Thursday, September 19, 2013

Madame X's Pince-Nez Journey


[The Renaissance received a charming story from a young lady who is new to the world of pince-nez. She prefers to be known as Madame X. Many aspects of her story reminded me of my own challenges and joys. This post is a little longer than usual but definitely worth the read.]


My life has been transformed due to the wonder of internet shopping. I have amassed eleven pairs of wildly differing styles of eyeglasses. This never would have been possible on a student budget before competitive internet pricing. Caught in the fever of collecting unusual styles, I stumbled across galleries of antique eyewear and grew fascinated with the idea of wearing a pince-nez.

I found myself coveting them all, from the rimless finger-pieces, through the heavily-ornamented oxfords, the fantastic fun of the zyl frames to the sleek curve of hoop-springs. The photographs and stories on the Renaissance blog convinced me that I could actually wear a pince-nez. I began browsing eBay’s listings on a regular basis. Gorgeous mountings of all types slipped beyond my budget with distressing regularity.

Imagine my intense desire when a listing appeared for a lovely mounting – a warm gold color, with exactly the bridge shape I thought would flatter me, complete with an ear-chain and its original aluminum case engraved with my initials. I skyped my father in the US, wanting to persuade him that having them shipped there and having him forward them would be worth the hassle and postage. At first, he was unimpressed; “Another pince-nez,” he sighed. “What’s so special about this one?” I simply said, “Look closer. They have my name on them.” He said he couldn’t argue with that, and offered them as my Christmas present.

The pince-nez fit comfortably and securely even with the frankly alarmingly heavy glass lenses. The ear-chain turned out to flatter my face. I love asymmetry and I’m taken with the way the ear chain drapes and emphasizes the line of the cheekbone. As an astounding bonus, I discovered that the mounting is marked 14k.

I then visited my regular optician, sure he’d be able to glaze them. He’d been a great help to me over the years so I was unprepared for how vehemently he shot me down. The second I said “pince-nez” came a terse “I don’t do those”. Other places were equally discouraging. They told me my prescription was too strong to fit the mounting, or that they couldn’t possibly do a drill mounting in a thin enough lens.

 I tried again once I got back to Europe. At the first optician I found, I cautiously asked if they’d be willing to take on a bit of a project. The optician was enthusiastic, asking half a dozen questions about where I had found such a thing, when they were worn, etc. After measurements and a quick discussion of coatings (and price!) she cheerfully wished me good-bye and told me they’d be done in a week. Success. The fit was secure and feather-light. Once I had them on, she turned to the back and called out “She’s here! She’s wearing them! You have to come and look!” “It certainly was a challenge, with that prescription,” the optician told me, “It took a lot of fiddling – but it was a pleasure to do something completely different.”

Since then, I’ve worn them quite frequently and had predominantly positive feedback. Reaction from friends and colleagues has also been positive; of course, my crowd is largely fellow literature and theatre students, so it’s perhaps a biased sample - here, pince-nez are mostly associated with Joyce or Yeats. Strangers don’t take much notice unless they’re also glasses-wearers, in which case they usually react with a flurry of questions. By far my favorite reaction, though, was from a young boy who was sitting opposite me on the bus; he stared quite intently for a while and then whispered urgently to his father, “that lady is doing magic”.

As a final comment, I’ve discovered a few unexpected bonuses of wearing pince-nez: I can see while doing my hair. Hairstyles no longer have to compensate for temples. Hats are more comfortable. Leaning or lying on my side is now possible with vision; this is marvelous for reading in bed, or comfortably watching television. There is nothing to clash or snag during hugs or kisses on the cheek. I can impersonate Munch’s “Scream”. All round, I’m deliriously happy with how everything turned out.

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