It is a fascinating tale if one is to look at the entire timeline of the evolution of eyewear, and particularly the spectacle. They are first said to have appeared around Italy towards the end of the 13th century, and their inventor is unknown. What brought them into the everyday lives of the common people (the oldest ones ranging from the 13th century were mainly used by monks and scholars) was the growing rate of literacy and the availability of books that was made possible by the printing press, which was invented in the late 15th century. This widely encouraged the mass production of glasses, and the rest, as they say is history. Once they were adopted by the fashionable, and as true to the trickle down nature of fashion as true can be, there was no stopping the spectacles from cementing their place in culture as a definitive style statement, in addition to their original purpose.
From there onwards, the production and availability of glasses became more widespread, and as a result varying styles were made available for those in vogue. The following centuries also saw a number of innovative design ideas that today are the norm. Where at first spectacles were to be held in front of the eye or balanced on the nose, the early part of the 18th century saw the much needed addition of the side/temple pieces that rest over one’s year. What’s more, by the end of the century, Benjamin Franklin had already invented the bifocals!
Development was in full swing, and progress was being made by leaps and bounds. While the 18th century still saw largely handmade products when it came to eyewear, by the end of the 19th century, already larger scale manufacturing had replaced manual labour. This also impacted the variety of styles available to the common man by way of reducing them, but it also brought the cost down substantially, and made the readymade glasses a lot more easily available, around every corner and on every street. However, at this point they were still largely seen a utilitarian in nature more than an accessory.
The advent of the 20th century however, saw eyewear become an industry in its own respect. As manufacturing and distribution became more intense, and Hollywood came into existence, they were now fast on their way to becoming a regular fashion accessory with celebrities regularly endorsing them and influencing fashion with their choice of eye-gear. In the early decades of the century, sunglasses rapidly began gaining popularity. Though primary design advancements were made keeping in mind military use, soon after the second great war, they became a popular choice for ordinary citizens as well. Their popularity was also boosted by the advances made in the manufacturing processes concerning plastic. Soon inexpensive yet fashionable eyewear was available and being sported by everyone, young and old alike, and there has been no turning back since.
By the second half of the century, they had already taken the form that they exist in today: as a part of a person’s wardrobe, the same way clothes or shoes are a part of a person’s wardrobe. For that reason alone, they require regular upgrading to keep pace with changing trends and styles, lest one be perceived old fashioned. Technical advancements have also made this possible to a large extent, by making higher quality lenses that are safer to wear.
And that’s the evolution of spectacles for you! We hope it was a fun read. Now pick some out for yourself, right away!