10 reasons to wear sunglasses

11 July 2017

Image of Lalita Kaplish
Lalita Kaplish

Wellcome Collection is 10 years old this summer. We’re celebrating by sharing some of our favourite things from the collections.

We didn’t set out to collect photos of people wearing sunglasses but turns out we have some great examples in the collections, from fashionable scientists to cultural icons sunglasses can reveal (or conceal) more than a sense of style.

1. Something to hide

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German AIDS public health poster, 1990s. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

This German AIDS poster implies that there may be more than a pair of pretty eyes lurking behind those sunglasses. In the 19th century smoked or coloured lenses were often worn by people with photosensitivity – a symptom of syphilis. Today celebrities and private detectives use dark glasses as a form of disguise, but the early movie stars wore dark glasses to hide tired eyes strained by the constant glare of arc lights.

2. Military models

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War in Egypt: soldiers wearing the new eye protection and head gear, 1884-85. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Colonising armies realised the need for eye protection in hot climates early on, but how do you keep your sunglasses on when your trying to quell a native uprising? The military pioneered active wear sunglasses and continued to set trends with the aviator sunglasses first worn by pilots.

3. Making a statement

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Harry Hawksbee and colleague in rehearsal, 1914. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Seen here in drag is Harry Hawksbee, a music-hall entertainer, rehearsing for a show in a park in Yalding, Kent. Maybe his companion hoped wearing sunglasses would help him stand out next to Hawksbee’s more flamboyant dress?

4. A touch of glamour

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Professor R A Fisher and colleagues on the Queen Mary on the way back from the USA, 1945. Image credit: Glasgow University Archive Services, University of Glasgow / Wellcome Library.

There’s no doubt that Professor Fisher’s companion brings a touch of 1940s film star glamour to this photo of scientists playing shuffleboard on deck.

5. Perennial style

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Harriet Ephrussi-Taylor with her husband and colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor USA, July 1946. Image credit: Glasgow University Archive Services, University of Glasgow / Wellcome Library.

Fashions may change but sunglasses are eternally stylish, as geneticist, mother, lab manager and all round superwoman Harriet Ephrussi-Taylor demonstrates. The fact that she’s French may also have something to do with her sense of style!

6. Staying cool

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Dr M Singer (centre) at a symposium on nucleic acids in Hyderabad, India, 1964. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Dr Singer proves that Sixties sunglasses were smart enough to wear to work but still looked cool in the Indian sun.

7. The perfect accessory

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James Watson, Watson, his secretary Maria Hedges, and Ann Maaloe at a Cold Spring Harbour symposium., 1971. Image credit: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives / Wellcome Library.

What a difference a decade makes! Even in the laid back Seventies, sunglasses were groovy!

8. Holiday essential

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AIDS prevention poster by the AIDS Delegationen, Sweden, ca. 1995. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Nothing says holidays like a pair of sunglasses! This Swedish AIDS prevention poster reminds expat Swedes not to get too relaxed while abroad.

9. Rock star chic

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AIDS public health poster, published by AIDS Prevention, Denver, 1991. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Another AIDS poster using an iconic rock star image to represent the risks of the ‘sex-and-drugs-and-rock’n’roll’ lifestyle.

10. Eye protection

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Patient receiving arc light treatment to the face, photograph in Light Therapeutics; a Practical Manual of Phototherapy for the Student and the Practitioner by John Harvey Kellogg, 1910.
Image credit: Wellcome Library.

OK so not technically sunglasses, but the photo of this man wearing protective goggles for phototherapy was irresistible!

[Thanks to Wellcome Collection User Experience team manager Jennifer Phillips Bacher for sharing some of her favourites.]

Would you like a playful path, a relaxed ramble or a deep dive into Wellcome Collection? Visit us this July and August, and choose your own summer

Image of Lalita Kaplish
Lalita Kaplish
Lalita is a web editor at Wellcome Collection.