FASHION

HOW ELTON JOHN, HIP-HOP, AND LUXURY FASHION MADE CAMPY SUNGLASSES GREAT

JULY 15, 2020

WORDS

by KRISTOPHER FRASER

PHOTOGRAPHY

COURTESY of 

VARIOUS BRANDS

“I say, I wear my sunglasses at night,” the immortal words of musician Corey Hart. Sunglasses are one of the world’s most common accessories. The most common types we see are aviators, square-shaped, and round-shaped. Like many fashion accessories, sunglasses have gone through many iterations from the most paired down neutral colored pairs at your local dollar store to the bedazzled designer pairs at your finest department stores and fashion boutiques.

The sunglass style having a moment though is one all its own: the campy sunglasses. Before we delve into the popularity of campy sunglasses lets revisit what camp means, although some of you might recall from the 2019 theme of the Met Gala. Camp can be defined as an aesthetic style that is described as appealing because of its over the top or ironic value. There’s often a hefty dose of flamboyance to camp as well, just think of any John Watters film or any episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Campy sunglasses aren’t anything new, however. To rewind the hands of time to the origins of this particularly popular style of sunglasses, let there be an introduction to a little-known musician who goes by the name of Elton John. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He’s only one a few awards such as a Tony, Emmy, Grammy, and Academy Award. He’s also sold more than 300 million records worldwide, just the little things.

Elton John is easily recognized as a fashion icon, and part of his signature style is his sunglasses. Elton has been rocking his flamboyant sunglasses for decades. In the late 1960s when he first came onto the music scene, his style was more subdued but still ahead of the curve. His square-famed and round-frame sunglasses were often paired with patterned shirts in cheetah print or star patterns.

Dapper Dan

Anderson. Paak

As he began his meteoric rise to stardom Elton’s style got a lot more edgy. His sunglasses were much more statement making coming in bright oranges and pinks and being bedazzled with crystals. These paired well with the penchant he developed for large pin stripe suits and over the top shoulder pads that would even include epaulets and feathers.

Elton’s style would be characterized by his signature sunglasses throughout the eighties and nineties, but by the eighties Elton wasn’t the only one known for opulent making style. Hip-hop was on the rise, which brought in an entire new set of musicians to the forefront of fashion. In the eighties, acclaimed fashion designer Dapper Dan opened his first boutique in Harlem, and he became a go-to for many Black celebrities in the fashion industry.

Dapper Dan’s early clients were inspired by the opulent fashion stylings of people like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. While Dapper Dan would become famous for his looks styling notable acts including LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, and Mike Tyson, he also became famous for his signature look of a well-tailored sometimes colorful suit and his statement making sunglasses. In the early nineties, Dapper Dan’s first store would shut down for good, but in the 2010s he would find an entirely new audience thanks to Gucci.