Southern Exposure

Is there a cult of sunglasses on the Gulf Coast, a secret society that always shades its meaning and polarizes its detractors behind pricey Costa Del Mars, Ray-Bans and Maui Jims?

Authorities in Lower Alabama have always been loathe to concede the existence of gang activity, but the high-end sunglasses cabal is said to be identifiable not only by the brands it wears (no one sunglasses maker seems to hold total domination), but also by how the sunglasses are worn when not in use.

Some wearers prefer any number of lanyard systems to keep the shades close at hand, while others prop them on top of ball caps or upside down, back-facing on a fishing hat. Gulf Coast anthropologists may soon be able to distinguish, within a 5-mile cone of integrity, exactly which part of Mobile Bay a young sailor first learned to tack or jib, based solely on how they wear and stow their costly eyewear. 

While he stopped short of confirming the existence of a Gulf Coast sunglasses syndicate, McCoy Outdoor Co. buyer Dietrick Trehern did allow that he gets a lot of repeat customers looking for expensive shades. The Spring Hill Avenue outfitter sells all three of the aforementioned brands, with throwback Wayfarers, rimless models and Costa Del Mar 580 lenses being the current hot sellers.

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Very few of the shades go out the door without some way to latch them to the user. “Some of these glasses cost $200 and up, so generally they want some kind of retainer or lanyard. New glasses aren’t getting any cheaper, ” Trehern says.

McCoy Outdoor also offers “Cablz, ” billed as the “next generation in eyeglass retention, ” made with surgical grade stainless steel cable with a black or clear coating. The stiffness of the cable keeps them off your neck.

Students at Bayside Academy in Daphne aren’t allowed to sport sunglasses in class due to uniform rules, according to art teacher Vikki Turner Finch, but the school’s pier, used for marine biology education, does offer an outdoor venue in which to gauge sunglass hierarchy.

“I have noticed when the guys at Bayside spend time outdoors, they do tend to have really good sunglasses, ” she says. “We have so many fishermen and outdoorsy people living on the Bay, doing things on the water. We’re lucky to have that lifestyle. And I think they’re sort of trained to protect their eyes and to keep their sunglasses attached to something. You don’t want those nice Oakleys to fly overboard.”

text by Dave Helms • illustration by Kelan Mercer

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