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Top 4 Victorian Era Eyewear Trends Rocked Fashionistas

The need for corrective lenses didn’t start with the Victorian Era. It was, however, a time when eyewear became widely available thanks to advances in optometry and related fields. It was also a time when mass production techniques made eyewear affordable. While people undoubtedly appreciated clear vision, they also could not resist having a bit of fun with their eyewear. Whether for protection, correction or just pure fashion, these top 4 Victorian Era eyewear trends rocked fashionistas of the day.

#1 Victorian Era Eyewear Trends—Cinder Glasses

Early railroad cars did not have windows. Passengers were lucky to have a cover overhead. Smoke and debris flew into their faces and eyes. As you can imagine, flying cinders caused more than a few clothing fires as well.

As railways expanded in the 1840s, there was a growing eyewear trend toward mass-produced cinder glasses. Goggles were eventually used to keep Victorian eyes safe. Initially only engineers wore them. Later, they filtered back to the various classes of passenger cars. Eventually, the train cars were enclosed and most had windows.

These protective glasses were also known as railway spectacles. The pairs in these photos date to the mid-1850s. They can be found at Eyeglasses warehouse.com. While these are hardly of the fancy variety, they certainly did their job.

#2 Victorian Era Eyewear Trends—Quizzing Glasses

Yes, this eyewear trend started well before the Victorian Era. Quizzing glasses, also known as quizzers, were a single magnifying lens on a handle. The glass was held to the eye “to get a closer look.” A closer look at what? Your imagination is the limit.

What exactly is quizzing? According to Thomas Wright in The Royal Dictionary Cyclopedia of Universal Reference, 1865:

Quizzing is ‘The act of mocking by a narrow examination through a quizzing-glass or by pretended seriousness of discourse’.

In her article, on the history of “Quizzing Glasses,” Candice Hern says, “The quizzing glass generally dangled at the end of a long ribbon or chain around the neck and was held up to the eye to “quiz” (stare, glance, look at quizzically) people and objects. The wearer would sometimes glare at a person through his or her quizzing glass as a manner of set-down or mockery.”

Quizzing glasses were fashionably worn like jewelry from the 1750s long into the Victorian Era eyewear trends.   By the 1850s, their popularity began to wane as they gave way to the next big thing—lorgnettes.

#3 Victorian Era Eyewear Trends—Lorgnettes

By the 1890s, Victorian Era eyewear trends gave way to the lorgnette. These were spectacles mounted on a handle. Unlike quizzers, lorgnettes had two lenses. They were more often prescription corrective lenses rather than simple magnifiers. Lorgnettes were the older siblings of opera glasses.

The name derives from the French word lorgner, which means to “eye furtively” also to “ogle”. How could this term possibly apply to fashionable women at the opera in the Victorian Era? Like the hidden watch camera the lorgnette was clearly an effective tool for spying, sneaking and investigating. With so much entertainment available, did anyone actually watch the opera?

In this exquisite lorgnette offered by Gilai collectibles, you can see a hinge in the bridge at the center. A small ring at the end of the case was used to attach a ribbon or chain to the owner’s bodice. The French optician M. Lepage invented the “Hinged Lorgnette” in 1818. Designers were creating lorgnettes as jewelry in the mid-19th century.

For women who would not be caught dead wearing glasses, the lorgnette was a useful device. The museum of vision features a lorgnette concealed in a mechanical pencil. (Where do we sign up for that one?!) They were even concealed in ear trumpets.

Our personal favorites are lorgnettes concealed in fans. What a juicy addition to the Victorian Era Language of accessories.

#4 Victorian Era Eyewear Trends–Pince-nez

Toward the end of the Victorian Era people were beginning to admit their eyes needed a little help. Wearing glasses in public was becoming acceptable. The “pince-nez” became the Victorian Era eyewear trend in the 1840s. It was brought to America in the 1850s. The style peaked in popularity in the 1880s to 1900 even though the style was used in Europe since the 14th century.

Pince-nez is the French term for “pinch nose.” That was just what they did. They literally remained perched on the nose by pinching hard. There were no side arms for support. The pince-nez could be uncomfortable and unreliable. More than a few were lost in a fall from the nose.

Pince-nez were often attached to a coat or bodice with a ribbon or chain. They could be worn around the neck or tucked in a buttonhole. A brooch or other piece of jewelry was often engineered to hold the pince-nez when not in use.

Hindsight Is 20/20: The First Eyeglasses

It is widely believed that the first proper pair of eyeglasses was created in Italy between 1268 and 1289. However, natural crystals and other materials were used for magnification long before that. The earliest devices for vision improvement were initially hand held or perched on the nose. Primarily scholars, clerks and monks used these.

With the invention of the printing press in 1452, literacy became more common. When cheap daily newspapers hit the scene, the need for corrective lenses boomed. The College of Optometrists website offers a detailed history of eyeglasses. According to them, the greatest advances in the design of spectacles were made in the 18th century.

One major design innovation that occurred some time before 1730 was the introduction of sides. Eighteenth century spectacles had large, round eye rim shapes with C-shape bridges. Spectacles of the 18th century were big and noticeable.

Edward Scarlett is credited with being the first optician to add temples to spectacles. The temples were short and intended to be held to the head via wigs. Eye Glasses Warehouse has several of these frames that date back to around 1727.

Ode To A Great Optician: Darryl Seman

This post is dedicated to Darryl Seman, a profoundly talented professional who took my hand and gently led me to my first pair of reading glasses.  In addition to his technical ability, he understood human nature—plus he had a fabulous sense of human and a great sense of fashion.  I will be forever grateful to Darryl for restoring my ability to read the fine print!

We lost a great optician and a lovely spirit much too soon.

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