Specs have come a long way

The next time you’re considering picking up a new pair of frames, dithering between the purple pair and the slightly-less-purple pair, spare a thought for your glasses-wearing predecessors – long dash today’s dazzling array of potential choices hasn’t always existed.

Eyewear has a long and storied history. Their earliest recorded use dates back to 1286, although the Italian prototype simply consisted of thin pieces of glass placed directly on to the eyeball, which can’t have been terribly comfortable.

A 1352 portrait by Tommaso da Modena showing the cardinal Hugh de Provence in a rather fetching pair of spectacles is the first pictorial evidence of glasses in Europe.

In this period and up until the start of the 20th century, wearing glasses was considered unfashionable, as they were most often the preserve of bookish clergymen and meddling priests. However, attitudes began to change as celebrities like Buddy Holly popularised their use.

While they still didn’t have the breadth of technologies and designs that we take for granted, people in the 1960s had a number of different choices – including the perfectly round metal frames that became forever associated with Beatles star John Lennon during this period.

Eyeglass wearers demanded stylish and functional frames that offered both variety and elegance, and designers had to up their game to meet the new demand for fashionable glasses. The increasing skill and knowledge of opticians and optometrists has also played a part in this development.


While Google Glasses may not yet be coming as standard, there’s still a great deal of technology underpinning your humble frames, which might make you think twice about sitting on them by mistake.

Anti-reflective coating can be applied to lenses in order to reduce the impact of bright light, which can be helpful for drivers or office workers who spend their day in front of a computer.

Another option is anti-scratch coating, reducing the impact of hair-line fractures – long this is particularly useful for small children, whose glasses tend to endure a fair amount of wear and tear.

Photochromic lenses that darken on being exposed to light are also available.


For today’s consumer, there is a panoply of options when it comes to picking out a suitable pair of glasses. So-called ‘geek chic’ has popularised thick frames, while the retro appeal of browline spectacles has also been noted over the last few years.

Cat-eye glasses can still be a popular choice among girls harking back to the glory days of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, while horn-rimmed frames – once considered deeply unfashionable – are currently undergoing something of a revival. Glasses can be made of plastic or metal depending on your preference, as well as coming in a variety of sizes.

Ultimately, with high-end designer glasses from the likes of Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger available as well as a host of other makes, modern consumers are spoiled for choice.

Generally it’s a good idea to choose a frame that goes well with your facial shape, either accentuating or downplaying certain characteristics as you wish.

However, in the modern world of glasses, there’s no need to despair if you can’t find the perfect pair off the rack – many opticians can customise frames to suit your look, for instance by providing them in a different colour.