A history of eyewear part 2: birth control and monocle-rocking

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So A History of Eyewear Part 1 went live last week! It focussed (‘scuse the pun!) on how optics developed from reading stones (hehe) to reading glasses.

Function to Fashion

But have you ever wondered how glasses evolved from a medical device – a necessity of sight for some people – to a coveted fashion accessory (with an added bonus of vision)? This quaint 1950s opticians video shows the huge range of styles available in that area.

As late as the 1930s, glasses were described as ‘medical appliances’. Well hey, they still technically are when claiming on your private health insurance (remember you can claim for your SD glasses).

FUN FACT: GI glasses issued by the American military are often nicknamed BCGs, short for ‘birth control glasses’. Due to their unstylish appearance, it is said to be impossible to attract the opposite sex wearing these.

But (thankfully) glasses have moved on from the stereotypical nerd-fest or poor-eyesight-humiliation to a firm staple in the fashion arena.

But how did spectacles attain the kind of street cred that SD rocks today?

Arm or Leg-less

Arms (or ‘temples’) weren’t always an essential part of glasses. Ye olde films oft rock the monocle (a single lens worn in one eye) and were an upper-class status symbol of the 19th-century gentlemen. But these days a one-eyed-morning-coat-and-top-hat-wearer does not a classy gentleman make nowadays – more like ‘squinty Monopoly man’!

In the early 20th century, after monocles went out of fashion, they were adopted by ‘stylish lesbian circles’ (I’m citing Wikipedia here) as distinguishing attire. At least the LGBT community of today can breathe a sigh of relief that they can now enjoy binocular vision!

Next came the ‘pince-nez’ which, as the name suggests, were armless ‘nose pinchers’ supported by the bridge alone. They reached peak popularity in the late 1800s (except for Professor Tofty who wore them in Harry Potter!). Because they were uncomfortable to wear (sounds like it), they were often accompanied by a chain, tied to the lapel, brooch, an earmount or hairpin.

No sight for sore eyes

Rimless glasses (AKA Steve Jobs or Sarah Palin glasses) were popular from the 1880s until the 1960s, and have re-emerged of late. After Steve Jobs passed away, the manufacturer of his glasses was forced to put prospective customers on a three-month waiting list!

Rimless emerged from a desire to keep glasses inconspicuous: at the time, eyeglasses were not considered an acceptable fashion statement and carried connotations of being elderly or a member of the clery (who, historically, made up a large part of the literate social classes). So rimless are great if you don’t like glasses. Pity, because here at SD we LOVE glasses!

The fashion world takes a bite

Thankfully, in the 1950s, it all became about creating a statement. Glasses were eccentric, colourful and bold and fashion houses began to beautify faces with fantastical frames. The styles have changed from horn-rim to bug-eye to cat-eye (anyone else feeling the animalia-theme?) but the material (acetate and metal) has stayed as functional as ever. Nowadays some sportier companies like Ray-Ban and Oakley chuck a carbon-this and a titanium-that into their frame designs.

At SD we’ve been introducing some gorgeous wooden frames and we’re all about colour and style, so jump on in and pick your favourite horn-rim or cat-eye and make a spec-tacular splash!

Thanks to Mike Licht for the Flickr image.

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