Making a Spectacle of Yourself: a Steampunk Perspective of Victorian Eye Wear

Doctor Who Series 8 (episode 9)

Most people associate goggles with the Steampunk Aesthetic, and I have to admit I have quite a collection of goggles. However, the Victorian era had more versions of eye wear than we do today. They didn’t just have spectacles and bifocals, they had pince-nez, lorgnettes, quizzing glasses, monocles, and opera glasses.

Pince-Nez

Pince Nez01Pince Nez02

Pince-nez were a style of glasses supported without earpieces; instead, they were held on by nose pads that gripped the bridge of the nose.  The name is quite self-explanatory if you understand French, for the name comes from the French word ‘pincer’ which means ‘pliers’ or ‘to pinch’ in English, , and ‘nez’,  which means ‘nose’. The fashionable pince-nez their peak popularity around 1880 to 1900. They were worn by both men and women.

Because they had no ear pieces, pince-nez were inclined to slide or drop off the nose. To prevent them from being smashed on the ground, pince-nez were often suspended from a ribbon or chain worn round the neck, just like spectacles are today. Less often, they were tied to the buttonhole of a lapel. Some women used a brooch-like device pinned to the clothing, which would automatically retract the line to which the glasses were attached when they were not in use – very like the device used for chatelaines and skirt lifters.

As a Steampunk accessory, I think they add an air of intellectualism to any cosplay.

Lorgnettes

lorgnette

Lorgnettes look very much like pince-nez on a handle; they are similar to opera glasses. However, because they were hand held, they were often highly decorated – some to the point they must have been difficult and tiring to hold, like the example below. So, as you might guess, their use was more fashionable than to assist the short sighted. The name is derived from the French ‘lorgner’, which means ‘ogle’. Fashionable Victorian ladies exclusively used them. Personally, I would find them tiresome, but I’m sure they could be modified for use in a Steampunk wardrobe.

lorgnette ornate

Opera Glasses

Woman with opera glasses

Opera glasses were the heavy duty version of the lorgnette. They are still in use today, as a pair of mini-binoculars for theatre performances. This makes obtaining a pair of opera glasses an easier and cheaper option than a lorgnette. They come with or without handles, and some are very decorative and a most delightful addition to a Steampunk wardrobe. Of course, they are still tiresome to hold for long periods of time, but often the case for the glasses is just as decorative as the glasses themselves, and can be worn clipped to a belt or strap.

striped opera glasses

Monocles

monocle-vintage

Monocles are one of the most popular additions to any Steampunk cosplay, because they are stylish. There are three basic styles of monocles. The first consisted of a simple loop of metal with a lens which was slotted into the eye orbit, as modelled in the image above. These were the first monocles worn in England and were fashionable from the 1830s onwards. In the 1890s the second style of monocles were developed, and consisted of a frame with a raised edge-like extension known as the ‘gallery’. The third style of monocle were frameless. If you need to squint to hold your monocle in place, you are not wearing it correctly.

Monocles usually are attached to chain for the same reason as the pince-nez, to prevent them from getting lost or smashed if they fell. Masculine monocle wearers often had a special pocket on their waistcoat to tuck the monocle away when not in use. Some famous wearers of monocles are the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, Karl Marx and the First Doctor. They fell out of favour in the Twentieth century due to several factors, the main one being changes in fashion. This is why they are perfect as part of a Steampunk wardrobe, because the height of their popularity was the Victorian era.

William Hartnell and monocle

Quizzing Glasses

Quizzing glass with vinaigrette

Some class the quizzing glass as a type of monocle, but I see them as a separate entity, because quizzing glasses were always help up to the eye, and were not worn on the face. Quizzing glasses could be made to include other uses, such as vinaigrettes or compartments in the handle, or have keys attached. Because they were hand held, they could be made to be much more ornate than any monocle, and many were lavishly decorated with gems and curlicues. Quizzing glasses were generally hung from a chain around the neck, with in its turn could be decorative. In one gets the sense that monocles were used for actual optometric purposes, while quizzing glasses were for poseurs, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Even in the Victorian era, quizzing glasses had a rather negative reputation. However, I believe they are a wonderful addition to any Steampunk outfit, because they are both decorative and could conceal clever gadgets in their handles.

As a writer, I see all these ocular implements as a perfect way of adding depth to a characterization; a lorgnette or quizzing glass are exactly the sort of thing a respectable duchess might use, while a rebellious woman might wear a monocle. They also give your characters something to fiddle with when they thinking or embarrassed or trying to hide a secret. You could even uses the various forms of eye wear to create a complicated analogy or metaphor … after all, not all those with glasses can ‘see’.

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3 Comments

Filed under Bling, Characterization, Fashion, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Cosplay, writing

3 responses to “Making a Spectacle of Yourself: a Steampunk Perspective of Victorian Eye Wear

  1. karen j carlisle

    Reblogged this on Karen J Carlisle and commented:
    A topic I am very interested in… obviously.

  2. Loredana Isabella Crupi

    Fascinating! Thankyou! 🙂

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