The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

In the early eighteenth century, spectacle-makers introduced steel spring bridges and frames, and the first spectacles with temples (rigid side pieces). Improvements in the design of eyeglasses continued in the nineteenth century; rimless glasses became commonly available around the middle of the century, and the invention of fine steel wire riding bow and cable temples, with the end curved around the ear, greatly improved the fit and practicality of spectacles in the 1880s. Frames of tortoiseshell, steel, silver, and gold were the most commonly worn, joined later in the century by celluloid, hard rubber, gold-filled, and aluminum frames.

Although spectacles had become quite practical by the nineteenth century, it was still not considered attractive, especially for ladies, to wear them in public. The lorgnette, a pair of folding glasses held up to the eyes by a handle at the side, was introduced around 1780 and remained popular for women through the early twentieth century. A new eyeglass style for men, the monocle, a single lens held in the eye socket and attached to a ribbon or cord, experienced brief periods of popularity in the 1820s, 1880s, and 1910s. The most commonly worn form of eyeglasses from the mid-century on, however, for both sexes, was the pince-nez. These consisted of two small lenses (oval, rectangular, octagonal, or semicircular), attached by a bridge, with a variety of spring and nosepiece arrangements to keep them in place. Lacking temples, they were known at the time simply as eyeglasses (as distinct from spectacles). They were usually worn attached to a cord, chain, or ribbon, which was attached to the vest or dress, looped around the neck, or, for ladies, attached to a hairpin. An 1883 article in the New York Times declared that eyeglasses had "virtually driven spectacles off the field," and noted that they were considered so stylish that some young ladies and gentlemen were adopting them simply "because they think it gives them a distingué appearance" (p. 14).

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