Friday, April 9, 2010

Should You Wear Pince-Nez?


Probably not.

This is a shocking statement to make on the Renaissance. However, I do feel obligated to advise readers that pince-nez eyewear presents many challenges. Anyone casually interested in this style for full-time use can easily be discouraged and he/she most likely will not succeed. You must have a very strong desire to wear pince-nez. If you do have that passion, then I suggest you proceed knowing some of the possible barriers in your path. I considered giving up at one point as my first mounting proved an improper fit.

The distinguished eyewear style is definitely worth the effort if you are truly devoted.

What are the potential obstacles facing someone interested in wearing pince-nez? The primary challenges involve time, money and public image. A newcomer to pince-nez should consider the following:

1. The proper mounting - Antique pince-nez are abundant in the marketplace at a very reasonable cost and most are perfectly functional. The problem lies in finding a mounting of the correct size for your nose. If one buys off of eBay, there is no guarantee of fit. A proper size can be hard to find and you will likely acquire many pince-nez which do not fit. Prices vary from $25 and up on eBay to several hundred dollars from an boutique optical store.

I have a nose bridge of average width and I'm lucky if one-fifth of the mountings I've tried on actually fit me.

2. Prescription lenses for your mounting - Many opticians are reluctant to work on pince-nez. Of those who will make lenses, not all of them will work with you after the sale. It is very important to find an optician who will make adjustments to your eyeglasses once the lenses are made, as is done with ordinary spectacles. Expect to pay at least $200+ for lenses, and more if you have a complex prescription.

I used a boutique optical store for my first pince-nez and they did not work with me on adjustments after the sale. I learned a valuable lesson.

3. Fear of negative public perception - "People will think I am odd or strange for wearing these glasses." I'm sure this thought occurs to anyone considering pince-nez for daily wear. Unfortunately the answer is sometimes yes. Some people will consider you eccentric or odd for wearing this eyewear style. However this is the situation with anyone who is "fashion forward" and pursues his/her own look. The bold and innovative people have their share of critics as well as admirers.

I am lucky in that the Bay Area tolerates a diversity of dress. Pince-nez is quite mild in terms of variation for this region. If you live in a less diversified setting and/or hold a job where you have a public image, then you should carefully consider the possible impact of wearing pince-nez on a full-time basis.

I've received many compliments and positive comments regarding my own wear of pince-nez. On the other hand, I realize there are others who view these eyeglasses as odd. These people will almost certainly not voice their opinions to you.

If you are willing to make a commitment to pince-nez, then I urge you to proceed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Who Wore Pince-Nez?



Historically speaking, it was the upper strata of society who wore pince-nez during the heyday of this eyewear in the early twentieth century. There are many photos of politicians, leaders of finance, artists and intellectuals wearing pince-nez to remind us of this time. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. FDR's cabinet seemed to favor pince-nez as well, as discussed in a prior post. College students at Ivy League schools also had a fondness for these glasses. A survey of the 1911 Brown University yearbook revealed that of those who wore glasses, about seventy percent chose pince-nez.

This post looks at two questions.

1. Why was pince-nez the preferred style of eyewear in the early twentieth century?


The answer can be found easily in the advertising of the era. At left is an ad which summarizes the essence of pince-nez's appeal. "The most inconspicuous glasses you can wear, " the ad proclaims. Eyewear at this point in history was not seen as a fashion item but as a medical necessity that detracted from one's appearance. Hence the minimalism of pince-nez was truly appreciated.

2. What barriers prevented all social classes from wearing pince-nez?


The obvious and correct answer was cost. Unlike templed eyewear, pince-nez required a precise fit with the proper sized mounting by a specially trained optician. Templed glasses have always been much more forgiving in terms of fit and do not require the expertise of an optician possessing a special set of skills. Also, pince-nez mountings had a variety of sizes in each model to fit different facial dimensions whereas spectacles did not have this burdensome requirement.* The economics of eyewear clearly favored templed glasses.

Pince-nez was simply too expensive for opticians to administer. Naturally these costs were passed along to the consumer. Only the well-to-do could afford the expense of being fitted with pince-nez.

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*See post on fitting sets.

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