Look around you in any public place and you will almost certainly see someone wearing glasses. This is a common sight since they have been a part of our culture for hundreds of years, so spotting a pair on the street wouldn’t make you think twice. You might however stop in your tracks, should you encounter a man wearing a monocle, as this is not something one has the pleasure of seeing in everyday life. Like glasses, they were designed as both visual aid and fashion accessory but unfortunately are not seen so often in this day and age.
Choosing the right pair of spectacles can add a certain style to your appearance, as well as hint at intelligence. This idea goes back almost as far as the initial idea that glass could be utilised to help those less fortunate among us see. During the development of the eyeglasses as we know them today, there were some interesting variations along the way, designed for keeping up appearances and to generally show that you were better than everyone else. The lorgnette is a prime example, favoured at masquerade parties and operas. However, nothing can compare to the air of sophistication granted to a man by the monocle.
For the uninitiated, the monocle is a single lens eyeglass to be worn over one eye. This may be because only one eye needs correction, or simply because it looks good. As is the case with glasses, non-corrective lenses can be worn purely for the sake of fashion. The lens is usually contained in a wire frame, although frameless lenses were also popular as they could be cut and easily adapted to fit different shaped faces. The latter was cheap to customise and allowed a generation of the less wealthy to enjoy this style. A cord is connected to the lens, which is either worn around the neck or attached to the wearer’s clothing, so that in the event of the lens hilariously but inconveniently popping out, it would not be lost. One advantage of the monocle is that being a single, small lens, it can easily be stored in the front pocket when not in use.
Wearing the monocle involves slotting the lens into the eye orbit, which may take a small amount of effort on the first attempt, but it is an easy technique to pick up. The best way to do it is to relax the eye, put the lens in over it and squint slightly to hold it in place. Overdoing it may give you a rather off-putting sneer but if you grip it just right you will be rewarded with a unique look of dignity that just can’t be achieved with a pair of glasses, no matter how elegant they may be. Special care must be taken regarding which facial expressions you use, as raising the eyebrows too much will cause the lens to simply drop out, inviting comparison to a surprised character from an old Punch cartoon.
As with any accessory people have experimented with different styles and modifications. After all, we all know how embarrassing it can be to turn up at a party only to find someone wearing the exact same monocle as you. Some later models included a useful extension on the frame, known as the gallery, which would raise the lens slightly and stop it pushing against the eyelashes. A sprung gallery was also available, which could be pulled together, put in place and released. This version would hold itself in the eye socket. Of course if you had the money to spend you could get the frame specially made to fit perfectly in your own socket. Those with money to throw about would go even further and have solid gold frames made for them, some even going so far as studding them with gems.