Many of the world’s most famous musicians are defined by an iconic look. Think The Beatles with their moptops or KISS with their black-and-white makeup. Having a signature look matters because it helps visual artistic expression and elevates an artist’s brand.
From Roy Orbison to Bob Dylan to Elton John, sunglasses are a timeless piece that many associate with musicians. Interestingly, there are several fascinating motives behind this fashion choice. Curious about why sunglasses are such a staple in music? Here are a few reasons why artists wear them.
One of the most straightforward reasons artists may wear sunglasses is to cater to their health. Take Bono: the iconic U2 front-man has shared his struggles with glaucoma, a group of eye conditions that can cause vision loss and blindness because of damaged optic nerves. In Bono’s case, light sensitivity can cause his eyes to swell up and develop redness.
Fortunately, eye-wear retailer LensCrafters notes that the best men’s sunglasses offer 100% protection against UVA and UVB rays. This feature guards the eyes from overexposure to the damage they can cause through conditions like cataracts and photo-keratitis. For those with glaucoma, sunglasses can offer critical protection against sunlight. Particularly for Bono, it also provides a barrier against occupational hazards like harsh stage lights and camera flashes.
Because rockstars are commonly known for their commanding stage presence, you may be surprised to find out that Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash wears sunnies to create a barrier between him and the audience. He rarely looks at the crowd as it makes him very uncomfortable. Instead, he prefers to be absorbed in his own world, playing away on the guitar behind the comfort of his sunglasses.
Scientists may have an explanation for this. Researchers from the University of British Columbia explain that wearing sunglasses allows an individual to hide where they are looking. That means they can gather information about their environment in social situations without having to conform to societal norms. This is applicable to Slash, too. Donning Ray-Bans with iconic frames and dark-tinted lenses, he doesn’t have to focus on communicating with fans. Instead, he can focus solely on playing, elevating his comfort — and overall performance — onstage.
For some artists, sunglasses can also be a clever tool to appear more professional. This is the case with Spoon’s lead singer, Britt Daniel. Although a member of what’s considered one of the most successful indie rock bands of the 2000s, Britt used to be on the receiving end of his band-mates’ teasing for wearing sunglasses in the dark when they were just starting out. Today, shades are a staple for him — and he now has a practical reason for wearing them onstage: he doesn’t want the audience to see how much he looks at his hands when playing the guitar.
Although Britt exudes much greater confidence now, using dark-tinted glasses did enhance his subtlety. Frequently wearing sunglasses reminiscent of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s Ray-Ban Wayfarers, Britt can conceal where his eyes are focused during a performance. So beyond elevating his style, it also helped him present a more confident image as the band’s front-man.
Despite having been a music industry staple for decades, wearing sunglasses as an accessory doesn’t seem to be going out of fashion any time soon. Whether for health, comfort, or subtlety, these musicians have exemplified how sunglasses can become an iconic feature of their image.