Eye glass frames are, of course, utilitarian – they keep the lenses from falling on the floor. But, like everything we wear, there is a strong personal statement in the selection.
In the past fifty years or so, some of these personal styles have become fashion statements. Heavy black frames in various geometric shapes were popular in the 1950’s. I. M. Pei and Corbusier were both fans of the perfectly round approach, but the style was also taken up by the rebels of the “beatnik” era, like poet Alan Ginsberg, and by rock stars like Buddy Holly.
In the “Swinging Sixties” Michael Caine become the first movie hero to wear glasses, and his large black frames announced the debut with a vengeance, while the world’s chicest woman, Audrey Hepburn, liked huge black sunglasses. By the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, a new generation of tie-dyed and bell-bottomed youth turned fashion towards a nostalgie de la boue, and a rage for thin, small wire “Granny” glasses with a more recherché ambience.
The following two decades brought designer frames, each international label having its own cunning style: retro or contemporary, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. Everyone got into the act, the act being one more item in a long list of designer-labeled products that stretched from chocolates to cars and stopped at nothing in between.
But there’s still a guiding light of heritage and subtle style: the tortoise-shelled, rounded, mild-mannered but intelligent references to the classic schoolboy frames of old.
Real tortoise shell has long since departed, and with good reason as you know. But the mock version and dark solid colors, faded ivory, and clear pink tones are eminently suitable. The hallmark simplicity of the shape, sentimental references to callow youth, and just a whiff of bookish charm are the touchstones of this classic eyewear that’s held its appeal, from the likes of Gary Cooper to JFK, and on to Johnny Depp, still-tweedy professors, and prepster punk names on the latest celebrity roster.
I have this little idea, but since I want to make it seem more important, I’m going to call it a theory. Tradition in taste is now in the public domain because the faster we thrust into the future, the greater the tendency to sentimentalize the past. And so the true classics will continue to hold an important place in our hearts.
-G. Bruce Boyer