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How Did Glasses Become a Fashion Statement?

Originally created to correct eyesight issues, glasses are increasingly described as being a fashion accessory. But just how did glasses shift from being functional to fashionable?

Eyesight issues are common throughout the world. Short-sightedness is one of the most prevalent eyesight ailments, but people also suffer from long-sightedness, partial blindness and other eye diseases. In many of these cases, vision can often be significantly improved with glasses.

In recent decades, there has been explosion in the numbers of people wearing glasses. Although sight issues are increasing within the population, this isn’t the only reason why people are wearing glasses. Even with contact lenses or corrective surgery being a possibility for many people, lots of individuals are choosing glasses for fashion and stylistic reasons. Indeed, it seems that many people would prefer to have a pair of Gucci eyeglasses over making their eye issues invisible through contact lenses.

Here’s a closer look at how the world got to this place of glasses being regarded as high fashion.

Helping the World to See

The origin of glasses goes back far longer than many people think. The concept of a lens helping to magnify an image was first described by Ptolemy, who lived between 100 and 170 AD, in his works called Optics. It was in the 1200s that the first eyeglasses were created, most probably in Pisa in Italy. The craft of making eyeglasses subsequently took off in Venice. Nearby Murano was well known for making incredibly high-quality glass, and Venice was gaining a reputation for being a center of manufacturing. A Venetian guild of spectacle makers was even founded in 1320.

The first visual confirmation that glasses were being widely used in societies hundreds of years ago comes from the art world. A portrait of Hugh de Provence, painted by Tommaso da Modena in 1352, shows this cardinal wearing eyeglasses. There are many more examples of people wearing glasses in paintings after this date. The world’s first specialist glasses shop opened in 1466 in Strasbourg. With a strong heritage in Italy in France – now also known as global centers of fashion – it is certainly interesting how glasses would go on to be trendy fashion accessories.

Emerging Designs

Although glasses would not go on to become fashion items until much later, the ensuing developments in glasses show how different styles started to come to the fore.

Glasses were originally designed as eye pieces to be held by hand, or a pair of lenses with a bridge that could balance on the nose. A British optician is thought to have designed glasses as we know them today, held by handles that slot over the ears, in around the 1700s. Various other styles, such as ‘scissors glasses’ and lorgnettes, were designed just after this, and were said to be popular in some societies.

Style and Celebrities

It was only really from the 1970s onwards that glasses started to become fashionable. While some other designs existed, most eyeglasses up to this point were round with wire frames. In the 1970s, there was a realization that glasses could come in different shapes and sizes. Previously seen as an aid to help correct a visual disability, glasses became a true fashion statement for the first time. This is partly to do with inventive designs coming onto the market, and partly due to celebrities choosing statement-making frames to accessorize their outfits. This propelled glasses head-first into the world of fashion.

Even before this era, some celebrities and famous faces are said to have helped make the wearing of glasses more socially acceptable. In the United States, many people cite Theodore Roosevelt as being one individual who helped break down the stigma of glasses being unfashionable. Later on, the likes of John Lennon from The Beatles, and the singer-songwriter Buddy Holly, helped to make glasses seem cool. Glasses have also been used in films to inspire people to embrace eyeglasses, such as Clark Kent in the Superman films. Movie stars themselves also helped to make sunglasses popular. While many people believe this is because they see themselves as being famous and cool, film stars actually started wearing tinted glasses because of the bright studio lights! 

In more recent times, there have been many celebrities keeping the trend of fashionable glasses going. This includes the rapper Jay-Z, who is often seen wearing a simple pair of black frames, which is also the preferred look of Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds. Bold tinted glasses, such as those worn by Elton John, are very much part of his eccentric style. And while this might seem more of the unusual style that Lady Gaga would incorporate into one of her outfits too, the singer and actress also wears simple black frames to show off a different side of her personality when she is off stage. Whether it’s a comedian who doesn’t seem especially style conscious, such as Chris Rock, or an actor already known for suave looks even without glasses, such as Ryan Gosling, it seems that everyone has a ‘glasses look’ they want to embrace sometimes!