Glasses: Seeing the light


UglyBettyThere has been a hole in my heart for many years, and it has been shaped suspiciously like a pair of Chanel glasses. Ever since America Ferrera stumbled on to our screens as Ugly Betty in 2006 and put the ‘geek’ into ‘geek-chic’, I have pleaded with my eyesight, begging it to deteriorate just enough so that I could justify investing in such an indulgence. Yes, I could have purchased non-prescription frames or frames without lenses. But I wanted the real deal. I also wanted not to be laughed at. How has something which was originally designed to aid the visually challenged managed to transform itself into a fashion staple, the latest must-have accessory? And what will be next, designer hearing aids?

The wisdom that Prada, Chanel, Givenchy et al. has handed down to us is that glasses have firmly established themselves as a statement fashion accessory – with ‘statement’ being the operative word. A cursory glance through the SS12 Prada campaign tells us that, when it comes to glasses, the bigger and quirkier the better. Gone are the days of believing that glasses must be absorbed into the face. The only remnants of this chameleon-esque approach to eyewear can be found scattered across the over 50 age group. Just because their vision does not allow them to make out those rimless, rectangular pieces of glass hovering an inch in front of their eyes does not mean that they are invisible to the rest of the world. The rest of the world, for the record, disapproves.

It is of no surprise that the wearing of glasses was originally the preserve of the upper classes. The first documented precursor to the modern-day glasses can be found in Italy at around the time of 1286AD. At first, eye-pieces were held in place by hand or balanced on the ridge of the nose. It is thought that the construction of frames did not take place until the eighteenth century, and even then the fashion-conscious favoured ‘scissor-glasses’ and lorgnettes to the present day counter-part that reigns supreme.

Historically, archetypal stereotypes have had particular bite in the context of glasses, a perceived symbol of physical weakness or an indictment of an excessively studious nature. Countless writers in books and children in playgrounds have implemented the phrase ‘four-eyes’ as an insult. Yet in recent years glasses have traversed the boundaries from ‘geek’ to ‘geek-chic’. And with celebrities and fashion icons such as Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Anniston tripping over their Louboutin clad feet to jump on to this glamorous bandwagon, Lauren Cochrane, fashion writer at The Guardian, has even gone so far as to comment that today glasses “are no longer associated with ironic geeks and girls in high-school movies pre-makeover – they have finally been accepted into mainstream, grownup style”.

Is not all of this indicative of something more than mere aesthetics? The very concept of geek-chic embodies a move towards embracing the desirability of ‘geek culture’ as a whole. We find ourselves actively striving to appear intelligent and sophisticated, and in doing so we turn the very notion of ‘geekiness’ on its head. What was once pejorative is now socially acceptable, even socially desired. The Chanel glasses shaped hole in my heart – which, incidentally, has recently been filled – is just as much a manifestation of my desire to embrace my inner-geek as it is aesthetically pleasing.

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