Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Adventures In Eyewear : Part One- "Nice Glasses, Four Eyes!"

 Screen-cap taken from Bringing Up Baby
(Dir: Howard Hawks, 1938)

I first noticed it during a Maths class in 1982. Mr. Lindsay wrote some algebraic formula or other on the blackboard (yeah, with chalk) and it looked a little blurry to me. I tried squinting. It sharpened up a little, but I couldn't go through my school life squinting at everything I saw.
Never got the hang of algebra, either, for that matter.
A few days later, my Dad booked me an appointment with his optometrist. I went through all of the "Alright, now read the letters on the third line from the top, please" and "Right, now which circle looks sharper? This one? Or this one? This one...or this one?"
The verdict? I would need glasses. Great. Just great. Skinny build. Asthmatic. Now we could add short-sightedness into the mix. I would never be cast as Bond now.

"Now, what kind of frames are you thinking of?", the optometrist asked me in a slightly clipped tone. I actually hadn't really thought that far ahead. I was still coming to grips with having to wear glasses.
"Most young people tend to go for the swept-up look of something like these", he went on, as he reached for a glossy gunmetal set of frames on a display rack near his chair.
They looked a lot like these;


 Picture courtesy of almondtreevintage on Etsy

As you can see, they were very representative of the era. Very 'suburban-bank-branch-manager, circa 1980'.
And I wore them without any issues for the next two or three years before deciding to get on the big plastic frames bandwagon. It was the '80s and everything was big. Big shoulder pads in men's and women's tailoring (remember "Dynasty"?), big hair (remember "Dynasty"?), and big spectacle frames. 
Like Judith Light in "Who's The Boss?";

                                                    picture courtesy of, posted by Samual, 
                                                    screencap from "Who's The Boss?" (Created by Martin Cohan 
                                                    and Blake Hunter, ABC Studios, 1984-1992)

 This style of frames was everywhere. I ended up getting specs very similar to these;

picture courtesy of

However, I had one major change made to the lenses and opted for those new-fangled photochromatic ones that darkened when exposed to UV light. This would instantly turn my specs into prescription sunglasses on sunny days. There was just one big problem with these types of lenses - they tended to darken even on overcast days. So, after wearing them for about a year, I found that I would squint on cloudy days in winter if I didn't have them on. And I looked like I was wearing sunglasses in winter, too. Wanker!
Big mistake getting these lenses. Aside from the reason above, the frames were also too damn big for the shape of my face. My mug is quite thin and these specs occupied almost one third of my face. I didn't notice it so much when my hair was long, but with a shorter hairstyle, these frames looked a little too dominant. But like I said, it was the '80s.
It was time to go for something else that would be better suited to my face shape. It was now around 1986 and I was at the height of my fascination for Old Hollywood movies, classic American noir crime fiction, and Art Deco design. So I found myself particularly drawn to the Beaufort-style spectacle frames. 
These frames positively screamed "1920s book-keeper"...

...or Dr. Jones, circa 1945;

These were an English-made brand called Algha. They had 12k gold-plated temples (arms) and hinges. They were a nice frame. Only problem was the temples ended in those curved coils which curled behind the ears. After prolonged wear, the backs of my ears would ache.
Still, they were a nice frame. I have a sneaking suspicion that I still have them packed away someplace, but there's no way I'm gonna try looking for them now.
EDIT: 24/8- Found 'em!  Which meant that I could take the photo above, rather than search the web.

picture courtesy of , taken from
"Indiana Jones & The
Last Crusade"  (Dir: Steven Spielberg,
Paramount Pictures, 1988)

This style of frame is not currently in vogue, but fashion is cyclical. They'll be popular again one day.

By the late 1980s, it was time to go for something different. I had already purchased a pair of RayBan Wayfarer sunglasses in tortoise-shell and thought of getting another pair and having prescription lenses fitted. So I went to see my optometrist and put a deposit down on a pair of Wayfarers with my script added.
I must admit that I was pretty slack when it came to making regular payments on these glasses. I think the total cost was around $130.oo, but I took a lazy 12 months to pay for them. When I finally went to make the last payment and pick them up, I said to the receptionist; "So, do I get some kind of plaque to commemorate the occasion?"
She didn't laugh.
I happily wore these frames in rotation with the Beauforts for the next few years. Here they are, brought out of retirement for this blog post;

Beautiful shape, classic styling that had remained relatively unchanged since their introduction in the 1950s. Thanks to "The Blues Brothers" (Dir: John Landis, 1980) and "Risky Business" (Dir: Paul Brickman, 1983), the RayBan Wayfarer was enjoying incredibly robust sales during the first half of the Eighties. Everybody was buying these frames. Once again, I opted for tortoise-shell instead of black. Every man and his dog was buying the black.

However, one day, I just stopped wearing them.
The reason was simple, actually. I put them on one morning and, as I headed out of the bedroom, I caught my reflection in the mirror...and realised that these frames, on my face, made me look a little like this guy;

picture courtesy of, screencap taken from "The Thunderbirds", (Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, AP Films, 1964-1966)

Yep, I looked like Brains from The Thunderbirds, the classic Gerry Anderson '60s TV series, that used to screen at 6.00am on Saturday mornings when I was a kid.
All of a sudden, these RayBans-as-spectacles looked large on me. I looked like Buddy Holly, which is fine, but not exactly the look I was going for. These frames dominated my face. And that was it. I switched to wearing the Beauforts all the time. Strangely, the RayBan Wayfarer sunnies look fine, but as soon as you pop the dark lenses out, that changes things. To me, anyway. I'll write more about the sunglasses in another post.
By now, it was the early 1990s and my fascination for all things 1930s and '40s was in full swing. I was watching a lot of films from the era, I was reading up on Art Deco design and architecture (the Art Deco period was brief, running from about 1925 to approximately 1940) and my appreciation of clean, sparse design principles led me to a purer type of spectacle frame;

These frames are by Silhouette. I was aiming for this kind of look;

This is the famed Swiss architect, designer, urban planner and true visionary, Le Corbusier (real name Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris), who has often been called the father of modern architecture.
Of course, I wasn't building cities or designing super-cool armchairs. I was waiting tables.
My best friend looked at me when I first got these frames and remarked; "You know, they make you look like Emperor Hirohito."
Yeah, thanks, John.

They were great frames. Very comfortable.

Simple in design, these frames were perfect circles and I wore them for years. One day in 1996, while I was making coffees at a cafe in the city, I decided to give them a quick clean under the steam arm of the coffee machine. Bad move. 
I held the frames a little too close to the nozzle and ended up scorching them to the point where they had discoloured. I think I may have cooked them slightly. You may just be able to make out the slight haziness (in this blurry photo) on the upper edge of the frames and along the bridge. Damn fool thing to do.

It was a helluva lot more noticeable in real life and I soon grabbed a Texta (Magic Marker, black of course) and coloured-in the blemishes. Needless to say, this didn't work well in the long run when I would sweat, simultaneously removing the repaint and winding up with black marks on my eyebrows and nose.
I couldn't wear them like this. It was time to 'retire' them back to their case and switch back to the Beaufort frames for a while. 
A few months passed before I decided to switch back to metal frames. I opted for these thin ones from ProDesign of Denmark;

Spider-thin and almost perfectly round, these were an unobtrusive frame and I wore them for quite a while. However, I found myself tightening the screws on the arms pretty frequently, which got annoying. Still, they served me well. 

But...they got a little bland after a while. Time for something new. It was now around 2003 and I decided to go back to acetate frames. I opted for a relatively inexpensive pair of black Mossimo frames. Sorry, I got no photos of these frames. I wore them to work one day and they just disappeared. I have a theory that they may have slipped out of my shirt pocket and into the rubbish bin when I leaned over one day to reach for something. My manager really couldn't care less as I headed out to the dumpster in a semi-desperate search for them. I think I even saw him smirk when I got back to the store.
Another reason why I quit that job.

I had a routine vision test sometime in 2009. The optometrist gave me some great news. I would need reading glasses. By the way, that was sarcasm.
"Can I get bi-focals", I asked, not that I was looking forward to wearing them.
"No, because they eyes have a tendency to get lazy when wearing bi-focals. It's better if you opt for straight-forward reading glasses", she replied. So, I went for this metal set of frames by a brand called Austin Reed. They were nifty because they had a separate frame that held the lens;

Made me look like an architect named Sven or Lars or a European car designer named Hans or Gustav. Which was fine by me.

I was, however, a little ticked off at the thought of having to carry two pairs of glasses. Three pairs, actually, if you take into account sunglasses for the summer days.

And so, I soon found myself carrying the steel ProDesign frames with the flimsy screws, and this new set of reading glasses. And then one day, as I was throwing away some old magazines, I came across an issue of GQ magazine that I bought back in 1986. Staring back at me from the front cover was Mr. Cary Grant;

And it was then that I knew I needed some bold dark frames like Mr. Grant's.
This was perhaps the last major interview that Grant did. He was 82 years old, but looked fifteen years younger. 
Diane K. Shah did a great job with the interview and Grant called her up a few days later to say that, since the article was for a fashion magazine, would she like to meet with him again to discuss clothing? This extended interview formed the closing section of the article.
Cary Grant died of a massive stroke in November that year. I was driving my mother's Datsun 200B when I heard the news on the radio. I nearly hit a tree.
I still have this issue of GQ packed away someplace. No way I'm getting rid of it.
By this stage, my optometrist had closed down, so it was time to find a new one. By chance, I was walking through town when a display in an optometrist's shop window caught my eye. I stepped in to take a closer look. This store had quite a few frames to choose from and there was one brand that caught my eye.

Not the typical kind of imagery that one would associate with spectacle frames. Okay, I had the same hairline as the guy in this photo. And that's where the similarities ended. Sure, I could grow a 'stache and goatee like this dude. And maybe, if I hit the gym (and a lot of protein powder) for a couple of years, I could get the same body. However, maybe I should just start by getting similar glasses. Booth & Bruce make beautiful frames, but they were pricier than I was hoping.
I looked at other brands in the store. I knew what I was after. I wanted a dark tortoise-shell, rectangular frame. I landed on a nice set of frames by Hackett Bespoke. Hackett is a men's clothing manufacturer from England. Generally, I tend to steer clear of brands that are known for one type of product who then launch themselves into manufacturing an entirely different product. Mont Blanc, for example, has long been known as a highly respected manufacturer of writing instruments. Around the early to mid 1990s, it branched out into making wristwatches and is now well known for making some complicated timepieces. But I'll never buy one. For me, the brand is so strongly associated with pens that I can't accept it as a watchmaker. Even though it makes some nice wristwatches. 
Anyway, back to my glasses. I bought the Hackett frames.

These frames were perhaps the most expensive ones I've ever purchased. From memory, I think they cost me about $280 before the extra $150 required for prescription lenses. However, these frames still look and feel brand new. The hinges and temples (arms) are sterling silver, encased in tortoise-shell resin or acetate. Perhaps that is what made them so pricey;

However, I look after my stuff, so I don't mind spending every now and then. These things will last me decades, if my other specs are anything to go by. I've had them for about seven years now.
When I bought them, I had to have an eye examination. The new optometrist determined that I didn't actually need reading glasses.
"So how come the last eye test I had showed that I did need them?", I asked.
"You may have been tired when you had that test done. This can sometimes give a different reading", he replied.
I soon had the reading glasses converted to long-distance lenses. These frames are in the glovebox of my car as a set of spares for those rare occasions when I leave the house without my specs. 

About a year ago, I was surfing through eBay and saw a set of frames that looked interesting. They were made by Oliver Peoples, a frame-maker that was very big back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I used to see them advertise in a variety of magazines. Here's a pic of a younger Mr. Robert Downey jr wearing a pair of OP-505s;

                                                                 picture courtesy of extinct eyewear.tumblr

The Oliver Peoples frames that caught my eye were these ones;

A nice round, tortoise-shell frame. But, if you look a little closer at one of the temples...

...yessir, these frames are called 'Gregory Peck' and are modelled on the frames that he wore in his favourite (his own opinion) and perhaps most famous role as Depression-era Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird" (Dir: Robert Mullligan, 1962). And his name is printed in a worn typewriter font as well.
I had to have them. Also, they were a totally different look to the Hackett frames as well. I will admit that I haven't worn them often. I'm trying to find a more streamlined case for them, since the case that they came with... a little unwieldy and takes up more room in a bag.

While in Thailand a couple of months ago, we walked past a store in Bangkok called V Eyewear that sold spectacle frames. I forget the prices in Thai Baht, but they roughly converted to approximately $95.oo AUD. I took a look at what they had and was sorely tempted. A spare pair of specs will always come in handy. My wife said I may as well, since the price was low enough. So, I chose a frame in a style called 'Passaic'. I went for the black version, just as a contrast to all the tortoise-shell frames that I have. These black frames were called 'Night Out'.

As for the lenses, they were an extra forty-two bucks because I chose glare-proof ones. Fine by me. At a total price of about $137.50AUD, it still worked out considerably cheaper than prices back home.

The spectacles industry has undergone a change in recent years. I first read about Warby Parker in a GQ magazine a few years ago. One of the founders (can't recall his name) lost a pair of expensive spectacles while travelling. He decided then and there that he would never shell out big bucks for glasses again and he soon set up his website with a view to selling well-made, nicely-designed specs at affordable prices.
It wasn't long before somebody in Australia decided on a similar set-up and popped up on the web. And Scott K told me about Bailey Nelson, who offer a range of specs at competitive prices. I don't know if I'd wanna buy specs off the web. I prefer to step into a store and try a few frames on. I may have to pop into Bailey Nelson and check them out. Although, to be honest, I think I'm pretty set for spectacle frames at the moment.

But back to these black frames that I got in Thailand. I almost wasn't going to buy them because I didn't think they'd be made up in time. We were in Bangkok for only five days. A pair of specs and lenses usually takes about seven to ten days here in Melbourne. The young man in the store told me my glasses could be ready by 5:00pm THE NEXT DAY.
How could I say 'no' to that? I left him with my own pair of glasses so that they could match the prescription lenses for this new pair, and arranged to come back the following day.
Sure enough, about thirty hours later, I went back to the store and my new frames were ready and waiting.

I would imagine that the reason they are so cheap would have something to do with the materials used. I'd be fairly certain that there are a range of different plastics and acetates that are used in the manufacture of spectacle frames and some would be more expensive than others. These frames are quite sturdy, but I would say that they may warp or bend over time. However, this is nothing that my optometrist  back home wouldn't be able to reshape if required. To play it safe, I perhaps wouldn't leave them in my car on a hot day. Aside from that, I have no issue with them.

And that's my spectacle odyssey. Thirty-plus years of wearing glasses. It took me a long time to find frames that suited my face shape, and that won't date. I think I've gone for clean and classic designs and I see no point in continuing to search for anything else. It might be an idea to snag one or two similar frames to put away for if/when these current ones get lost (hopefully, that's doubtful) or damaged beyond repair (hopefully, that's doubtful too), but aside from that, I think I've got my eyewear covered.

Thanks for reading!


  1. AH! THis is very timely. I am overdue for a new pair of glasses, and I need to get that sorted pretty soon. I've only owned two pairs in the last 5 or 6 years, but I'm at that age where I really do need them for reading (and of course writing) these days.

    You know what, this may sound a little out of context, but I find women that wear a well selected pair of glasses tend to look hotter than women that don't. But that's just my opinion.

    I personally prefer to go for more classic styles with just a little bit of eccentric edge - but I guess that's me all over really. I firs started wearing them frequently when I was doing an audit at work a few years ago on hospital equipment, and I was trying to read the numbers on barcodes. two days later my eyes were so strained that I couldn't read them anymore. I promptly got glasses and made the hospital invest in a barcode scanner.

  2. Scott, do you know how often I'm tempted to buy "I Am Sam", simply because Michelle Pfeiffer stars as a corporate-style lawyer and she looks very sharp whenever she has her glasses on.
    I've noticed my eyes feeling more fatigued over this past year and I think it has to do with my spending more time on the net, staring at screens. I've always been careful with my vision and luckily, I don't require reading glasses.
    Get those glasses, Scott. Ocular health is not to be trifled with.

  3. I'm a specky four-eyes myself, so I found this both amusing and informative. I currently have a pair of "Easy Twist" glasses with magnetic clip-on tinted lenses - probably the best pair I've ever bought and quite expensive. I've bought a lot of dud pairs over the years - like a pair of tri-focals (long-middle-near distance) that I wore for about a week - made me feel dizzy when moving around. :)

  4. Your odyssey is similar to my own, except in the 90's i got contacts. Now i have both, and switch off depending on the weather. I prefer contacts when I need sunglasses. But with the contacts I also need reading glasses. The interesting thing is unless you are willing to spend, the options are few, and based on what is being pushed at you. that's why i wore similar styles to you - that's what there was, at those times. Now if my insurance won't cover it, I'll go to zenni optical online for 10 bucks.

  5. Contacts would be handy for sunny days behind the wheel, but I just never felt comfortable with the whole putting-them-on-the-eye part of the process.