‘A product is a stage in the life of other things, not one kind of product above another’ (Appadurai, 1986, p. 17) Glasses and contact lenses have long been called ‘design items,’ and are used in the word ‘costume,’ which applies to a type of dress that involves all clothing and accessories. “Corrective or defensive aids (as glasses or contact lenses) for the eyes,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Eyewear, commonly known as spectacles, comprises eyeglasses and contact lenses, and has increased in popularity in the apparel industry over time. People in different social classes equate style and fashion with their social class and cultural backgrounds. Changes in preferences and fashions necessitate design, efficiency, and material usage developments that maximize the product’s artistic appeal. Gases and contact lenses have developed into lifestyle accessories and experienced drastic shifts in reaction to technical advances, considering the reality that their usefulness benefit cannot be overstated. In reality, the convergence of fashion and usefulness has ensured the eyeglasses industry’s long-term growth as fashion artifacts of design and fashion. If individuals are required to purchase glasses for visual correction or eye safety, the next rational move in the shopping phase is to find the best glasses. This judgment is focused on a variety of considerations, the bulk of which are affected by the consumer’s cultural context. However, beauty and fashion are crucial considerations to recognize when making a choice, as well as the person’s appearance and social standing.
Values Associated with Eyewear
Values are mutual principles or convictions by people in a culture which influences a person’s behaviour and attitude. In study of fashion emphasis is on the way in which the objects of fashion such as jewellery, garments and accessories like shoes and glasses acquire meaning in specific historical and cultural contexts. Tilley, C. (2006, p. 60) stated “The concept of objectification may be held to be, in a profound sense, at the heart of all studies of material culture.” Consumption is only the trigger for taking a decision to acquire an object. The objects gain new values and meaning when it is associated with social identity. The importance and value ingrained in an object makes it worthy of collection for heirloom or for an archive or museum due to its historical and heritage value.
Evolution of Glasses and Lenses
The glasses or spectacles were initially used for vision correction and eye protection. Benjamin Franklin had Myopia and Presbyopia and the credit goes to him for invention of bifocals. A popular object or the latest style becomes fashion, and thus glasses have transformed into the fashion objects, since several celebrities have contributed for the glasses to become fashion over years. 3D glasses, computer glasses and rimless glasses arrived later into the scene at various points of time in the evolutionary process.
Probably fashion in eyeglasses started with the design and construction of spectacles frame. The eyepieces held earlier through ribbon tied around the head were inconvenient to the wearer. It is believed that the modern structure of the glasses were designed and developed by famous British Optician called Edward Scarlet. “Around 1730 Edward Scarlett of Soho advertised that he ‘Grindeth all manner of Optick Glasses (and)makes spectacles after a new method, marking the Focus of the Glass upon the Frame, it being approv’d of by all the Learned in Opticks as [the] Exactest way of fitting different Eyes’.” (The College of Optometrists, n.d.)
Antique eye glasses displayed for sale in Ebay are given below, which speak for their heritage value:
Antique Eye Glasses
19th Century Nickel over Brass Pince nez Tinted, Hole For Chain 10-12K Gold Wire Rim Glass
Source: Ebay (21-11-2013)
Though wearing glasses enhances personal image of a person, it was once considered as social stigma, especially with children due to facial distortion. But, this concept faded away. These people prefer contact lenses in the place of high power lenses. The thickness of the lenses in the case of high power lenses is felt as a source of embarrassment by children or the people moving in public constantly. The brittleness of glasses once considered as a major disadvantage in using eye glasses had been overcome with the use of plastic lenses which are durable with good optical qualities. Scratches in plastic glasses led to the innovation of scratch proof glasses with resistant coating. Poly carbonate glasses are used for rimless glasses as this could be drilled easily. Browline, GI glasses, cat-eye glasses and pince-nez glasses have been some of the different styles of glasses gaining popularity mostly in rotation with modifications in designs, changes in materials used or celebrities known as brand ambassadors endorsing the fashion objects.
Fashion as Material Culture
The rise of mass consumption, especially in the aftermath of urbanisation resulted in emergence of new objects in our life. This development in the history gave rise to new practices and needs associated with these products. The type of material culture created in the process depends upon the cultural, political, and economic system prevailing in the society. “Material culture is the history and philosophy of objects and the myriad relationships between people and things. –Bernie Herman” (Center for Material Culture Studies, 2007). The objects of fashion and their relationship with the people reflect the cultural background of the groups to which the people belong. In the material world concerning identity, design plays an important role. Attfield, J. (2000, p. 75) “Design can still be conceived of as a practice of modernity whereby it is deemed possible to effect change… as a practice of self-construction realised through consumption as well as in the acts of making and living.” The shapes, designs, materials and colours used in glasses are intended to perk up the appearance of the wearer. Various celebrities use glasses or contact lenses for different purposes such as differentiating themselves or as masks.
“Colour contact lenses are becoming the new trend in fashion. This trend has emerged because contact lenses now have funkier styles, become more colorful, and more affordable. This trend has been caught on by big name celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Jessica Alba, Angelina Jolie, Robert Pattinson and many more.” (QQ Contacts n.d.) Media personality and actress, Paris Hilton’s original eye colour is not blue. But, what brings her to wear the blue colour contact lenses every day? It is said that after a failed eye lift surgery, the left eyelid gives a ‘drooping’ look. However, it has also become a style and fashion.
Britney Spears wears blue and green contact lenses; sometimes each eye with different colour, either blue or green. It is fashion culture. Some people like Leah Dizon the Japanese model, singer and actress wears contacts to make the eyes looks bigger. In this case it is the question of perking up the natural look to one’s advantage, which nevertheless became a fashion.
Wing colour contacts in various shades are very popular that give more natural iris look and enlarges the appearance of one’s eyes. Angel colour contacts are said to lend depth to one’s eyes. Two tone or three tone magic colour contacts blend two or three tones of colours to make to eyes natural looking. Nudy colour contacts have an illuminating or glowing effect to the eyes. It is important to note that in all these cases, the various options available are essentially to perk up one’s look and make them more attractive with an element of fashion.
People want to communicate with others in society in a way they intend them to be perceived. Dant, T. (1999, p. 2) stated “The things that we relate to have embodied within them the social relations that gave rise to them through their design, the work of producing them, their prior use, the intention to communicate through them and their place within an existing cultural system of objects.” Brand value with regard to the objects of fashion is to a greater extent influenced by the persons associated with it by way of use or endorsement. “With his signature pensive look and long hair, his (John Lennon) glasses provided a constant accessory – both as spectacles and tinted as sunglasses.” (Optical Express, n.d.)
Woodham, J.M. (1997, p. 15) stated “An important insight into patterns of taste in late nineteenth – and early twentieth century – everyday life is revealed in mail-order shopping catalogues, an innovation which commenced in the United States with Montgomery Ward Mail Order in 1872.” Elite groups, people belonging to economically stronger sections of the society, celebrities like film stars, models and sportsmen found mail-order shopping convenient as they could avoid going to departmental stores to buy articles of their choice. Various developments like these taking place in the developed world sooner or later linked to social identity. For example Tilley, C. stated (2006 p. 1) “An international journal, The Journal of Material Culture, first published in 1996, reaches an audience of archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, historians and people working in cultural, design and technological studies. “ These developments have created new social groups with common interests in the society. These groups in turn have tremendously influenced changes in cultural landscape and social status. These changes had their own impact on gender, class and identity in the society. Anything related to fashion will catch up with the ladies quickly.
Though it is very common for all the people from common man to cinema stars to use fashion glasses, the types of glasses worn differentiates people as it indicates their social status and affinities. It is also argued that fashion to some extent is a state of mind. Miller, D. (2010, p. 49) argues “that art itself exists only in as much as frames, such as art galleries or the category of art itself , ensure that we pay particular respect, or pay particular money, for that which is contained within such frames.” Economic status of a person dictates the brand one use. Level of income or affordability is an important criterion in this regard. However, people who travel by motor bikes or people by nature of their work might prefer glasses mainly due to their utility value. Youngsters prefer using contact lenses to avoid marks created by wearing glasses or when wearing glasses is perceived as unattractive. Diversity in workplace brings people with different cultural and social background together in a modern office set up. Fashion spread to the whole society very fast due to cosmopolitan lifestyle. People, especially the younger generation students in colleges are smitten by this culture, which in fact increases cohesiveness in the society.
Contact lenses are popular with elite groups, people belonging to economically stronger sections of the society, celebrities like film stars, models and sportsmen. People belonging to these social groups are concerned about their personality to a larger extent. People in higher income bracket have social connections which warrant membership with clubs, trade associations and other social organisations. Therefore, they are conscious of their appearance, style and fashion. Since spectacles can be sometimes considered as a mark of age, people belonging to these groups may prefer contact lenses to glasses. Glasses and contact lenses can improve a person’s look if the selection of the frame of the glasses is intelligent and tasteful. The concept of fashion involves differentiation in products. Therefore, innovation is the watch word in fashion industry. Tastes and fashions have very short span of life. The products remaining unsold when the fashion fades away will be a burden to the manufacturers and distributors. When the fashion is in the fag-end of the season there will be no takers even at hugely discounted prices. Walker, J. A. (1989, p. 63) in “the ‘relay race’ conception: the baton of genius or avant garde innovation passes from the hand of one great designer to the next in an endless chain of achievement.” Therefore, designers and their reputation are the kingpins in the fashion industry. Innovative design calls for creativity. The designer needs to be artistic with an eye for details, knowledge about materials, passion for quality, visualising skill and imagination.
Miller is of the view that the consumers were made ‘mere mannequins’ who willingly wear the cloths that resulted in fashion industry’s profits. (Miller, D., 2012, pp. 54-57) This statement might be partially true. However, designing to the tastes of the consumers is an art. Designing requires lot of intangible inputs such as imagination and creativity. The length of the fashion wave is hard to predict with any reasonable accuracy. As it is very difficult to predict the success of a film, predicting success of a fashion object is very difficult. The cost associated with the manufacturing, distribution and promotion could be negligible if the fashion object is successful. On the other hand, failure to capture the attention of the customers will have crippling effect on the company, since hardly anything is recoverable out of the investment made.
Glasses and Contact Lenses
Ray-ban, Oakley, Gucci, Maui Jim, Giorgio Armani and Burberry are some of the world famous brands of fashion glasses with numerous styles catering to the needs of men and women. Lens technology varies from product to product which include gradient, anti-reflective, photo-chromatic, mirrored and polarised. The types of lenses used in eyewear could be glass, plastic and polycarbonate. The products are also differentiated by using variety of materials such as metal, plastic or titanium. The products are made to match with the facial structure of the consumers which could be oval, round or square. The scope for intuition, innovation, imagination and creativity in producing fashion glasses to satisfy the needs of various types of consumers from various sections of the society is phenomenal. Limited edition fashion glasses with golden frames are bought for making gifts on special occasions or for heirloom. ‘Aviator solid gold’ from Ray-Ban’s stable is an example for such type of glasses. People in higher income brackets, celebrities such as film stars, sportspersons, models and politicians may prefer fashion designer glasses to enhance their social identity.
Though glasses have a very long history, contact lenses have entered into fashion arena in the recent years. According to Bloomsbury Publishing (2005), “In recent years social scientists have become increasingly interested in theories of fashion, but have rarely directly addressed the material qualities of clothing. By contrast, traditional studies of dress have focused on textiles but often neglect the larger cultural context within which dress becomes consumed as clothing.” Various types of contact lenses such as Colour Cosmetic Lenses, Colour Fusion Contact Lenses and Colour Tone Contact Lenses can enhance the beauty of the wearer if the colour combination is good. There are several factors involved in proper selection of contact lenses. For instance, the colour of contact lenses should matches with the skin and hair of the wearer. Small children and college students prefer contact lenses more because they are worried about their acceptance in their friends’ circle with defective eyes. In the case of persons moving a lot with public, film actors and actresses, models and sports men they don’t want to exhibit their defects in public. Secondly wearing glasses can make some people look older. Use of contact lenses however, perks up their personality.
There is a storm of hype around promotion of Google glass today. Google glass brings in the comfort of using computer with OHMD (optical head-mounted display). The price of Google glass is comparable to the prices of smart phones. “Google Glass has had a front row seat at New York Fashion Week, currently underway… Models, magazine editors, bloggers, and generally fashionable folks have all been giving the glasses test drives around NYFW home base, Lincoln Center… “Project Runway” judge and fashion magazine editrix, Nina Garcia, has been wearing Google Glass everywhere.” (Weisman, 2013)
According to Neal, R. W. (2013) “Unfortunately for tech-inclined fashionistas (or fashion-inclined techies), the second-generation Google glasses are even dorkier looking than ever.” Technology is no doubt has its strong influence on fashion. However, what is dorkier in fashion is hard to define. It is a state of mind and when it is acceptable to more and more people for any quirkier reason, logical questions about its success as a fashion fades away.
Source: Neal, R. W. (2013)
Peterson, A. (2013) wrote “a company called Rochester Optical announced — on Google+, no less — it will be producing custom prescription lenses for Google Glass. The post says lenses will be available for purchase in early 2014” and this is expected to change the social expectations about Google glasses.
It is also important to note that a product like Google glasses is yet to undergo changes in the hands of fashion designers. Still, it is mostly considered as a gadget rather than a fashion object. Numerous variations, styles and models of the product in future hold lot of promise for fashion design and cultural shift in the society. “Glass will be revolutionary for the disabled,” says Rosalind Picard, whose focus is autism and communication technology. (Cava, M., 2013)
Change in lifestyles both in developed and developing countries and convergence of technology has spread the culture of using fashion glasses among the people, especially youngsters. According to Transparency Market Research (2013) “Contact lenses are gaining user acceptance due to increased awareness and convenience of use. Daily disposable and weekly disposable contact lenses are expected to be the preferred modality, due to their cost effectiveness and low dependency on eye care products.” Technological developments like Wavefront Lasik have been useful to eye doctors for diagnosing vision problems more effectively. These developments will increase penetration of glasses in future as well. Penetration of fashion glasses into the developing countries ensures steady growth of the industry for years to come. “Eyewear industry in China has been fast developed in past decades… According to the latest official statistics, China’s level and volume of eyewear consumption continue to grow rapidly.” (Italia, 2012, p. 2)
The robust growth of the eyewear and contact lens market in twenty first century could be attributed partly to the convergence of technology, growth of social media and confluence of various cultures in the field of fashion. However, rise in population of people with eye defects is the major reason behind the increase in demand for frames, lenses and contact lenses. Their inclination towards fashionable eyewear has been mainly responsible for the growth of the industry. Export of fashion glasses by the companies in developed countries to developing countries such as China, India and Brazil has increased considerably over a period of time. These international developments keep the fashion glasses industry on a healthy streak with scope for further growth. It could be observed that the technological innovations during this century had tremendous impact on fashion industry including fashion glasses. Since innovation and creativity are the cornerstones for fashion industry, technological developments have added fuel to these factors for designing superior products in line with the changing tastes and fashions of the consumers.
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