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BEVIS HILLIER

Optical Illusions : Eyeglasses Aren't Just for Seeing. They're Also for Being Seen In

February 09, 1986|BEVIS HILLIER

Let's get it out of the way right at the start. I don't think I have ever read an article on eyeglass fashions that did not quote Dorothy Parker's idiotic couplet:

Men seldom make passes

At girls who wear glasses.

And I would hate to create a startling precedent. It is one of those useful quotations that are so blatantly untrue that one can bounce all kinds of indignant responses off them. Like: My mother wears glasses, so how come I'm in the world? Or what about Sophia Loren (who now has a range of specs named after her)? Parker might as well have written:

Men seldom give beans

For girls who wear jeans.

Or:

Men seldom spend nights

With girls who wear tights.

But although I think Parker was off-beam about girls in glasses, I am not convinced by the opposing theorem advanced today by the champions of what might be called "spectacles lib"--the idea that women actually look better in glasses. In the Louvre you hear tourists murmuring about the Mona Lisa: "Notice how her eyes follow you around the room." But would the tourists feel the same if Leonardo had given her horn rims?

The campaign to convince us that eyeglasses can beautify is not new. A 1930s advertisement showing a girl with bobbed hair and what looks, to the modern eye, like rather frumpish, round-lens specs, is captioned: "Milady dressed for sports looks her smartest in All-Shelltex Shur-on spectacles." The model looks more like the winner of a spelling bee than the queen of the tennis court.

Color was already a significant ingredient of eyeglasses by 1925, when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, in "The Great Gatsby":

"Above the gray land . . . you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens."

Of course, some of the most vocal adherents of spectacles lib have an ax (well, a lens) to grind. I mean the spectacle makers and all their auxiliary troops. You can see through them as well as their products. No one has latched onto the notion that eyeglasses are a lovely fashion accessory with as much enthusiasm as Superior Optical, California's largest retail optical chain. Superior was one of the first eyeglass-dispensing companies to train its staff in eye-wear color-and-shape analysis. "All personnel," its press release tells us, "attend an intensive seminar conducted by Evelyn White, an Irvine-based Color Me Beautiful consultant." I don't know exactly what a Color Me Beautiful consultant is, but no doubt I could use one.

The most important consideration, Superior Optical suggests, is the facial structure, especially the shape of the nose, since the frame must comfortably and securely fit the bridge of the nose. I must say I had never before thought of ordering glasses by reference to my nose, but Superior Optical is rapidly giving me a new focus.

The company offers some "rough guidelines"--presumably as a preliminary to precision prescriptions, if you'll forgive the alliteration. People with oval-shaped faces, they say, should avoid glasses that are too small. (For some reason, that reminds me of the apocryphal mispronunciation of the name of Flemish painter Quentin Matsys, by a dopey docent, as "Squinting Gnats' Eyes.") If your face has a "heart shape"--I don't think I have many close friends with heart-shaped faces--then "select frames no wider than the temples, avoiding frames that sweep upward and outward."

Then we come to the hard cases--people with "pear-shaped" faces. I do have a friend with a pear-shaped face. She is named Helen, and we call her Poire Belle Helene because she is wise enough to avoid "droopy frames that widen the lower part of the face."

Diamond-shaped faces: I have quite a few friends with diamond-shaped faces. They find it difficult to buy hats to fit them; I mean, you can't wear clowns' hats all the time, can you? My friend Lucy has a diamond-shaped face; she's affectionately known as Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. She's a real ace, many facets. She should choose a frame that is flat on the sides, to narrow the cheekbones.

Round shape: Again, "droopy frames drag the face down" and we don't want that, do we? "To create the illusion of higher cheekbones," Round Face should favor "slightly narrow frames with soft angles that focus the attention outward, breaking the face's long vertical lines."

Then there's the poor dear with a square face, always in demand by the neighbors' children to draw the right angles in their geometry homework. She should wear "slightly angular frames with curving corners and side pieces" to soften the face.

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