monocle

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Welcome back to FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today we’re talking about what is very likely the most useful piece of fashion ever created- glasses! Of course, when they were first created, glasses were strictly created for practical purposes, but when something is worn so prominently, it doesn’t take long for style to be added.

It is unclear exactly when glasses were invented, and by whom. In ancient days, multiple cultures used polished crystals like a magnifying glass. By the Middle Ages, glass was formed with a curve, creating magnifying glasses as we know today. The earliest glasses were simply two magnifying glasses connected at the handles by a rivet, so that the lenses could be adjusted to pinch the nose. They had no handle or earpieces, and thus were held in place by hand. This lasted for centuries. The first record of glasses in the western world were mentioned by Friar Giordano da Pisa in 1306 that eyeglasses had been invented less than twenty years prior.

In Asia, glasses were introduced by Westerners in the early 15th Century, but developed from there. They added loops of cord to the lenses which hooked around the ears to hold them in place, a trend possibly introduced by the Spanish. In the 17th Century, the arched piece connecting lenses over the bridge of the nose became popular across the globe, making the adjustable rivet obsolete. Glasses continued to be held, though, until the early 18th Century. London optician Edward Scarlett was the first to add arms to glasses which rested on top of the ears. Around the same time, it became common to add handles to the side of glasses. These handled glasses, known as lorgnettes, were often very decorative and fashionable. The handle would also commonly double as a case, so they could flip open and closed. Handled glasses remained popular until World War I, when lifestyles changed and they became impractical.

At the start, glasses were only used by artisans and religious scholars. As the years progressed, wearing glasses became something of a status symbol. It showed that a person had both the time and wealth to dedicate to studies. Also, manual labor jobs were not believed to need perfect vision, while arts and writing did require it. This is why so much of the upper class carried lenses, even if they were not necessary. Lenses would even be hidden in the handles of ladies’ fans, or the knob of gentlemen’s walking sticks. The status of glasses is also what gave rise to the monocle in the Victorian Age, which were popular among wealthy men.

When handled eyeglasses fell from style, so did the status associated with them. The association with scholarly pursuits remained, though, and still lingers to this day. Of course, technology has had a huge impact on how the style of glasses has developed, and likely always will. While today glasses are often thought of as “nerdy,” it is that association with higher education which led to their popularity. Just like most trends, glasses have gone in and out of fashion over the last century, and this fluctuating trend is sure to continue.

Want to learn more about glasses? Check out these books:

Fashions In Eyeglasses: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present Day, by Richard Corson

Eyewear: Gli Occhiali, by Franca Acerenza

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!

The Science of Styling: Beams Japan

Large Japan-based retailer Beams has a constantly updated “outfit of the day” photostream on flickr. When I first stumbled on it years ago I wondered if these people were customers or staff; they’re clearly not afraid to take some chances with their clothing but are mostly wearing practical, on-some-level basic stuff. The shots are sort of lo-fi: the subjects are clearly conscious they’re being photographed and for a reason, but these aren’t perfectly stage-managed Instagram selfies, softly lit and angled to flatter.

It turns out that the well-dressed folks in those photos are mostly if not all Beams sales associates, and Beams has elevated what their employees wear well beyond a dress code and a discount. In the latest Monocle, writer Fiona Wilson talked with the corporate drivers of Beams’ SA style.

The Styling Advice Division is headed up by two former chief buyers, Kenjiro Wada and Mika Maruyama, who both joined the company in 1990 and began their careers as sales assistants.

“The training is not about trying to make everyone look the same or follow specific rules – it’s about encouraging them to enjoy styling,” says Wada… “We think of it as basic education, the way children are taught about food at school.”

At Beams Harajuku, Wada is holding a styling session. The staff listen intently with clipboards at the ready as Wada goes through different types of aviator jackets. He has brought in visual materials and his own vintage extreme-weather hood.

What could be dismissed as frivolous has a serious business purpose. It is a simple equation: the better the staff look, the more people are likely to spend. “People who come to Beams expect staff to be well dressed; it’s part of the reason they shop here,” says Wada. Staff spend time with each customer, styling outfits that shoppers might not otherwise have the nerve to put together.

Staff don’t have to wear top-to-toe Beams but the general rule is that two out of three elements – tops, bottoms and shoes – should come from the shop and preferably from the current season. Sloppy dressing is unacceptable.

-Pete