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Visual Cues The Secret Language of Sunglasses

September 03, 2000|DARCY RICE

From their earliest incarnations, sunglasses have been multifunction fashion accessories. Chinese judges in the 13th century even wore smoke-darkened quartz lenses to hide their eyes, lest their reactions give away what they thought of a witness' testimony.

Mostly, though, dark glasses are meant to protect the eyes from the sun's harsh rays. Eye-care experts such as Dr. Charles Manger recommend wearing sunglasses whenever you're outdoors, even on cloudy days. Unfortunately, says Manger, director of Saddleback Eye Center in Laguna Hills, most people choose sunglasses for how they look rather than how they protect.

He recommends polarized lenses that provide 100% protection from both ultraviolet A and B rays, 95% protection from infrared light and 96% protection from blue light. "Paying a lot of money for a pair of sunglasses is no guarantee," warns Manger. Indeed, when tested in his office, not one of the stylish choices described below met all of these requirements.

Expecting fashion-conscious Californians to choose safety over style may be unrealistic, because we wear our sunglasses not only to protect us from the sun's rays, but, like those Chinese judges, to hide our true selves from the inquisitive gaze of others.

But even as we project our carefully crafted images to the world, we are betrayed. For, like many of the fashion choices we make, our selection of shades often reveals more than it conceals.

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1. L.A. Eyeworks "Zody": $275

First Look: Zody offers a sleek modern profile in funky color combinations.

Behind the Lenses: You're not getting older, you're getting hipper. At least that's what you tell yourself in the mirror each morning. You are still reeling from overhearing your work "friends" in the next cubicle sneering at your all-black wardrobe. That knowing, cynical laugh that you worked so hard to perfect is starting to irritate everyone, including you.

Where to Wear Them: Lightly tinted lenses make "Zody" a safe choice for indoor wear during any midweek poetry slam.

2. Chrome Hearts "Shaker": $620

First Look: Handmade in Italy, these oversize black frames are finished with sterling silver adornments in iconic designs.

Behind the Lenses: With each passing year, your hair gets a shade lighter and just a bit bigger, which serves to counterbalance your growing hips. Your smile shows off your recent investment in teeth whitening. The pool boy is starting to look really, really good.

Where to Wear Them: An excellent solution for cutting through the harsh glare from the polished hood of your pearl-white Mercedes.

3. Oakley "Romeo": $275

First Look: The must-have glasses of the moment; literally exploded onto the scene in "Mission: Impossible 2."

Behind the Lenses: You've been living vicariously through Tom Cruise since 1983, when you bought a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers and switched from boxers to briefs (against your mother's advice). Your fantasies make Walter Mitty's look dull. You are secretly dreaming of buying a truck. A really big truck.

Where to Wear Them: Perfect to shield you from any explosive flashes you encounter while saving the free world.

4. Prada "75A": $200

First Look: An oversize rimless style with gradient lenses that drip with '70s irony.

Behind the Lenses: You'd like all this '70s retro nonsense a bit more if you didn't still have the original stuff in your closet--not that you'd ever admit that. There may be yet one more Farrah-do in your future. You wonder if Suzanne Somers is onto something with that ButtMaster of hers.

Where to Wear Them: The near-clear lenses make the 75A fine for alfresco luncheons at that darling little spot with the huge canvas umbrellas.

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