S. Begley, scientific writer for The Boston Globe, affirms that spectacles, this is how eyewear is called in the United States, are one of the most important inventions of the last 200 years for the important improvement that they have given to people’s lives. How many people wear glasses every day? For over four billion people worldwide, eyewear is not just a tool for everyday life, but also a fashion accessory to wear to add a touch of style to one’s look. But it has not always been this way.
BIRTH AND DIFFUSION
Eyeglasses first appeared in Italy in the Thirteenth century although it seems that Seneca was the true precursor of this discovery: reading through a glass full of water, he noticed that the letters seemed larger. It was Gutemberg’s invention of the press, at the end of the Fourteenth century, that gave a great impetus to the mass production of optical glasses and to their diffusion throughout Europe.
Wearing a pair of glasses gained a new social meaning in the Seventeenth century as it was deemed as a sign of superior intelligence and nobility because they were often used by eminent ecclesiastical and academic personalities. These eyewear ancestors had no elements on the side and were difficult to wear.
During the Eighteenth century, wearing glasses went out of fashion and was associated with old age and physical flaws. They were worn only if necessary and those who could afford them preferred models that had a handle to hold a pair of lenses like the lorgnettes. In the same period, the wealthier classes started to use a single magnifying glass that was attached on the clothing, the monocle, while the glasses with two coloured lenses were only used to protect the eyes from the sun.
During the Nineteenth century more and more people wore eyeglasses in everyday life, in particular the most common and cheap model was the pince-nez, created in France and later imported to the USA.
The Old Hollywood style
In 1900, eyewear became a real industry with manufacturing activities and distribution networks. The eyewear models quickly changed under the fashion influence of celebrities and thanks to the use of new materials, mainly plastic. In Hollywood, the actor Harold Lloyd was known for wearing tortoise-shell glasses with large, round lenses, and his photos and films gave rise to a great eyewear craze.
n the 1930s, sunglasses were popular for the first time after the invention by Sir William Crookes of lenses capable of absorbing infra-red and ultraviolet rays. During World War II, eyewear design developed to meet the needs of military pilots combining practical and fashionable elements.
In the 1940s, thanks to advances in the processing of plastic, a wide variety of glasses spread in every possible colour: women preferred models with an upward curvature, instead men preferred glasses with golden profiles.
In the 1970s, sunglasses with large lenses gained popularity with Jacqueline Kennedy. Inspired by celebrities, ordinary people started to wear glasses to express themselves so much so that today they are considered an integral part of our wardrobe and an essential element of fashion all over the world.