One afternoon three years ago, I had the pleasure of discovering that Nicolas Cage looks exactly like you’d hope he would in real life.
He came into a store I was working at in West Hollywood just after my lunch break. Even from a distance, I could tell it was him. Festooned in black-heeled loafers that click-clacked across the lacquered concrete floor, he wore what I remember to be a gold chain and a patterned man blouse under a blue, pimp-adjacent three-piece suit. The closer he got, the greasier he appeared; his skin, tan and leathery, sported some sort of fake tan, and the undeniable moisture of summer glistened around the perimeter of his receding, jet-black hair.
It was a sight to behold, but the cherry on top of the lopsided Cage cake was his sunglasses. Wrapped around his sizable dome were a pair of oversized and completely opaque aviators, amber-toned and sitting pretty on the bridge of his nose like a barbed-wire fence around a high-security area. Though he wore them as if they were some sort of invisibility cloak protecting him from the public’s prying eyes, they did little to conceal his identity. It was clear to every man, woman and adult child in the store that day that the man standing before them was none other than Academy Award winner and literal National Treasure Nicolas Cage.
To my amazement, he kept them on the entire time. Though he looked like a kook fumbling around in the store’s dim lighting and it would have been so much easier if he’d just taken them off, all I could do was stare at his glasses and think to myself, That is so fucking cool.
Why? Because he was sending a wordless message. Without having to say it — without even having to acknowledge me or the other people in the store — his indoor shades acted as a sort of shitty camouflage; they broadcasted an unsubtle message I truly appreciated getting: “Piss off — I’m shopping!”
God damn it, indoor sunglasses are cool.
Even cooler actually because they’re not supposed to be. If a century’s worth of fashion advice from Hearst-Conde Nast hydra has taught us anything, it’s that sunglasses are not to be worn inside. Despite celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Miles Davis, Roy Orbison and Anna Wintour creating entire brands for themselves out of unquestionably impractical indoor shades, British GQ insists mortals like you “can’t get away with wearing sunglasses indoors.” An older Esquire piece echoes that sentiment, treating the maligned eyewear as an embarrassment wrought from the bad, cocaine-fueled decision-making of the 1980s. Meanwhile, countless Reddit threads roast the humble indoor sunglass wearer, and Twitter seems to have reserved a special place in hell for those who deign to darken their vision inside.
The message here is clear: Unless you’re Stevie Wonder or Morpheus incarnate, you’d better wipe those slick-looking shades off your face the second there’s a ceiling over your head. Otherwise, you risk looking like what BBC journalist Jon Kelly refers to as a “colossal, thundering ninny.” Larry David’s take isn’t nearly as polite: “You know who wears sunglasses inside?” he asks on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. “Blind people and assholes.”
But, why are they assholes?
Sure, indoor sunglasses make people look like they’re trying a little too hard to be Hunter S. Thompson, but is that really an offense worthy of all the vitriol?
Instead, I think people hate indoor sunglasses for a different reason: Because they make people inaccessible.
They always have, in fact. Though they were originally designed as useful accessories to keep the sun’s UV rays from reaching your corneas, they’ve also evolved to keep people from reaching you. Ever since they were popularized as a fashion item of the rich and famous amid the glitz of 1920s Hollywood, they’ve functioned like the partition in a limo, sectioning off their wearer from the rest of the world with an air of impenetrability that says, “Not now, bitch!”
If Cage didn’t want to waft that air, he would have removed his sunglasses when he walked inside. But, like many people both famous and not, he just wasn’t in the mood. He didn’t feel like being available just then — he just wanted to shop ‘til he dropped. Like the “sleep” button on a laptop, his glasses made it clear that he was conscious and would respond if provoked, but unless there was some pressing matter to attend to — stealing the Declaration of Independence, for example — we’d better leave him alone.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s really fucking cool. In a culture where everyone is expected to be online, available and visible at all times, I respect the shit out of a person who lays down a hard boundary when it comes to their private space. Indoor sunglasses do all the heavy lifting in communicating that for you, too. They’re so impractical, so dorky and so good at obscuring your emotions that no words need to be exchanged at all — just one glance at that suspiciously dark facial plastic and anyone who wants to talk might think twice. Bad news if you’re trying to win friends and influence people, but great news if you just want to be part of the scenery without starring in the scene.
Any sunglasses will do the trick. Be it Bad Bunny’s signature micro-frames or a pair of quintessential 1990s Oakleys, any eyewear intended to be worn anywhere but where you are is usually enough to build the partition. I’ve pulled this stunt at bars, restaurants and parties more times than I can count and I can certify that It Works™. Though I’d hardly say I look “cool” doing it — more like I have a migraine — it does make it easy to lurk in peace. My favorite iteration of the sunglass trick, though, is warding off Karens and leering Gregs on the plane. If you’re ever seated next to someone who won’t shut up — pull a pair of sunglasses out of your bag, slide them onto your face and let the blissful silence begin (that is, if air travel even exists in the coming years).
All of this boils down to the effortless cool of understanding whether someone is in “fuck on” or “fuck off” mode without much more than a glance at their eyewear. No one is open for business 100 percent of the time — and trust me, you don’t want to talk to people who earnestly don Ray-Bans to buy Pedialyte at Walmart anyway — but it’s nice to be able to hang a “Back in 10!” sign directly on your face so people know to try again later.
Haters will say it’s rude, but to that I say, don’t we kind of love rude? Has reality TV not rebranded rudeness as “realness,” and has the refrain “I’m just being real with you” not become a justifiable excuse for flinging verbal daggers at a worthy opponent? Hasn’t the millennial thirst for whatever the hell “authenticity” is reoriented the landscape of advertising, workplaces and relationships so much that the uncomfortable honesty of Don’t Talk To Me shades might be seen not as inconsiderate, but as a welcome form of “authentic” nonverbal communication?
All I’m sure of is that in a world obsessed with visibility and whatever the hell “realness” is, indoor shades a la Cage cut through the bullshit with a resounding and authoritative “JUST PRETEND I’M NOT HERE,” and I don’t know what’s realer than that.