October 20, 2014

Wide-open eyeglasses for a non-ironic look

Earlier I showed how different the impression is when someone wears glasses that are narrow as opposed to wide. Narrow eyes, whether now or during the cocooning Midcentury, make people look aloof and self-conscious. Wide eyes like you saw back in the '70s and '80s look inviting and other-directed.

Of course today's narrow glasses are more off-putting than the Midcentury originals because there's now a level of irony on top of it all. Get it -- retro Fifties, geek chic! Yep, we get it.

It makes you wonder whether people could ironically wear wide-eye glasses (other than sunglasses). I've been wearing a pair from several decades ago since the summer, and haven't gotten any winking approval looks like "Oh I see what you did there, Seventies glasses FTW!" They're pleasantly inconspicuous.

I was searching Google Images to try to identify the drinking glasses that my parents used to own around the time I was born, with only pictures to go from. "Vintage glasses orange brown" turned up this result:

It's meant to be part of an ironic "hot for teacher" costume for Halloween, but it doesn't succeed in the ironic department. Somehow, wearing wide-eye glasses makes someone look inviting, kind, and sincere, even when they're aiming for ironic.

Contrast the effect with those "sexy nerd" glasses with narrow eyes and thick rims, where the girl just looks sassy and self-absorbed. Wearing glasses like the ones above makes her look refreshingly tuned in to other people instead of herself.


  1. 50-year-old browline frames (Ur-Fifties; same make as Tom Hanks in Catch Me If You Can) here for the past four years, but unironically. It's a conservative statement along with my clothes. Related to your post, yes, the wide-open frames make the pretty girl look sweeter, more feminine. My first serious girlfriend wore frames like that back when they were in (I'm not young anymore; 50ish). But that feminizing effect is a reason for guys to choose the opposite. (Why the movie Clark Kent looked like someone not to be taken seriously.) Interesting observation, though: a millennial might wear a '70s smiley-face T-shirt to make fun of it but not those glasses. Maybe because glasses are more a part of you than your clothes.

  2. Also, "big eyes" approximate the proportions of children; more trusting. The kind of naïveté a guy doesn't want to project, but universally attractive in women. Keeping others at the distance (or closeness) you want them = power = masculine.

  3. The ironic distancing/power effect is also, I think, why sunglasses have been nearly always cool since French and Italian movies glamourized them in the '50s. (Before that, they were thought to mean "weak eyes.") Even with wide-open frames, hiding the eyes has that effect.

  4. Agnostic, did you ever find those glasses? We're they amber or swirled? I remember a year or so ago seeing the 70s colors, especially amber make a comeback. I'll never get it myself; as a kid I found it hideous.
    Back to the glasses, they didn't by chance have a pedestal bottom and were of a cubed pattern, were they?

  5. Masculine vs. feminine is more about how angular vs. curvy the frames are, not whether they're narrow vs. wide. See the men's glasses in the earlier post I linked to. In the Midcentury, women wore narrow glasses but they were curvy (epitomized by the cat's eye type), while in the '70s and '80s men wore wide glasses that had a more squared-off profile.

    My parents' drinking glasses were clear but painted on, somewhat like these:


    I was struck by how high-quality people's stuff used to be, that even an under-25 lower-middle class newlywed couple would have painted glasses, hollow-handle knives, homespun afghans and quilts, sturdy furniture made in America, and so on.

    It couldn't have looked any less pretentious either. The kind of domestic look-and-feel that I'd always associated with the '80s (i.e., when I was perceiving it first-hand) turns out to be mostly from the mid-to-late '70s, when they got married and were just starting out.

    That was near the low-point for lifestyle status contests, even if career competition was just beginning to pick up. The total lack of pretension makes most folks look at the (mid-to-late) Seventies as bland, ugly, and embarrassing.

    Yet it looks more alive than the minimalism of the past 20-25 years. Glasses had patterns painted on, so did plates, so did cookware. Couches had plaid patterns, even if the colors were muted. Afghans were more lively, with bright and dark colors juxtaposed.

    And the absence of a conscious "design-y" look gives the home a more humble and, well, home-y atmosphere. They didn't look like a sterile, museum-like attempt to recreate the showroom of Ikea, Design Within Reach, etc etc etc.

  6. I neglected to give props to the linoleum kitchen tile patterns in avocado green, mustard yellow, and mushroom brown!

    1. The 70s colors and design we love to make fun of was part of the movement to get back to nature and being down to earth. It preceded the huge primitive revival of the 80s which was a huge improvement.
      Some of the things are better, but with needlework things went down. Women in the 60s and earlier would have crocheted those afghans out of wool, in the 70s and afterward it's all acrylic. Even today when yarn is hugely popular, wool is extremely limited and hard to come by.

      I'm not even going to discuss macrame.

  7. That pic is evocative for me - in my law school class 30 yrs.ago there was a woman who looked much like this girl, though with a slightly darker complexion, and wore the exact same glasses. I didn't know her, but her father owned the San Diego Chargers. She went into asbestos defense litigation, which all things considered is good honest work.

  8. 'The total lack of pretension makes most folks look at the (mid-to-late) Seventies as bland, ugly, and embarrassing.'

    There's a recent book (the name escapes me) that showed vintage pictures of the most ugly interior decorating they could find from the 60's/70's. For what it's worth the 80's evidently were spared. Was that because aesthetics improved or was it because the 80's were the decade when the designer aesthetic/look started to take off?

    Just my own opinion, but it seems like casual clothing got busier in some ways in the 80's but overall aesthetics in many other things (interior decorating, professional clothing, sports uniforms, music, etc.) seemed to be a bit more precise & conservative in the 80's. Did the late 60's/70's see an explosion of gone too far fashions because people were a little too eager to break from the sterile mid century? By the late 70's it seemed like people were beginning to distance themselves from some of the sillier excesses of the decade. Rock bands stopped playing 10 minute long songs with orchestras, bell bottoms started shrinking etc.

    I'm not sure we will ever 'get over' the lingering embarrassment over the 70's. The polyester alone instantly dates (not in a charming way, either) images/visual media from the period. At the time polyester was seen as a welcome change from natural fabrics that wrinkled and wore out easily. In today's age of sophisticated, varied fabrics it's easy to forget that.

    As for glasses trends, I've got an 80's metal album which shows the Bass player wearing some pretty big glasses. I guess in the 80's men were secure and confident enough to not resort to 'I'm such a tuff guy' fashions like shaved heads, tattoos, whatever. And the non superficial audience was in tune with the music to the point that they didn't need camp machismo to tell them that they were dealing with a rock group.

    Also, narrow, dark colored frames aren't so much masculine or feminine looking as much as they are distractingly visible. Especially on pale people they create the dreaded shamu effect that detracts from being able to focus on their face. My '66er boss wears this type and I wish she'd get a different type. I myself wear the silver or gold, not so narrow type.

    It's also funny that in this age of overwrought machismo that men drive such soft looking vehicles. The ugly, tasteless and nerdy vehicle designs are not seen as such by today's insecure men.

  9. At a New York Times article, they are using wide-open glasses to make toddlers look like senior citizens. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/what-if-age-is-nothing-but-a-mind-set.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=LargeMediaHeadlineSum&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0


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