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From Buddy Holly to Harry Potter, the changing fate of corrective eyewear

MaltaToday spoke to eyewear specialists and to fashion connoisseurs to see whether the trend has trickled into the local sphere and to what extent the attitude towards eyewear has changed.

Martina Borg
19 August 2016, 9:25am
Stars of teen movies and series like Pretty Little Liar's Lucy Hale have made the look even more covetable for young women
Stars of teen movies and series like Pretty Little Liar's Lucy Hale have made the look even more covetable for young women
Throughout my childhood, eye glasses were largely seen as markers for eccentricity or bookishness… 

Being a product of the early nineties, I distinctly remember being assigned corrective eyewear due to a lazy eye and longing desperately for the moment I could start wearing contact lenses instead.

So you can imagine my feelings when all of a sudden celebrities and models started displaying spec-tacular (I had to) looks proudly featuring the accessory on the red carpet, culminating in Kate Winslet’s outing at the 2016 Academy Awards, arguably one of the most glamorous settings imaginable.

Perhaps it was the fact that one of the most loved literary and movie heroes of our teens, Harry Potter, constantly wore round glasses, or maybe it’s the sudden revival of the idea that “smart is the new sexy”, but somewhere along the way, four eyes became just as cool, or – dare I say it – cooler than two…

MaltaToday spoke to eyewear specialists and to fashion connoisseurs to see whether the trend has trickled into the local sphere and to what extent the attitude towards eyewear has changed. 

Owner of Kir Royal men’s clothing store Ludwig Saliba told the newsroom that although he didn’t think wearing eyewear gratuitously was a trend locally, the look seemed to have come back in fashion at the beginning of the decade, at around 2011. 

“I would say the rise of the twenty-something tech millionaire made nerdy and preppy a desirable look,” he said, adding that glasses were a very essential part of the look. 

Actor Matthew Bomer at a red carpet event
Actor Matthew Bomer at a red carpet event
Actress Kate Winslet at the 2016 Academy Awards
Actress Kate Winslet at the 2016 Academy Awards
Singer John Mayer at the 2015 Grammy Awards
Singer John Mayer at the 2015 Grammy Awards
“Intelligence more than looks and fashion became associated with success and wealth, so it became fashionable to look intelligent,” Saliba added. 

Perhaps one of the clearest depictions of the change in trends is captured in the 2012 movie 21 Jump Street, where two undercover policemen in their twenties go back to high-school undercover as students, only to discover a complete upheaval of social hierarchies.  The so-called nerds now rule the corridors of the school and slackers are generally looked down on…

“The distinction between stylish and otherwise, is not so much between those who wear glasses and those who don’t anymore, but in the style of frame chosen,” Saliba explained.

“A person wearing a modern design e.g. with a fuller frame is likely to look more stylish than one wearing a pair with a very thin, metallic frame – or no frame at all, which have come to be seen as rather old-fashioned,” he said. 

The point was also emphasized by Optika Opticians General Manager Chris Sansone, who said that the more obvious plastic frames had become exceedingly popular in the past five years.

“Although we have no official statistics I would say that the frames we have sold in the past year have been 60% plastic compared to 40% metal frames,” he said, adding that in the previous decade the trends had been the other way round. 

Although perhaps not a staple accessory in everyone's wardrobe just yet, even the round Harry Potter frame has made a comeback
Although perhaps not a staple accessory in everyone's wardrobe just yet, even the round Harry Potter frame has made a comeback
Sansone added however, that there seemed to be a very small percentage of clients who buy frames unless they need corrective lenses. 

“Perhaps those who choose to wear glasses as an accessory opt to buy retail brands rather than designer eyewear that’s typically found at opticians,” he explained. 

He added however that a general sense of awareness had definitely come on the scene over recent years, with clients choosing to buy eyewear with different protective coatings, even if they don’t need corrective lenses. 

“People have become more aware of the effect that things like laptops, tablets and mobile phones have on their vision, and given the way these items have taken over our lives, many seek things like protective coating on their glasses.”

Similarly Russell Franklin from Solo Optical explained that although the idea of wearing glasses without a prescription was often seen as a form of “adult dressing up”, there had been a spike in their demand since the introduction of superior coatings suited for prolonged computer screen and smart phone use. 

Asked whether these coatings were ultimately effective, Franklin explained that although many were inclined to think it might be a technique to get them to spend more, these coats actually made a difference. Sansone agreed and explained that it’s hard to convince someone about the effects of something they cannot see. 

Trying to figure out what or who set off the trend for eyewear is a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Indeed Saliba also points out that besides the fashion industry, the increased awareness itself might be the root cause for glasses becoming such a widespread fashion trend. 

“Many people need (and have to wear) glasses so it wouldn’t make commercial sense for manufacturers to ignore such a huge market,” he said, adding that a revision of how glasses are presented in the first place is the very first step to meeting the needs of this market.

“Glasses are now seen as being stylish so a model in glasses no longer looks casual or relaxed in an almost sloppy kind of way, designers start pairing glasses to smarter more polished looks.”

Image consultant and stylist Marisa Grima argues that the change in perception was immediately “pounced on” by designers who “smell the profits to be made”, by beginning to showcase a more preppy look.

“These catwalk looks in turn, fuel the need for people to conform and look cool, leading to glasses being appropriated even by those who don’t need them,” she said, adding that the rise in demand ultimately suits those who absolutely need to wear them as well, due to increased options. 

A Gucci model at the Spring Summer 2016 Milan Fashion week wears Aviator glasses
A Gucci model at the Spring Summer 2016 Milan Fashion week wears Aviator glasses
Two models from the 2015 Haute Couture Fashion Week show how glasses can complete a look for Didit Hediprasetyo
Two models from the 2015 Haute Couture Fashion Week show how glasses can complete a look for Didit Hediprasetyo
Grima pointed out that the trend had initially started as an inexpensive accessory option, with many experimenting with varied but altogether cheaper high street brands. Similarly Saliba added that although brands had become something of a fashion marker in themselves, the choice of branded versus high street depends largely on the person’s budget. 

“If glasses are to be worn regularly, then quality is a factor but so is one’s budget. There are certainly people who go for the branded frame/glasses though in my view, it’s not so much for the brand itself as much as for the style, comfort, and how it suits one’s face,” he said.

Sansone concurred that it was normally people in the 30 to 45 age group who opted for having multiple branded options to match their outfits, rather than younger age groups. 

Franklin also pointed out that the number of clients opting for more than one pair of glasses was on the rise. 

“A client could be an office worker from Monday to Friday but active in sports at the weekend,” he said, adding that this could present different necessities, with one model used in a formal setting and another selected to suit hard wear and tear conditions.

“We have also seen a rise in clients picking their frames based on wardrobe choices and opting for colours and shapes to match different outfits,” he said, pointing out that these options were no longer a female stereotype. 

Asked what the most popular frames were at the moment Franklin said that chunky, colourful and plastic models were all the rage, while Sansone explained that Aviators and Wayfarers remained some of the most favourite styles in recent months. 

Martina Borg focuses on lifestyle and society issues
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