I recently came to the realization that my sunglasses habits may be considered rude (something I should have investigated sooner). Since I like to consider myself a polite person, this didn't sit well with me. After years of living in sunny L.A., I'm afraid I'd gotten into the habit of wearing sunglasses so much that I often didn't even realize I was still wearing my sunglasses inside, and this has regrettably carried over into my current city of residence.
Allow me to provide you with a few examples (which I'm not proud of). While running errands, I frequently have entire interactions with people indoors without taking my sunglasses off. And another: I've met people for coffee or lunch (again, inside) without taking my sunglasses off for a good five minutes or so into the conversation. Eek, right?
Since I'm not Anna Wintour and probably shouldn't be allowed to get away with this, I reached out to someone who could help me with my sunglass intervention: Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, the author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. Below, read my very informative Q&A with Gottsman, and shop tasteful sunglasses to wear in the non-rude situations she recommends.
Can you name a few common situations in which wearing sunglasses is considered rude?
Anytime you are meeting someone in public, such as inside a home, a retail store, an office building, a lunch or an office meeting, or a restaurant, you should give the person across from you your undivided attention and respect by taking your shades off. Wearing sunglasses sends the message you are distracted, possibly sick, in a rush, or looking around for better guest options. Of course, occasions such as funerals and weddings are also a time to keep your sunglasses in your purse.
If you're just making a quick stop during daylight hours (but still speaking to someone indoors, e.g., a pharmacist or gas station attendant), should you take your sunglasses off?
Yes and no. When engaging in conversation with another person, make the extra effort to take your sunglasses off. If you go into a building or store and talk to the pharmacist, yes, take them off. If you are getting gas at a full-service gas station, it would be understandable to leave your sunglasses on because you’re outside in route. If you are pumping your own gas and someone speaks to you at the next pump, you can leave them on unless it becomes a lengthy conversation about something serious. Also, on a beach in your swimsuit, or when talking to someone at an outdoor picnic, you can keep your sunglasses on.
What should you do when you're at a business lunch and are seated outside?
When at all possible, keep your sunglasses off because your sunglasses are acting as a barrier, unless the sun is so blindingly bright, and everyone has their sunglasses on at an outdoor table. Which of course would be rare because as a good host, you pick a table where your guests will be most comfortable.
What about outdoor weddings taking place during broad daylight?
The bride and groom don’t want to see their wedding photos with you wearing sunglasses in the pictures. The general rule is you should take your sunglasses off, however, if the event is not planned well and there is absolutely no shade from the blinding sun, do what you have to do to protect your eyes. Sunglasses at a social celebration and something as special as the wedding are frowned upon. The bride and groom should have ample coverage outside so you will not need to shield your eyes.
If you're walking outside and run into someone you know, should you take off your sunglasses while greeting them?
Final thoughts from Gottsman:
Make sure your shades reflect your professionalism. Bright purple frames may be great with summer shorts and flip-flops, but not with your work attire. The same holds true for the sports glasses you wear when riding a bike or racing your sports car around the track. Stick with a pair of classic frames during the workday.
Don’t use sunglasses as a hair accessory. If you are running into the grocery store or taking care of a quick errand, a quick swoosh of your sunglasses up to the top of your head is fast and easy. Any other time, remove and store them in a safe place so they’re protected and out of sight. When in doubt, take them off.
The bottom line: Unless you are driving, working in the yard, lounging on the beach, or doing something in the sun, professionally, you’re creating a barrier between yourself and those around you. In conversation, people won’t be as easily able to listen to what you’re saying. Instead, they will wonder what your eyes are doing, what you’re really thinking about, what you are hiding—or perhaps what rock band you’re in.
Now you're an expert in sunglass etiquette just in time for summer.