I don't usually feature formally written pieces, however, I recently investigated the vintage eye wear trend, and I wanted to share my thoughts and findings with you all in the following article. Enjoy!
Wandering around Portobello on a busy Saturday afternoon, it is easy to spot those pining for a time long since lost. They can be seen rummag¬ing through the battered books, admiring floral tea pots, and flicking through the records from that little cardboard box in the corner of a dusty stall. And with vintage in mind, their latest crush has got to be the retro spectacles. Vintage frames have become the fantasy of those wanting that period look.
Throughout history, eyewear has always been seen as a way to express individual identity, creating a look to either fit in with those around you, or to stand out, emphasising your eccen¬tricities. Adelaide Turnball, a stylist for publica¬tions such as Oh Comely magazine, believes that glasses have always been a focus in fashion territory. ‘Glasses are a strong way to commu¬nicate individuality as they are so prominent, we look at each other’s faces first and foremost so your glasses are often the first thing someone will notice.’ The look is now designed to appear very obvious, eyewear frames are now the focus of glasses, made to stand out. Examples can be seen across London. Roger Pope and partners opticians of Marylebone specialise in vintage glasses, selling a wide range from the 1940s through to the 1980s. Specialising in vintage styles, employee Claire Colman has also witnessed a rise in eccentricity and customers becoming bolder in their choice of eyewear. ‘We are increasingly getting business from more and more young people’ she says, ‘particu¬larly since the modernisation of Marylebone high street.’
So what draws people to the retro spectacles? Music and popular culture have always played a big part in influencing the younger generation, and glasses have been no exception. John Lennon made circular glasses part of his signature look. A favourite at the festivals, the round tea glasses have since become iconic themselves, adopted by modern celebrities such as teen idols and fashion designers, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and actress and singer Taylor Momson, continuing to exude that rock ‘n’ roll nonchalant attitude. Once the young celebrities take on a trend, the fans take great inspiration from their look. Tea glasses have quickly transformed, from once only being favoured by biker dads and Ozzy Osbourne likes, to being seen on the latest fashion ‘it’ figures, and appearing at venues such as Somerset House during London Fashion Week.
Turnball agrees that glasses have now become much more of a style statement as opposed to their original practical objectives. ‘when people started to think about glasses as a style choice creativity escalated, now I see people who have found vintage or one off glasses they love and had the prescription lenses made.’
1950s style hood rimmed glasses are another style that has been set apart from others in the fashion scene. Originally dying out in the 1970s when aviator styles took over, the hood rims, as with much of the retro designs, fell out of fashion and developed the persona of being ‘uncool’, and something for the older generation. ‘when vintage-style thick framed designs started to become fashionable a lot of people were scared of trying them for fear of looking geeky, but gradually people realised that could be cool in itself and also that eyewear could be a strong statement with obvious and immediate refer¬ences to certain eras and styles’ Turnball says. The hood rims are now back, encapsulating the highly desired vintage look. Originally worn by 50s Hollywood superstars James Dean, and political rights campaigner Malcolm X, these 50s style thick rims and bold designs are now adopted by many in the public eye, including Hollywood actor Johnny Depp, who is rarely seen off camera without a pair of tortoiseshell rimmed specta¬cles. Popular culture is a definite source of inspiration when it comes to this look. Celebrities, both modern and iconic, have of course had a big part to play in influencing peoples style choices. A survey taken by the Telegraph found that 70 per cent of respondents thought that celebrities and popular culture had a significant influence on their style. This is not an uncommon feel amongst the general public. Rock and Roll icon Buddy Holly’s frames certainly stood out from the crowd, influencing fans at the time with heavy black rimmed frames, perhaps the first example of ‘geek chic’ that was seen. However, it seems music has a lot less influence on this trend in the 21st century, than it did more than 50 years ago. 67 per cent of peo¬ple said that they believed the media and celebrities influenced their choice in style, verses 11 per cent that said their style was influenced by music and the style culture that went along with it.
But why the sudden rise in such an old idea? The introduction of throw away fashion with brands such as Topshop and Primark is without a doubt decreasing, particularly in the attitudes of young people, who it seems now would much rather part with a little more money in order to purchase something of quality, rather than quantity. The protests outside Primark in 2008 certainly made an impression on its shoppers, as the fast fashion megastore was discovered for using child labour to make their clothes. ‘Customers are now more likely to buy from brands that they trust’ a survey respondent told us. ‘Ethical fashion has therefore become a lot more relevant and desired over the last couple of years’. Another aspect that shoppers increasingly look for is the ‘greener options’. Websites such as Friends of the Earth suggest cheap clothing stores that are the most environmentally friendly, as well as alternative, green materials than those already being used. The clothing brand People Tree specialises in ethical fashion, and features collections designed by this week’s cover girl, Emma Watson. And it seems, since Britain has entered a recession in particu¬lar, that disposable clothing has become less desirable. ‘People search for a more individual look to counter the mass fashion of the high street and they search for quality to invest in’ says Turnball. Our survey told us that 60 per cent of young people favour a vintage style rather than that of a mainstream high street one. And although the high street still arguably rules British fashion, it appears as though those who can part with the money would much prefer something with quality and long lasting properties. 70 per cent of participants also said that they thought British fashion was moving towards a more retro aesthetic, arguing that ‘there is a nostalgia for the past’, and that ‘there is not much going on in fashion currently’, so ‘people look to the past for inspiration’.
Political statements and global issues have always had their influence on fashion. As mentioned earlier, the rose tinted tea glasses became a staple look for the 1960s and 70s ‘hippie’ style, worn in conjunction with flower prints and knitted pon¬chos. They symbolised a certain view of the world, a longing for the end of the Vietnam War, promoting ‘free love’, and it seemed, no boundaries when it came to atelier. Turnball sees that recession and global issues today have played a part in not only vintage eyewear, but retro styles returning, linking to ‘political rhetoric about having to tighten our belts and reduce our national debt.’
I must admit the antiquated look is rather addictive once you start. The retro spectacles are becoming increasingly popular, particularly with the young. But with such an exclusive clientele, the look doesn’t come cheap. A pair of tortoiseshell rimmed glasses from Roger Pope and partners comes at the cost of £450, and that’s of the less extravagant variety. Of course, like most forms of fashion, one can get their hands on copies of retro styles (Camden market in particular boasts a wide range), but it is the well-made, antique finish of these glasses that I believe gives them their ap-peal, meaning you will need to invest the money to get the desired effect, and look that you want. However, if you don’t have the option of spending a little more, Turnball gives the advice ‘Don’t be afraid of buying a pair of retro glasses or sunglasses in a charity shop/vintage shop/boot fair and having an optician fit them with new lenses. The important thing is to find something you love and that suits you shape wise.’