The history of eyewear in fashion

Specs, glasses, readers – whatever they’re known as in your house, so many of us have them. Tucked into handbags, desk drawers, bedside tables, centre consoles in the car, we often have more than a few pairs to go with different outfits, different moods and different occasions. Which got us thinking – just how did our eyewear turn into one of our best loved fashion accessories? 

Of course, when they first came along, spectacles were purely an aid to improve vision but soon became available in different materials, such as brass, gold, silver, bone and horn to appeal to different tastes. As they were primarily used by scholars and the wealthy, they soon became status symbols and dainty hand-held eye-glasses became popular with their undoubtable elegance. The Lorgnette – folded glasses which were held to the eyes by a handle, were hugely fashionable for ladies in the 18thand 19thcenturies, whereas the monocle proved more favourable for the distinguished gentleman. The pince-nez, which consisted of two small lenses held together by a small bridge across the nose were worn by both sexes and held popularity until the early twentieth century – Chekhov and Theodore Roosevelt being particular fans of these until spectacles became acceptable once again. 

Perhaps one of the first well known spectacle wearers around that time was the film star Harold Lloyd, who was instantly recognisable in his choice of horn-rimmed glasses. Moving into the 1930’s prior to WWII, glasses were available in a variety of materials to attract the fashion conscious. 

Harold Lloyd

By the 1950’s pop stars such as Buddy Holly were known for wearing heavy frames, which remained popular into the 1960’s. At this time, people were becoming increasingly fashion conscious with mainstream media and TV showcasing the latest fashion trends. The main trends by this point were largely the same styles and shapes but all this was about to change.

The perhaps predictable styles of the sixties and earlier were suddenly pushed aside, with designers and celebrities in popular culture embracing this change. John Lennon, who is still after all these years, instantly recognisable by his small circular frames morphed into a brand new style icon and, coming into the 1970’s, it almost seemed as though the fashion rulebook for glasses had been thrown out entirely, giving way to some truly memorable styles, with designers such as Halston and Yves Saint Laurent paving the way. 

John Lennon’s iconic look

Take, for instance, a spectacle wearer that is instantly recognisable to most generations – Elton John, the Rocket Man himself, who once claimed he owned over 250,000 pairs! (We can only imagine the luggage needed for these on tour!) From glasses adorned with feathers, surrounded with diamonds to one of a kind handmade pieces, he is said to have chosen his theatrical glasses, alongside his choice of outfits and wigs, attributing this to a way to rebel against his once restrictive childhood. His flamboyant eyewear has literally seen him throughout his career.

Throughout the late seventies and continuing into the eighties, those of us who can remember it can look back (we would say fondly, but that can be subjective!) on styles that encompassed big hair and big glasses to match. From Timmy Mallet in the days of Wacaday to Biggins, the iconic styles of the Two Ronnies and snooker player Dennis Taylor to name just a few, the style rules for glasses seemed to be the bigger the better. Thankfully, towards the late eighties, Tom Cruise brought a whole new style back into the fashion hungry decade with the classic Aviator style of sunglasses, which then made its way into daily eyewear and is still incredibly popular today.

The famous aviator style of frames


From the nineties onwards, we saw the reintroduction of smaller frames and history repeating itself via the circular style that John Lennon made popular in the sixties and seventies. Designer glasses were out in force with styles that are now all back in favour, bringing fashion back around once more. 

Nowadays, we see eyewear becoming more fashion led than ever. With the trend of wearing glasses with no prescription and simply as a fashion accessory, us bespectacled folk are no longer in the minority but proudly wearing perhaps the latest fashions, or our favourites from decades gone by and having a few pairs tucked away.

For “almost” as many styles as Elton (and yes, we have the sparkly ones if that’s your thing!) why not pop in and see us, we have a huge range which are sure to cover any look you’re going for! 

Elton inspired frames by Gucci
5th April 2019 Uncategorised
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