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Palm Latitudes

Question Mark

March 22, 1992

Dear Mark:

Who invented sunglasses? How did they get so popular? Do Californians buy the most? --Rose-Colored Lenses

Dear Rose:

Ah, where to begin? With Cleopatra gazing at the sun through emeralds and rubies? What about the Eskimos sledding in their whalebone goggles? The American sunglass era probably began with Ben Franklin, according to Mauri Edwards, spokesperson for the Sunglass Assn. of America. In between almanac-writing and the American Revolution, Franklin found time to experiment with tinted glass, noting its agreeable effects on the sun-bleached polity's eyes. But, according to Edwards, it was Hollywood celebrities like Greta Garbo, who wore them to hide revelry-revealing eyestrain, who gave sunglasses their fashion cache. Los Angeles comes in second in annual consumption of premium shades--1.5 million pairs of the fancy, store-bought kind--to the far more overcast Big Apple's 2 million. Still, adding in the 3 million or so of the cheap, Venice Beach stand variety, Angelenos manage to spend around $120 mil a year to look cool. Hardly a risky business.

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