TWENTY years ago, designers and manufacturers of eyeglasses were primarily concerned with aiding or correcting defective vision. Women wore pretty much the same styles as men: round or oblong lenses rimmed with gold, silver, tortoise shell, or dark-colored ersatz. There was a rimless variety considered more choice, and if a bespectacled beauty of the day wanted to be real swish, she could have tiny rimless glasses clutching the bridge of her nose and leashed to a spring button by a thin gold or silver chain.
But things were generally tough all over for my sisters under the glass, and slinking in their conscious and subconscious was the saying. “Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Fond relatives were forever clucking in corners, “It’s a shame about Emma, she’d really be a beauty, only . . .” The fact that one’s maiden aunts crocheted grimly behind glittering nose glasses didn’t help a bit.
I joined the ranks of these doomed creatures at the age of eight when it became painfully apparent to my mother that she had a nearsighted girl-child on her hands. Gone were her dreams of a daughter in white organdy languidly trailing a camellia from a canoe. Never would I hear the sweet music of a long, low whistle.
Peering owl-eyed through those first black-rimmed spectacles, I was happily oblivious of their future social implications. They lent a certain amount of prestige in dramatic play (I was always the schoolteacher), and although they were a slight deterrent in a rock fight, they didn’t affect my prowess at cops-’n’-robbers.
In the sixth grade, I began to see what was in store. Despite my obvious handicap, I had contracted a violent crush on the president of the Safety Council. Femininity had set in to such a degree that I began to trade wildly great quantities of my best Clark Gable and William Powell pictures for the privilege of swapping shoes with my best friend. My sensible brown school oxfords were exchanged each day (a good two blocks from home) for her tan lizard pumps with heels fully an inch high. I didn’t see how my beknickered knight in his white Sam Browne belt could possibly resist me. He did. He named me “Four Eyes.” Oh tragedy supreme! Now I knew. Who’d ever spin the bottle my way?
I threatened to throw myself out the window if I didn’t get rimless glasses immediately. I assured my mother that the advertisements said they were “practically invisible.” By draping myself about the house in tragic poses and calling forth an abundance of tears, I finally persuaded her. What a snare and delusion those rimless glasses turned out to be! They were just about as invisible as a wart on the nose and I was still no prize at post office.
My rimless horrors went through high school in my purse. Life was just one big hazy blur as I wandered about corridors with a vague smile on my face (just in case I bumped into somebody I knew). I walked spang into locker doors, misjudged the number of steps consistently and fell flat on my face, cheered wildly at football games that were only a confused tangle of streaking colors. But I was happy. My greatest worry in those days was how to whip out my glasses nonchalantly at the movies without cooling the ardor of my date.
By college I had acquired the latest fad — plastic frames carefully lacquered with nail polish. In these I considered myself a classroom cat’s miaow, but I still carefully removed them for Coke dates. By that time I could be as quick with the “What kind of girl do you think I am, anyhow?” as the next one, and I wanted plenty of opportunities.
Now that I’m the mother of two, I have been sucked in by the newest development in the optical world —bright-colored plastic frames. This is the result of some careful planning by the optical companies for a New Look in the eyeglass world. One of their sleuths with an eye to the keyhole has come up with a startling fact. Men do! The ball has begun to roil with alarming speed. Females who used to bump into mailboxes and squint at store windows are nowburgeoning out in frames of every conceivable shape, size, and hue. Plaid-framed adolescent eyes, which once wouldn’t have dared, now gaze unfalteringly over a soda at the captain of the football team. Periodicals abound with articles of the “So You Wear Glasses” and “Your Glasses Are an Important Fashion Accessory” type. Women who can’t afford to buy more than one pair are reversing the directive to “buy several shades, to match each important outfit.” and are simply buying each outfit to match that shade. I’d hate to admit how many green dresses are choking my closet right now.
I foresee magazines brimming with pictures of brides in brilliant-studded Harlequins proclaiming, “Dave took a dim view of me before I changed to bifocals.” Another will show a girl in the throes of a passionate embrace, head thrown back, nostrils aquiver, with the caption “She dared to wear Tru-Vues.” Radio will usher in the age of “Spec. Operas.” I can hear the singing commercials right now: —
Happy little date-bait song,
Frames of plaid, make hearts glad,
Be a charmer all day long . . .
Hollywood, which catches on slowly, has finally allowed its stars to wear glasses in private life — which is probably a good thing. With a swimming pool just a stop off every terrace, there’s no telling how many they lost that way. Charles Boyer will clutch a bespectacled Bergman in a grip of iron, whispering through tensed nostrils, “This time you haf gone too far . . . enough of this loff-making, off wiz se horn rims.” Slow pulsating fade-out, courtesy of the Johnston office.