Kim Kardashian wears Balenciaga’s high-fashion take on the wraparound sunglasses you’ll find at your local gas station.
They’re still there, if you’re looking for them: a sturdy, affordable pair of sunglasses at your local gas station, usually wraparound with reflective lens, and under $20.
From slogan tees to Uggs, fashion has always loved irony and “gas station sunglasses” are just the latest item to be added to the “so ugly it’s now cool” list. – except now they’re launched by luxury brands like Balenciaga and Prada and worn by celebrities, fashion girls and Gen Z. But let’s not forget their roots and their biggest fans: the tradies, the bogans and dads.
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What you think of when you hear “gas station” or “wraparound” sunglasses depends on your age, location, or level of interest in pop culture and the news.
Kim Kardashian took part in a high-profile one-woman campaign to make her a coveted designer item, wearing various versions of Balenciaga in paparazzi photos, on the red carpet and at the gas station.
On TikTok, the king of oversized and disheveled dadcore, Adam Sandler, has been named.
There are Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sunglasses in Terminator 2: Judgment Day; the Persol Ratti style 58230; is no longer in production. Some may immediately think of Brian Tamaki’s reflective Oakley shades (instantly uncool by default). Others, Ali G and his yellow lens versions.
If you came of age in the 90s or 2000s, images of rave culture, snow or surf may come to mind, with their enveloping futuristic and apocalyptic hues that protect against harsh shine. of the sun. That’s what I thought when I saw young Auckland-based brand Kettle’s 3D printed sunglasses, a stylish take on the wrap-around style.
There’s a royal connection too: Princess Anne, the most elegant royal, in her groovy reflective hues paired with prim, appropriate tweed. Her favorite style – Adidas with a red polarized lens – is definitely sportier than gas station, a pair you’d see on a cyclist, jockey or horsewoman. But you’ll probably find a similar (cheaper) version at your local Z, Mobil or Shell.
Your reference may be closer to home: your uncle, brother-in-law or dad in their favorite pair of Arnette, Dirty Dogs or Locs. For Kiwis and Aussies, there’s the tongue-in-cheek nickname: as seen in The Alternative Commentary Collective’s ‘Speed Dealers’ frames, described as being “previously reserved for middle-aged dads wearing T-shirts Holden”.
To try to understand the true genius of this classic dad accessory, I decided to turn to the most qualified person I know: my dad. He works in security, is a proud Westie-wearing Ford T-shirt (although he now lives in Hawke’s Bay), and currently has two pairs of wrap-around sunglasses in his car and two in his work bag.
“They always have to be black,” he says of sunglasses. “And they must be dark or tinted.”
According to dad, the best pairs are streamlined and should be true wraps; best for trades working outdoors. “It has to be practical first, because you work on it all day – second, it has to look good,” he says.
What about gas stations and those kinds of executives, I ask. Wherever you are in Aotearoa New Zealand, you can walk into a gas station and find at least one pair displayed, usually quite prominently.
The obvious appeal is that they’re cheap, Dad says, but they’re also sturdy and handy to leave in your car as a spare. “You’re just standing there waiting to have your purchase, tempted. A good gas station will have it in sight, and you’ll just have to grab it. Don’t think too much about it.
As for fashion turning packaging into a luxury item, it has no relevance to my intellectualized theory that it’s just designers and celebrities like Kim Kardashian co-opting and cosplaying working-class aesthetics.
Instead, he likens it to today’s musicians going back to old songs and redoing them, with a typically straightforward explanation from Dad: “They’re out of new ideas.”