The Twentieth Century

In the early twentieth century, though pince-nez continued to be worn, spectacles finally began to gain acceptance. Large, round spectacles, with heavy frames of real or imitation horn or tortoiseshell (referred to as horn-rims) were at first affected by university students, and by the 1910s had become fashionable for both men and women. They were considered to give an air of wisdom, seriousness, and sincerity to the wearer, an association exploited by the silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, whose earnest and sympathetic screen persona owed a great deal to his trademark horn-rim glasses.

By the mid-1920s, horn-rims began to decline in popularity, as women's bobbed hair and close-fitting hats made heavy frames uncomfortable and too conspicuous, and as Harold Lloyd's popularity made men see them as a symbol of comedy. Smaller rimless spectacles and frames of white gold became the style, and through the 1930s more attention was paid to making eyeglasses more becoming, largely by making them as inconspicuous as possible. Glasses were still considered a necessary evil, as famously summed up by Dorothy Parker in her 1927 poem "News Item": "Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses." In an attempt to change this state of affairs, Altina Sanders designed the harlequin frame, with solid dark rims and upswept sides based on the shape of a carnival mask, which was introduced in New York in 1939. These were considered the first glasses designed solely with the idea of improving a woman's appearance, and eyeglasses began to be taken seriously as a fashion accessory.

By the early 1940s, eyeglasses were available in a wide variety of colored plastic frames to harmonize with the wearer's complexion or costumes, and women were advised to have a spectacle wardrobe, with jeweled frames for evening and special frames for beach and sportswear. After World War II, variations on the harlequin shape (later known as cat-eye or cat's-eye) were the dominant style for women, and they were available in many new textures and finishes—opalescent pastels, laminates of glitter, or patterned fabric—and embellished with carving, gilding,

Marilyn Monroe Glasses

Marilyn Monroe wearing eyeglasses. After World War II, eyeglasses began to be fashionable and fun, and designers began marketing them in various colors, shapes, and styles. ©

Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Marilyn Monroe wearing eyeglasses. After World War II, eyeglasses began to be fashionable and fun, and designers began marketing them in various colors, shapes, and styles. ©

Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

metal studs, and rhinestones. More conservative styles were also available, with solid eyebrow bars and clear plastic or light metal lower rims. With glasses so prominent, chic eyeglass wearers were advised to keep other accessories simple and subdued, advice that fit in well with the short coiffures, off-the-face hats, and button earrings of the 1950s. For men, the heavier metal-and-plastic brow-bar frame and thick black horn-rims such as those worn by the singer Buddy Holly were the most popular styles, and remained so well into the 1960s.

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