly mailed to you. (I guess they figure you can try on the frames in the store while you’re standing there.)

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The Smart Machine takes a photo of you and then lets you virtually try on frames.

Unlike mirrors, the machine gives you an accurate picture of what you look look like so you’re not walking around like you just got off the ski slope. I’m pretty sure they should be standard equipment for any store selling frames because they make the process easy and fun. You just stand there and tap different frames, even ridiculous ones that make you look like Anna Wintour.

Now, if we could only get a machine for bathing suits.












I shifted to Ray-

11 thoughts on “Shady Characters

  1. 😀I wore contacts for years and switched to glasses last year. When I got a new pair I took my daughter with me and she picked out a pair way out of my comfort zone. But I get complimented on them everywhere, so I guess my daughter is pretty good. The frames that get me are mirror ones, especially as the new fad for non prescription is flat lenses. I was trying to find a picture for my daughters yearbook ad, and those mirror frames are Annoying!


  2. Well. I have worn Ray-Bans (both Wayfarer and Aviators), and Vuarnet. Who knew? I started wearing glasses a few years ago, so I have transition lenses – no more need for sunglasses. The lady at my eye doctor’s office helps me pick out frames, and she’s good. Even my wife approves.


  3. Who’s the librarian?” Ouch.

    I enable the optional vision coverage that’s a part of our health plan every two years. So this coming 2019 will be our year to get new glasses again. I never look forward to it because it’s basically shopping in its strictest definition, and that means trying on nearly every single frame in the store until my wife is satisfied with hers and my final selections. At best it’s a two hour process. I’m already jealous of the Curmodgeon’s outing because I bet he finished in about 40 minutes tops.

    A guy at the gym today was wearing a sleeping mask while on an elliptical. It makes about as much sense as that woman behind you in the car. – Marty


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