In the frame: how I learned to love glasses

Style Statement
Glasses, The Fashion
The eye of the beholder: this season’s chic glasses. Illustration: Kate Copeland

It was 1990 and I couldn’t choose which colour frames to have, so I had them all. All the colours. A pair of very large, very round, very rainbowed spectacles, through which nine-year-old me saw a world that, perhaps inevitably, was mainly laughing and pointing. Shame on my mother for giving me the power to decide my own fate, but shame on me for letting them stain the way I’d feel about glasses for the rest of my life. Until now.

My favourite bit of fashion is when something you’ve overlooked for years suddenly sidles into view, all fresh and gleaming and covetable. This season, just as I was beginning seriously to contemplate laser eye surgery, it’s spectacles. The Gucci catwalks were particularly fabulous – androgynous, eccentric, romantic – and almost half of the looks were accessorised with glasses. Big round ones, sassy cat’s eye ones, clunky fat ones. MaxMara’s models were similarly bespectacled, while Prada and Chanel’s new eyewear campaigns (Kristen Stewart as an androgynous photographer, her hair like a fallen Elvis) make glasses look impossibly sexy.

I’m clearly not the only one who’s been seduced. People are buying more glasses than ever – in 2014, the world’s largest eyewear company, Luxottica, registered an 18% increase in profits, generating more than £5.51bn in revenue.

As celebrities such as Anne Hathaway, Jared Leto and Meryl Streep begin to wear theirs on the red carpet, the glasses are becoming stars themselves. Lupita Nyong’o’s even have their own Twitter account.

Spectacles on the Gucci Autumn Winter 2015 catwalk
Spectacles on the Gucci Autumn Winter 2015 catwalk Photograph: SGP/REX Shutterstock/SGP/REX Shutterstock

But they’re glasses. Mate, they’re glasses, the other bit of my brain says, quickly rifling through relevant images from my childhood and teens, and flashing them up on the inside of my contact lenses lest I forget.

The time they snapped in half during PE. The sweaty weight of them in August. The sore patches behind my ears. The photos where the flash reflected off the lenses, making it look as if there were just white holes where my eyes should have been. The way you had to take them off for safety reasons whenever you did anything fun. So I never knew what the swimming pools or rollercoasters of my childhood really looked like. The steaming up, the scratches, seeing the world through a patina of dirty fingerprints. The knowledge that nobody would ever fancy me in my whole entire life.

Those of you who grew up, like me, with the eyesight of a poorly dalmatian, who suffered through a cruel adolescence of nicknames and celibacy, who worked hard – really, really hard – to master contact lenses, will understand why it’s difficult to think of glasses as anything more than metal-rimmed curses, let alone a desirable fashion accessory.

To us it’s no surprise that glasses rendered Clark Kent unrecognisable as Superman, that no one ever thought bespectacled Diana Prince could be Wonder Woman. We understood that part all too well, but we never got the chance to take the glasses off and fly.

But here we are. I want them. Glasses by choice – that’s the thing. Rather than being forced into choosing a pair of unwieldy or unsuitable specs, I will take my time, I will invest, I will take pride in this flimsy medical apparatus and treat it with care.

Will I enjoy seeing the world through screens again, like my own personal Netflix? Will glasses hamper my spontaneity, as I fold them up and pad my way to bed? Do I take them off for photographs? Will I still look like me? Now’s the time to find out – prescription glasses are suddenly cheaper than ever. Companies such asGlasses Direct (who sell Marc by Marc Jacobs and Ray-Ban, along with their own “retro” designs – two for £55) will send four pairs over for you to try at home. It’s embarrassingly easy to become a glasses wearer, and a fashionable one, too.

Today, very little about glasses is about seeing. The focus is how you want to be seen.They are no longer corrective eyewear but a style statement. Stereotypes abound. In 2012, a historian analysed the changing social norms towards glasses, finding examples of the way they’ve been perceived across history. While Hitler, he wrote, wore reading glasses, images of him doing so were censored by the Nazi party for fear of his authority being compromised. People who wore glasses, the thinking was, were weak.

Things appear to have changed. This season’s glasses are worn with powerful walks and thigh-cut dresses. This season, glasses are cool. In the same way that the sight of a new pair of boots inspires fantasies of the glamorous places you could go in them, today’s glasses let me imagine the glamorous things I’d see. The streets would look cleaner through that polished plastic. The commuters more beautiful. And me – instead of a deficient school-leaver, I’ll look like a well-read sophisticate. I’ll look like I’m in control.

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