Style / November 2015

The Lens of Time

An academic look at ophthalmic accessories and their application through history and the present day.

'Nerd chic' is what Victoria Beckham calls her new ensine of sunglasses, according to The New York Times. The glasses are small and round, and apparently an accessory in the latest fashion trend for women towards a variety of homespun-girl looks: nerd chic, vintage chic, prairie chic, heritage chic, utility-workers chic, of course preppy chic, and battledress items of militaria usually seen only in boot camp. It's all part of the horrifically rigorous movement to look cool and effortlessly stylish. The 'crumble-down look', if you will, a sort of precisely contrived fashion nullification. All this obviously rumpled luxury is occasioned by a sweeping aesthetic imperative of some sort, a subject for future historians of the genre.

This more capriciously retro approach in spectacles today of course runs parallel with its opposite style (and this is so often the case with spectacles), the rimless, titanium, supersonic, wraparound speedster variety, sleek as a new Porsche. Both backward- and forward-looking genres have an air of hyper-seriousness about them. But let's drop back a bit. It's always a good thing to get our dates and facts straight at the beginning. With that in mind, let me state without undue equivocation, spectacles became popular in 1965. I have no great stake in saying this; it's simply a fact.

Perhaps I should explain. And let me do so by asking a simple question: When did film stars start wearing spectacles? I mean, either as male heroes or glamour girls? Let me refresh your mind. It was 1965, the film was The Ipcress File, and the star was Michael Caine playing the role of Len Deighton's spy, Harry Palmer. Michael Caine was so successful in this role, wearing his heavy black Wayfarer-style plastic spectacles, he reprised it the next year in Funeral in Berlin. Film critic David Thomson said Caine's performance 'was as cold and barricaded as his spectacles', but the public seemed to love it, and Caine went on to make Alfie, The Wrong Box, The Italian Job, Get Carter, The Man Who Would Be King, Hannah and Her Sisters, Mona Lisa, Noises Off, Little Voice, and The Quiet American, to name only my favourites, and has had one of the longest careers in film. In fact, the only other star - and not exactly what we'd call a romantic hero - who wore spectacles previous to Caine was Harold Lloyd, and his greatest films were made before Caine was even born.

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G. Bruce Boyer