Eyeglasses in the 1930s

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Many 1930s eyeglass frames were unisex.
Many 1930s eyeglass frames were unisex. (Image: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

In the 1930s, some people considered eyeglasses for women to be unflattering, according to Victoria Sherrow’s book “For Appearance' Sake: the Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty, and Grooming.” Still, women with impaired vision were advised to wear them for utilitarian purposes rather than for fashion, as eyeglasses were believed to reduce the risk of serious eye injury. The styles worn during the decade were predominantly unisex and included horn-rimmed, metal and rimless frames.

Buying Glasses

The three most common ways of buying glasses in the 1930s were through optometrists, department stores or mail-order catalogs. The most accurate prescriptions were received from the eye doctor, with the average visit costing around $3 and an additional $15 for the specially ordered frames. Those who couldn’t afford going to the doctor could self-prescribe their eyeglasses by trying on various less-expensive prescription glasses at the department store; these eyeglasses cost around $7. Mail-order glasses were even less expensive, costing around $1 to $2, but were often criticized for their quality by the Department of Health, according to “Vision Aids in America: A Social History of Eyewear and Sight Correction Since 1900” by Kerry Segrave.

Horn-Rimmed Frames

Though horn-rimmed glasses surfaced around the 1910s, the style was still prevalent in the 1930s. The thick glasses got their name because they were originally made out of horn or tortoise shell. While they were still being fashioned out of these luxurious materials during the 1930s, cheaper horn-rimmed glasses were produced from a thick dark plastic. From 1/8 to 1/4 inch, plastic frames were dyed and molded to imitate the tortoise print. Lacking in nose pads, the glasses sat directly on the face, and thus it was normal for frequent wearers to complain of discomfort in the nose bridge and eye area.

Metal Frames

Metal frames became prevalent during the art deco period, with opulent frames being fashioned out of silver and 12-karat gold plated nickel. Higher-end manufacturers, including Bausch and Lomb, made these more expensive versions but cheaper models were fashioned from plain nickel. Round, oval and hexagonal shapes were prevalent in this style of frame, which was equipped with nose pads and fitted to wrap around the ear.

Rimless Frames

Rimless frames were desirable in the 1930s because they had a lighter weight than the thicker horn-rimmed frames and were less prominent than other metal frames, according to J. William Rosenthal's book “Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting.” Mimicking the shape of oval and hexagonal metal wire eyeglasses, luxury rimless frames had plated gold and silver components. The wire nose bridge and arms were screwed directly to the lenses and the nose pads helped to position the eyewear on the face. The rimless glasses of the 1930s are similar to those available today, with the exception of the curved earpiece that wraps around the ear.

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References

  • “Vision Aids in America: A Social History of Eyewear and Sight Correction Since 1900”; Kerry Segrave; 2011
  • “For Appearance' Sake: The Historical Encyclopedia of Good Looks, Beauty and Grooming”; Victoria Sherrow; 2001
  • “Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting”; J. William Rosenthal; 1996
  • “Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles 2008 Price Guide”; Kyle Husfloen; 2007
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