The Curious Case of Sunglasses as a Disguise

“Ross the Beer Thief” and the Curious Case of Sunglasses as an Effective Disguise

Recently, the internet collectively cracked up when a story from the UK became viral. British police were looking for an unidentified thief. The suspect was caught in the act by CCTV at a restaurant. No big deal, right? Nah. The big deal about this is that the man bears an uncanny resemblance to the character Ross Gellar (played by David Schwimmer) from the iconic 90s show Friends.

This Ross doppelganger subsequently inspired a ton of Friends jokes on social media. Avid fans of the show were hit with the nostalgia bomb, and even Schwimmer himself joined in on the fun. His Instagram post jokingly recreates the CCTV footage of the man carrying the beer crate, with a caption saying, “Officers, I swear it wasn’t me.”

Ross, how far have you fallen. You should’ve known better than to try this without a disguise!

Kidding aside, a quick disclaimer: this post neither condones theft and any other criminal activity nor advocate the use of disguises to perpetrate said crimes. Though it does present an interesting idea.

When talking about disguises, people often think of obvious things like masks and wigs. But not a lot of people talk about sunglasses (or just about any type of eyewear). Picture this: there is at least one person you know who’s worn glasses all their life and was rarely seen without them. And as soon they take it off, they suddenly seem to look ‘weird’ and unfamiliar.

The truth is that eyewear DOES change the way you look. And by this, we mean A LOT. (Cue Clark Kent’s magical glasses that make him utterly unrecognisable as Superman). This specific instance is goofily stretching the concept out, but there is a science behind it all.

Dr Neil Handley,  a curator for the British Optical Association Museum, puts it like this. “If the eyes are the window into somebody’s soul, glass wearers are putting an obstruction in the way.” This simple analogy may be a bit too simple, but it helps make the concept understandable. And all of this links back to how important first impressions are.

People who see glass-wearers for the first time automatically formulate stereotypes. It’s inevitable. They’re seen as either smart, trustworthy, or even conservative—every imaginable stereotype, ever. A lot of people actually believe in these stereotypes. But keep in mind that glasses obstruct several of our face's most essential features. This includes the eyes (duh), cheekbones, frown and laugh lines, and even the top half of the nose in some cases. The ‘obstruction’, as Dr Handley puts it, can definitely mess with your brain.

Take, for example, rimless glasses. According to a study by the University of Vienna in Austria, they can make people look more trustworthy but less memorable. Let’s put on our tinfoil hats here and think: if they are perceived to have such qualities, they can be perfect spies. Like agents for the CIA, MI6, or some other super-secret spy networks. These people can reel you in, get your trust, do their stuff, and leave without you even knowing or remembering who they really are. You wanna be a spy? Include rimless glasses in your “disguise closet.”

As for full-rim glasses, these things ‘cover’ almost everything. They also draw way more attention to your eyes and the upper part of your face. In turn, they make a face more distinctive and establish something like a new ‘aura.’ Here’s an example: almost everyone can instantly look cool, intimidating, and confident if they wear full-rim, black sunglasses. They look like they’re saying, “I can buy you, your friends, and this club!” Couple that with a fabulous OOTD, and the image is even stronger. They also tend to feel more confident and secure, though not everyone.

Another thing about full rim glasses: they are effective enough to make anyone, even a royal, unnoticeable. Here's a photo of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (formerly known as the American actress Meghan Markle) walking the streets of Toronto incognito. Her getup is reminiscent of how Hollywood A-listers dress up when they want to walk around in public unnoticed. It's quite surprising how effective a relatively simple disguise is. If you see someone high profile looking like this out in the open, you won't likely notice until you do a double-take.

TLDR, sunglasses CAN change the way you look AND think almost instantly. They are medical devices, sure, but no one can deny the effect they can have on people’s perceptions of one another. And this, in turn, can affect every social interaction in any way imaginable. Whether you want to go incognito or flaunt to a certain extent, sunglasses should be a wardrobe staple.