The classic fashion item of dictators: Sunglasses

The Dictator, 2012 (Image taken from IMDb)

When talking about the outfits of dictators, what come in one’s mind might be Hitler’s mustache, the fluffy hair style of Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il and the most popular item – sunglasses. Many dictators are fans of sunglasses in public; the comedy “The Dictator” starring Sache Baron Cohen strengthened this stereotyped image. However, why do those dictators always wear sunglasses?

Sunglasses protect eyes from UV rays of sunlight and are also a kind of trendy accessories. Nonetheless, chasing the fashion might not be the top choice of dictators.

The origin of sunglasses can be traced back to 12th century in China, but only law enforcement officers wear them for shading eyes while listening to the confession in order to hide their expressions and maintain a fair public image.

In the 18th and the 19th century in the U.K., the men of middle class well dressed were fond of hand-held single lens sunglasses which helped them to hide their emotions. The historian Vanessa Brown explained in her book Cool Shades, which analyzes the history of sunglasses, that the men at that time used this glass to show their calm and seriousness.

FILE – In this Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009 file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gestures with a green cane as he takes his seat behind bulletproof glass for a military parade in Green Square, Tripoli, Libya. President Trump and his hawkish national security adviser have both referenced the Libya model ahead of the much-vaunted summit with North Korea’s Kim Jun Un, but what is the context?(AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

According to a study released on the Psychological Science in 2010, the function of sunglasses to hide emotions impacts on wearers’ behaviors. The researchers from University of Toronto found out that the pedestrians with sunglasses have less chance to donate to beggars on the street, and the study indicated that the function of sunglasses to hide the identity and expressions encourages immoral behaviors in another way.

The researchers believe that’s the reason why those dictators wear sunglasses. Sunglasses help to hide emotions and gaze in front of the public, preventing people from having an insight into their thoughts and keeping dictators as a unreachable status.

In addition to Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, who stepped down last year because of a coup, was known for having a variety of wire-rimmed glasses and sunglasses. The Russian president Putin, who has been criticized for becoming increasingly dictatorial, has worn sunglasses in public events for many times.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, center, arrives for the country’s 34th annual independence celebrations at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Friday, April, 18, 2014. Zimbabwe attained its independence on April 18, 1980 after a prolonged rule by the British Government. Thousands of people thronged the stadium in the capital to celebrate 34 years of independence.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
In this photo taken on Saturday, July 20, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin fishes during a mini-break in the Siberian Tyva region (also referred to as Tuva), Russia. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

On contrast, in countries with a more complete democratic political system, leaders are generally less likely to wear sunglasses in public. The PR consultant Parker Geiger explained during the interview with BBC: “If there is no eye contact, how can you build mutual trust? ‘The eyes are the soul’s window.’ Sunglasses are a barrier between the leader and the public. If I can’t see your soul, how can I trust you?”

However, the function of sunglasses to hide emotions and gaze is particularly beneficial for some professions. For instance, for policemen, body guards and agents, sunglasses help them observe the surrounding environment anytime, and hide their fear.

The role of sunglasses is indeed not limited to eye protection. They can be used as a tool for hiding identity and emotions, and become one of symbols of dictatorship.

FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, Los Angeles Police Sgt. Daniel Gomez demonstrates a video feed from his camera into his cellphone during a on-body camera demonstration for the media, in Los Angeles. Officers in one of every six departments around the country are now patrolling with these tiny cameras on their chests, lapels or sunglasses, and that number is growing. Most civil libertarians support their expansion despite concerns about the development of policies governing their use and their impact on privacy. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes,File)