Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Selection Process

I was very fortunate to receive this fantastic group of pince-nez. Now the tough part is selecting one to be fitted with prescription lenses. This is my first experience with pince-nez so you are getting my perspective as a newcomer to this style of eyewear. After several days of wearing all eight mountings, I can tell you this is an experience completely different from purchasing standard eyeglasses.

Most people, including myself, usually spend less than an hour selecting conventional eyewear. It is a quick and usually painless process. "One size fits all" works for virtually everyone who buy standard frames with temples. A optician or sales clerk can make adjustments in less than five minutes. Let me state there is nothing wrong with standard eyewear. But if you are reading this blog, chances are that you appreciate the beauty of the pince-nez and would like to wear it. There is much more legwork involved with getting pince-nez but it is definitely worth the effort.

Of the eight mountings above, two fit incredibly well. The matte silver at the top left (a "Fits-U") and the gold mounting without lenses at the top right are a remarkable fit. It will be a tough choice between these two. I'm leaning towards the gold one now.

I was really amazed at how all eight mountings varied in fit on me. If you want to wear the fingerpiece, I strongly suggest trying on a number of different mountings before deciding on one. Since virtually all of us wear standard frames, it takes a while to gauge the feel of a pince-nez. Plan on spending some time with a number of mountings before making your pick. It helps greatly to try on mountings which don't fit. This gives you more perspective on the process and highlights critical areas.

Purchasing a pince-nez in the old days was much easier. A friend of mine succinctly described the process as follows:

Interesting that in the 1905 to 1920 era opticians would have sample sets of rimless fingerpiece pince-nez from companies like American Optical. Their line of fingerpiece pince-nez was called "Fits U." A sample set contained about a dozen pince-nez with sample lenses on mountings of various widths etc. They had at least 2 or perhaps 3 sets which varied as to nose bridge depth as well. With a choice of 24 or 36 pince-nez an optician was able to easily make a perfect fit. All had nose guards were of identical design.

Pince-nez is definitely not a "one size fits all."

The two vital factors in determining a proper fit are comfort and security. You must have both elements, otherwise the pince-nez will sit in a drawer. Keep these two elements in mind while putting on various pince-nez.

Oh yes, silicone nose pads. These are a virtual necessity for both comfort and security. It is possible to wear a pince-nez without nose pads, but in almost all cases it is a great aid to overall comfort. These pads slide easily over nose guards.

Lots more to write on fit so I'll put that in future posts.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Word or Two on Pince-Nez from Yesteryear

I'm on strict orders today from Jon Dean not to try on the pince-nez frames that my friend sent. I've been having a lot of fun. Too much fun. (just kidding, he's not really mad at me)

You've seen some vintage ads in this blog which bring back a different time. Well, the prose from that time is equally interesting. The following is a passage from Spectacles and Eyeglasses by R.J. Phillips, M.D. (1908):
"...the eyeglass or pince-nez, has advantages...from the facility and quickness with which it may be placed in position or removed. The superiority of eyeglasses in appearance and becomingness is another point not unworthy of consideration, as the glasses will surely be more constantly worn if they are becoming than if they are not so. Moreover, the patient is entitled to the correction of his refractive error with as little injury to his appearance as possible."

LeDandy opines that a pince-nez greatly enhances one's appearance.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My First Pince-Nez

LeDandy pince-nez
This wouldn't be much of a column if I didn't wear pince-nez. As you may have realized, these frames are hard to find in wearable condition. Sure, there is plenty of junk out there. But if you want quality frames that fit, they are hard to locate. Don't worry, I'll be writing some columns addressing this issue in the future. If LeDandy can find low vamp shoes, he can help you find pince-nez frames.

My friend sent a care package yesterday with seven pince-nez frames! I thought it was Christmas again. The package was sent to Jon Dean's workplace and it arrived in the early afternoon yesterday. I had to wait all day to get at them. I tried on the frames for the first time during a two hour drive home in a horrid thunderstorm. I was in my own world. Prior to these frames, I never tried on a good pince-nez frame.

It was an eye opening experience. The whole feel is different from conventional eyewear. There is a certain balance to the head while wearing pince-nez. Nothing is wrapped around your temples. This is the minimalist approach at its finest.

Not all the frames fit me, which was expected. There are different sized bridges, both in width and depth. Due to my long eyelashes, the models with deep bridges didn't fit. Of the seven, three fit fine. It will be a difficult decision to make regarding which one to fit with prescription lenses.

Of course I tested the security of the fit. I shook my head with the frames that fit. No wobble. I tried squinting as hard as I could. Still, the pince-nez remained stationary. No matter what you may read, you need to test the security yourself to really understand it.

Unfortunately, the hoopspring did not make a favorable impression with me. While very attractive, they wobbled a bit vertically on my nose. One pair would fit with adjustment, but I prefer the look and feel of the fingerpiece.

LeDandy pug pince-nezLeDandy and a mirror is definitely not a good combination. I've been in front of the mirror all day trying on the frames. Given the different strength lenses, it made me a little dizzy! Ah, but what a great feeling. I've waited for about twenty years to get this style of eyewear. In a few weeks this dream will come true.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fact: Not Everyone Can Wear Pince-Nez

Perhaps my favorite comedian of all time is Redd Foxx. He passed away about five years ago or so, but his comic routines are legendary. In one of his less risque acts, he talked about eyeglasses. The following is as I remember it: "If we didn't have this piece of meat right here [pointing to his ears], we'd be wearing goggles." Obviously, Mr. Foxx wasn't familiar with pince-nez.

Regrettably, not everyone is suited for wearing pince-nez.

What is the important factor in determining suitability for wearing pince-nez? One must have some depth or prominence to the bridge of the nose. This is necessary for the nose guards to be securely held in place.

The good news is that most people, both men and women, can probably wear this style. At the peak of its popularity from 1885 to 1919 pince-nez accounted for roughly sixty to seventy percent of all eyeglasses worn in the US. A survey of the 1911 Brown University yearbook was consistent with this figure. Of those students who wore glasses, seventy percent of them wore pince-nez. Clearly the indication was that most people could wear it. It is also probably true today.

[student circa 1906]

[Ohio student circa 1913]

That covers the physical aspects of the topic.

Then there is the mental side. It takes a strong, individualist spirit to wear this style as it is differs markedly from mainstream eyewear. My guess is that if you found this column, you have that spirit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Myth: "They'll Fall Off My Face"

This is the biggest myth out there regarding pince-nez eyeglasses. Who wants to wear glasses which will fall off one's face? I certainly want eyewear to remain on my face.

As I've said, there is very little information on the internet or anywhere else regarding actual wear of pince-nez frames. In the absence of any information, the obvious presumption is that this style did fall off the face.

I'm pleased to tell you that this presumption is wrong. The opposite is true: a properly fitted, well constructed pince-nez is very secure and quite comfortable to wear. The operative phrases are "properly fitted" and "well constructed." Cheap eyeglass readers and "Matrix" style sunglasses should not be confused with the genuine article. Also, a knowledgeable optician's skills are needed to adjust the frame. With these elements, one doesn't have to worry about the eyeglasses falling off.

My friend who has extensive experience wearing pince-nez wrote the following:
"In my young days I would always astound those who questioned the security of my pince-nez by wildly shaking my head up and down and from side to side with extreme violence so they could witness, first hand, the amazing stability of my pince-nez. The onlooker was totally astonished and duly impressed."
The crazy things we do in our youth.

The use of silicone nose pads also adds to the security and comfort of wear. This is optional and not required for a secure fit, but it can make the eyeglasses more comfortable to wear.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Varieties of Pince-Nez Eyewear

I've had the opportunity to take in some basic lessons regarding pince-nez eyewear. At first glance, you may think that all pince-nez eyewear is the same variety. Ahh, nothing is so simple. There are two main varieties of this eyeglass style: hoopspring and fingerpiece. Subtle variations exist within each major group but each group is distinct in construction.


This is the type that is placed on the nose by using both hands to move the lenses apart. Once released on the nose, the bridge contracts and the nose guards clamp against the sides of the bridge of the nose. Here the spring is actually the pince-nez bridge itself. The most common of this variety was called in the optical trade a hoopspring. There are several other variations of this type and the bridges varied a bit in style, but the principle is the same. The bridge, due to its flexibility acted as a spring exerting enough tension to keep the pince-nez in place on the nose bridge.

A different type popular in the U.K. had an actual spring covering a flat, straight bridge which served to hold the frame together. This type was never as popular in the USA. This style can easily be found on the UK eBay.

The great advantage of a hoopspring is that it relatively easy to adjust. This style was very popular in FDR's administration.


This is the type that has a tiny spring on each side of the bridge near the lenses. The nose guard grips were anchored by a screw around which was a tiny coil spring. For the rimless fingerpiece, tiny tabs extended over the edge of the lenses and a screw attached to this tab held each lens in place. With the thumb and forefinger the lever tabs were opened, the pince-nez could be placed on or removed from the nose. The nose guards, due to spring pressure, contracted against the sides of the bridge of the nose forming a secure fit. This type was called in the optical trade a fingerpiece.

This type was in some ways more practical than the hoopspring as there was greater ease in putting it on and taking it off. You only had to use the thumb and index finger. Also, the lenses and bridge remained stationary as only the spring-powered nose guard grips moved.

A drawback to the fingerpiece is that it required a skilled initial fitting by a knowledgeable optician and the right size bridge.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

About the Author (and Why I Write)

Welcome to the Pince-Nez Renaissance. Pronounced "pahns-nay." I'm glad you dropped by to check out this column. My name is Alan and I've been writing a blog called "LeDandy (of Northern California)." I like to write about my own lifestyle and focus primarily on clothes and fashion. There are other subjects but I try to avoid politics and religion. I live in the San Francisco Bay area, about to turn forty-four, and am happily partnered for the last eight years to Jon Dean. We have six cats and three dogs, including a one year old pug named Tater.

I've had a strong desire to wear pince-nez eyeglasses for about twenty years. It is one of those hopes that you think will never reach fruition. The main reasons include:

  • Pince-nez frames can only be found in antique stores. Usually they are in poor condition and expensive;
  • Belief that they will fall off one's face and are uncomfortable to wear;
  • Optician's lack of knowledge, and interest, regarding pince-nez;
  • Extreme rarity in public and lack of information on this style;
  • Eyewear is a costly purchase, as lenses alone can be a substantial amount.

These factors can kill even a motivated individual's desire to wear pince-nez.

Then one day a reader of LeDandy contacted me about wearing pince-nez. He is an expert with this eyewear and speaks from forty or so years of experience. He opened my eyes, so to speak and is a wealth of information on the subject. I'd like to show others that wearing pince-nez these days is not only possible, but a great look that you will love if this style appeals to you.

I'm in the process of having my first pince-nez made. Leading by example, as they say.


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