Oh, no no no. Warby Parker sells a monocle, people are buying it, and the Times is on it, again. The trend-spotting paper made the argument on Thursday that monocles, otherwise known as intentionally broken spectacles, are making a comeback thanks to a "hipster subspecies" that fancies itself gentlemanly, or maybe because of "irony." This is an unfortunate reversal: Over a century ago, the New York Times made a valiant attempt to send the monocle "trend" far far away, where it wouldn't be able to hurt anyone ever again.
According to the paper's own archives, the monocle trend seems to rise, again and again, for pretty much the same reason: some people like to pretend they're English gentlemen, like Mr. Peanut. Here's a description of the abomination from 1888, correctly claiming that the disc "was invented by a fool to diminish the visual capacity of an idiot." The context of this anti-monocle rant is a story about an American guy getting caught up in "anglomania," which the author describes as a force that "reorganizes the entire man." To the author, the monocle is the most egregious adaptation of American men attempting to look more English:
And in 1902, the paper chronicled "The Rise and Fall of the Monocle." "Now that the Horse Guards have allowed British officers to wear double eyeglasses, like other people," the paper's assessment begins, "it may be taken for granted that the fall of the monocle is an accomplished fact." The Times went on to explain that the monocle was basically an expressive aid for British-style snobbery:
BUT THERE IS MORE. As it turns out, the monocle may share its origins as a trend picked up by young people who wanted to look cool like the British military (who were banned from wearing spectacles and had to make do with the single disc), with a couple of other hipster hallmarks: the mustache and smoking.
And yet, it came back again. Just two years later, in 1904, the Times documented the trend of "monocles for women," a revival of a totally retro 18th-century trend. In 1908, the Times wrote up the arrival of one Mme. Fremstad in New York, "wearing a monocle." By 1936, it was back in fashion (briefly) in British Parliament, and in 1941, it had its own trend piece: "More Monocles are Worn," touting a 50 percent rise in monocle sales in the US. In 1970, another monocle trend piece again used a claim of a 50 percent rise in monocle sales in the U.S. to look at the terrible eyewear. They don't exactly sell its appeal:
So, there you have it. Today's monocle wearers are basically trying to be colonialist British military guys, and they're not even original in that aspiration.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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