for 19 September 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.



Eye Sore

Driven by the tedium of Pearle Vision
commercials, the eagle-eyed more
often try to convert their
bespectacled brethren to the world
of contact lenses. They don't
realize that glasses appeal to the
vision-impaired the same way that
Red Baron goggles appeal to
five-year-old Snoopy fans. (Or that
without our protective lenses, most
of us look like moles emerging from
the ground after a five-month
hibernation.) Start each day with a
poke in the pupil? Let some Russian
doctor perform some science-fictive
corrective laser operation? Uh,
sure. With alternatives like these,
we'll keep polishing, sitting on,
and losing our lifelines to the
visible world for years to come.
Despite what you may have heard in
the junior-high barnyard, the lesson
myopics should keep close at hand is
"four eyes good, two eyes bad."
Glasses have only recently been
widely available and affordable.
According to a fascinatingly erudite
essay, "What Man Devised That He
Might See," by Richard D. Drewry,
M.D., in eighteenth-century America,
"[s]pectacles were mainly for
the affluent and literate."
The problem of keeping your
specs from sliding off one's face
remained throughout the nineteenth
century, inspiring all sorts of
hokey solutions, usually involving
ribbon. The turn of the century was
characterized by a rash of quacks
going door-to-door hawking electric
and magnetized glasses to correct
your sight - which should be a
caution to anyone contemplating
so-called "smart" glasses.
We are lucky to live in the age of
sight, and yet our fine four-eyed
friends remain a persecuted
minority. Other cheap dichotomies
get more column inches in Life's
Little Instruction Books: innies vs.
outies, fire signs vs. water signs,
clean desks vs. messy desks. But the
glasses-or-no-glasses question goes
straighter to the heart of what
Sunday morning talking heads call
"The Character Issue."
It takes guts to wear glasses today;
even in this golden era of no-glare
lenses, you don't see a lot of
supermodels and veejays joining the
Junior Birdwatcher Club. (Pace
Kennedy, whose specs are surely
nonprescription.) And whoever coined
the phrase "you wouldn't hit a kid
with glasses?" clearly never wore
them himself. That's not to say that
the goggled gaggles don't have a few
things to answer for. Elvis
Costello, for instance.
In 1976, the crooner formerly known
as Declan McManus precipitated the
culture's slide into Frankian
hip-is-deadness by sneaking off his
computer operator job at the
Elizabeth Arden factory to record
"My Aim Is True." The album arrived
the next summer, with Spike rocking
out in a pigeon-toed stance at the
center of a black-and-white '50s
checkerboard - and sporting thick,
black British Health Services
frames. When "Talking Heads '77" hit
stores at the end of the year, the
combined force of the Costello/Byrne
debuts had touched off a subcultural
rage for car coats, pointy boots and
Buddy Holly eyewear.
Thanks to a songwriter's contrarian
fashion statement, thrift stores
were on their way to transforming
themselves from dusty places where
poor people bought dead people's
clothes to research and development
zones for the likes of Gyro
Worldwide. Nearly 20 years later
Costello's brainstorm would be
codified as Geek Chic, the death
rattle of retro hipsterdom.
Now those same forces which made it
hard to don a flannel shirt "just to
stay warm" or Adidas sweatpants
"just to go for a jog" are making it
hard to pick a new pair of frames.
Like Costello, one wants to resort
to no-brainer, antiaesthetic
decision-making: his NHS glasses
were one of three styles available
for free from the government (as
were John Lennon's early round
ones). Every design screams out
association with one of the dubious
groups defined by chronically
behind-the-curve "Gen-X" marketers
like Sputnik and the Zandl Group.
And yet Lens is still More. Glasses
can be social armor, social
shorthand, or just a great, cheesy
flirtation device (insert left
temple into right corner of mouth).
With an, er, eye toward fending off
the contact-hawkers, a few
guidelines follow for steering clear
of the more common optical cliches.
Colored lenses
Gray - creepy German rocket scientist.
Blue - Tom Petty.
Green - get a banker's visor while you're at it.
Rose-tinted - insert your own inevitable joke here.
Not unless you want to be called
"Mister Peanut" behind your back.
Pince-nez, Lorgnettes
Unfortunately necessitates a white
scarf, dinner jacket, and
memorization of the Kurt Weill
Also known as "Marge" glasses, these
are the female counterpart to
Costello's black bruisers.
Necessitates ownership of two
boomerang tables, one pair of
elbow-length gloves, and three
sweater sets.
Power to the Peoples
It wasn't a blind date - really, it
wasn't. But when Yours Truly gave
some info over the phone for
restaurant-recognition ("I'm tall,
dark, and have oval-shaped wirerim
glasses"), one look around the place
revealed the error of this choice.
In the space of about two months
last year, it seemed that every
white urban self-styled intellectual
spontaneously went out and put his
money in Oliver Peoples's pocket.
Publish and Perish
The likely female blind dates of the
above tend to work in publishing and
wear a certain angular dark plastic
model-which screams Mental
Powerhouse while fueling dorky
coworkers' sexy librarian fantasies.
George Will, Call Your Office
The Oliver Peoples of the '80s were
the saucerlike round, gold numbers
favored by Sunday morning
quarterhacks like George Will.
Currently more appropriate for aging
boomers who also wear overalls and
Eddie Bauer baseball caps in a
desperate attempt to seem boyish in
the face of 40somethingness.
Benjamin Franklin may have invented
the bifocal, but until you're old
enough to need bifocals, skip those
lima-bean-sized lenses more commonly
seen in yellowing portraits by
Rembrandt Peale.
Tortoiseshell, Butterscotch
Camelot, ho! A deep tan, a headband,
and an oxford shirt tied around your
shoulders, completes the windswept
The greater the ratio of width to
height, the greater the impression
that the wearer is looking askance
at the world through a mail slot.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar Wraparound Sports
Now that Wall Street has accepted
French Blue as a viable nondressdown
shirt color, it's only a matter of
time before these become hip for
civilian workplace use. Sports
straps are legit for keeping your
glasses from cracking on the court,
but make sure to wring the sweat out
between uses.
Hal Rubenstein has written, quite
correctly, that hairlessness should
be viewed as an excuse to buy some
glasses that would have made the
early Elton John skittish.
The Warhol look, emphasizes one's
spacier qualities. Rarely works
for anyone but the extraordinarily
fair-haired, and if you don't believe
it, take one quick look at Michael
Very early '90s, when in a gush of
Fountainhead nostalgia, the word
"architect" seemed the ideal
half-funky, half-responsible job
title to have on your business card,
preferably handprinted. This is an
improvement, however, over the
magnifying-glass Corbusier look
favored by I.M. Pei and other
would-be worldmakers.
Glasses on the Head
Major no-no. Will induce regression
to high school vocabulary as last
week's best friend start's calling
you "fake" behind your back.
We close with a final cautionary note
on sunglasses, which are a whole
other, uh, article unto themselves:
While more disposable and goof-proof
than regular glasses, pedestrians
will be henceforth fined on the spot
if their ray-banning devices appear
to cost more than half the price of
their footwear.

[Zero Baud Archive]

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