THE SUNSET STRIP, HOLLYWOOD. 1961.
I'm walking west past a building housing a detective agency, on my way to Garfield park. I'm wearing tight blue jeans, white tennis shoes and a turquoise shirt and carrying my spanish guitar in its pasteboard case. I'm the ultimate twenty-something beatnik. I am wearing my shades. Some kids roll by in a '58 Impala with the roof down. "Hey," yells one of them, "dig that crazy cat!" I'm so cool I don't even turn around.
While it is not quite true that kids in California are born with sunglasses, they do tend to acquire them about the same time they graduate from booties to shoes that have a rubber grip. Shades are like umbrellas: specific to certain exterior conditions (your occasional nighttime shade-wearing aside), they go from being essential to being sort of in the way.
There are hundreds and hundreds–maybe thousands–of different kinds of shades at any time in America, in emporiums from the Price Club to Bijan. Sunglass specialists sort them according to lens type, lens colour, light transmittance, frame type, frame color, temple size, lens size and intended use–you want different ones for sailing, than for driving your Rolls or for walking on Sunset Strip at night. Some are durable classics–"aviator" glasses, for instance have wire frames and lenses shaped like slightly lopsided pears, and Ray-Ban's famous Wayfarers with their '50s-look molded black plastic frames and half-orb lenses, are so emblematic of Southern California beach life that Don Henley sang about them as a veritable icon of summer and they also made Tom Cruise into a movie-star in Risky Business.
Sunglasses are about image, of course, so it's hardly surprising what shades are called seems to have become important. The people who buy Revo's Napa glasses or Ray-Ban's Bohemians, for instance, probably shouldn't be caught dead purchasing Ray-Ban's Predator 1s or Predator 2s, the Killer Loop brand's Xtreme Pros or Reebok's Schwarzeneggerian-sounding Nazi models, the Eliminator and the Intimidator, and vice versa.
The very fact that Reebok, best-known for athletic shoes, even makes or lends its logo to sunglasses bespeaks another sunglass phenomenon: they now carry names of fashion designers from Saint Laurent to Armani but also of expensive stuff that the vast majority of sunglass wearers may never afford. If you want to own a Porsche, a Hobie or a Harley you can do it with shades. They may not be cars or surfboards or motorcycles, but–hey–they're cool.