The First Sunglasses Were Meant To Make You Look Like An Emotionless Slab

The First Sunglasses Were Meant To Make You Look Like An Emotionless Slab

Forget the conventional wisdom that sunglasses are to “protect your eyes” — sometimes, we also use them to seem cool, detached, and to protect our emotions from being visible to the average Joe. If you go back far enough in history, you’ll learn sunglasses originated in China for this reason.

Ancient Chinese judges routinely wore smoke-colored quartz lenses to seem emotionally detached from topics in the courts. The shape was crude, as also was the tint, but the quartz did serve to block out the light from the sun, but they also had a functional use for interrogating witnesses. By covering the most expressive parts of themselves, jurors could seem impartial, hearkening back to the image of the justice as a blindfolded woman carrying scales. 

Another prominent way they used sunglasses was to conduct civil service examinations (think traffic stops, but for one’s place in society). Civil service examinations could determine an individual's job and status in society, so judges wore sunglasses to appear even more aloof and unapproachable. Did they block your eyes from harmful UV rays? No. But this veil of indifference certainly served its purpose, and to this day is part of a culture that enforces their use for anyone who needs sunglasses to seem stoic in the most tactical of ways.

Cops, bodyguards, bouncers, agents, and celebrities all use sunglasses to keep information about themselves to a psychological limit. Sunglasses conceal a range of emotions, good or bad. Around 1430, vision-correcting eyeglasses were introduced into Italy via the Chinese, albeit still just as dark as their earlier non-corrective cousins. After that, glasses were tinted with different colors depending on physical conditions that people struggled with. Some clients had lenses tinted yellow-amber and brown to combat syphilis in the 19th and early 20th century, as one of the symptoms of the disease was sensitivity to light. English optician James Ayscough also proposed people could improve their vision by changing the color of the lenses to a blue/green tint.

By the early 20th century, the use of sunglasses had become more widespread for Hollywood stars because they could shield their eyes from the bright studio lights. But we can’t forget… the real reason people really like sunglasses, especially indoors, is because of the effect of distancing (of vulnerability) from others. For example, a 2010 study published in Psychological Science found a correlation between feeling more mysterious while wearing sunglasses and doing more “shady” things, such as giving less money to a stranger because of a sense of anonymity. Professional poker players, such as Ashley Adams, have also described wearing dark sunglasses indoors to obscure the focus of their own eyes.

Really makes you realize that regardless of all this jargon of how health-conscious you must be to wear sunglasses, let’s be honest. You’re buying them because of how they make you look, not just how they make you feel (physically).

Top Image: Universal Pictures 

You can find Crystal Duan at,, and on Twitter and Instagram @crystalxduan


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