Eyeglasses have come a long way. What once started as a necessity for many people is now a fashion accessory on its own. Today, glasses aren’t the only option for those who need a visual boost. With contact lenses and corrective surgery, fashionistas of today have a lot of options about what they rock on their face — if they rock anything at all.
Thanks to technology, it’s now possible to buy glasses and contact lenses online. With so many options, you have to wonder where it all started. How did eyeglasses come to be the statement they are today? Let’s explore the brief history of this practical solution turned fashion statement.
Early History: The Middle Ages
We didn’t start to see eyeglasses until the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, English friar Roger Bacon outlined the principles behind the use of corrective lenses. By the late 1200s, the first pair took the form of two magnifying lenses with the handles connected together. Of course, these didn’t balance naturally on the face like our pairs do today. They had to be held in front of the eyes.
These glasses were primarily used by monks and scholars. Not only were they incredibly expensive at this time, but they just weren’t yet practical for everyday use. They were mainly used for reading, but the public didn’t begin to widely read until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.
Once reading became more common, there was a larger demand for these spectacles. By the 17th century, production methods had come a long way to make these more affordable for all classes of people. However, this backfired since the wealthy no longer saw eyeglasses as a way to distinguish themselves from the lower class, so this is what brought the monocle into fashion.
The smaller, single-lense glass was more elegant than eyeglasses, and it let the wealthy show their status with their eyewear. Perhaps this is the first time in history we’ve seen eyeglasses as a type of fashion!
Change in Fashion: 18th & 19th Century
Steel frames became more common in the 18th century. Now, the design had been improved so these glasses could be worn comfortably over the ear. However, by the 19th century, these glasses still weren’t the height of fashion. While the monocle continued to go in and out of style, it was never popular for both men and women.
Eyeglasses finally hit high fashion in the 1880s with a style known as pince-nez. These were two small oval lenses attached with a nosepiece arrangement to keep them in place. They were usually attached to a man’s vest or a woman’s dress with cord or ribbon. They were seen as so stylish that many ladies of the day wore them just for the appearance alone.
Modern Glasses: 20th Century & Beyond
Thanks to the success of the pince-nez eyewear, a new era of glasses took hold of the world. Thicker rimmed spectacles gained popularity, and they were started to be seen as dignified and lending an air of wisdom to the wearer. Glasses started to even be designed just for women starting in the 1930s. Finally, eyewear was about fashion and function, not just function.
By the 1940s, you could find glasses in a variety of frames and colors. The cat-eye shape came into fashion after World War II, and this has made an impact on women’s fashion forever. Women were even starting to write their own prescriptions for fun glasses since they wanted in on the trend.
Before we knew it, big-name fashion designers were creating their own eyewear lines, and you should see glasses on the biggest celebrities out there. Today, eyewear has more form and function than ever. We can still see the lasting effects of this history in our styles today. It’s amazing how many of our fashion trends can be traced back centuries.