Glasses and Fashion

Old frames (left) and new frames (right)

From within a culture, it can be difficult to tell what aspects of that culture are going to look silly in retrospect.  For example, in the 70s, guys really did think their mustaches looked good.  This comes to mind because I finally replaced my five-year-old  glasses and sprang for plastic frames instead of metal.  I like how they look.  Jordan likes how they look.  But will we still like how they looked 20 years from now, or will we go, “That was so 2010?”

Subtlety does seem to be key with eyewear.  My new glasses are not subtle.  Thus, initially I seem to be off to a bad start.  Perhaps my glasses will eventually look as unfortunate as the giant lenses of the 70s and 80s.  Instead of looking simultaneously cute and serious like they do now, they will just make me look really, really dorky.  And not in a cute way.

Not pictured: cuteness.

But Jordan pointed out to me that the situation is not precisely analogous because there have been technological changes in the past thirty years as well as cultural ones.  Back when glasses were actually made of glass, they had to be big and bulky.  There was a limit to how many ways they could look.  Even more important, there were few alternatives to glasses a few decades ago.  Contact lenses were still in relatively low use; laser surgery would not be on the market until 1991.  Myopics at the time couldn’t choose not to wear glasses, so glasses functioned as a necessity, perhaps a necessary evil, rather than a fashion statement.  You were forced to look dorky because there wasn’t another option.

Not too many ways to make these look good.

Now, glasses wearers have a choice.  Jordan says that, during the late 90s, young people rarely wore glasses.  There was a lot of social pressure to wear contacts instead.  I don’t remember that, but then, I’m usually unconscious to social pressure.  Anyway, today people wear glasses out of personal preference, and a large element of personal preference is appearance.  Glasses have to look good now or people wouldn’t wear them; with modern materials, glasses can be frameless and subtle or thick-framed and prominent.  If they’re prominent, it’s because someone thought they looked good that way.

Technical limitations don’t explain everything.  The clothing of the 70s and 80s can’t be excused that way; cultural changes will always make things from the past look funny.  Nevertheless, I think that glasses’ new role as an accessory, rather than a necessity, means that my new frames probably are legitimately cute and will continue to look that way.


The first picture is mine; the others are from Wikimedia Commons.


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