From Nero to Posh, a long love affair with sunnies

Victoria Beckham’s image is defined by her bug-eyes – you almost forget they’re the effect of enormous pieces of plastic and not simply part of her anatomy. Shades have become such a hallmark of where you stand on the trend spectrum that it’s easy to forget that they have a purpose, and that is to protect eyes against ultraviolet radiation (UV).

They’re interesting, shades. Why are they so irresistable to anyone with pretentions of trendiness? Whereas there is a lot of leeway with other accessories: belts, bags, shoes (even I own some shockers), I wouldn’t be seen dead in certain sunglasses shapes. Anything small or narrow, for example.

The precursors to modern shades were all about effect. It’s said that the Roman emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights through emeralds, to create a mirror effect. Shades made from flat planes of smokey quartz were used in China in the 12th century to help protect the eyes from glare: and they must have looked pretty radical. The Inuits, with snow-blindness to worry about, had a particularly fetching answer to the sun: great wads of thick wood with slits, to cut down on exposure. They look a bit like frog eyes, and weighed a good deal.

In the middle of the 18th century, tinted specs began to be used to correct sight issues – but they were still not about either sun protection or in any way connected with looking cool.

It was in the 19th century, with the dawn of the film star, that sunnies began to be associated so blatantly with fashion. After all, what can be cooler than needing to hide your eyes so that people can’t recognise you? The arc lamps used in filming could also give actors red eyes, another reason to hide them.

Inexpensive sunglasses were massproduced for the first time in 1929, and sold on the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey. By the time I came of age, the kids (and I mean kids) were wearing little round John Lennon-style specs with multi-colour mirrors, or those Oakley style wraparound horrors (of which a nice version is featured above). My first fashion sunglasses, by which I mean expensive, were a pair of thin tinted blue Chanels – along with every other girl my age (I was 16, it was 1998), that little CC at the temples was of paramount importance. A month’s savings’ worth, in fact. Now I’m an aviator girl, and shun a visible logo. How far the world has come.