Do ya think I'm spexy?
The girls who wear glasses no longer have to put up with all those playground jibes, writes Deirdre Reynolds
Published 19/10/2010 | 05:00
From playground affliction to fashion statement, anyone who was ever called 'Four Eyes' growing up will finally have the last laugh this autumn.
Speccy celebrities Britney Spears, Pixie Geldof, Chloë Sevigny and Justin Timberlake have all been snapped working the Woody Allen look recently.
And now more and more image-conscious Irish guys and girls are bringing spexy back with designer face furniture.
Around 63% of adults now wear glasses or contact lenses, according to market-research firm Mintel -- and that's not even counting those who are faking it with clear-lens fashion glasses available from high-street stores like Topshop and Urban Outfitters.
For those of us for whom glasses are a necessity rather than an accessory, the rise of geek chic is blind luck.
Growing up in rural 1980s Ireland, being told I needed an optical aid that made me look like Jarvis Cocker's illegitimate little sister wasn't exactly a cause to celebrate.
Today though, I spend more on swanky specs to remedy my short-sightedness than I do on handbags and shoes combined -- and the only Prada and Chanel in my wardrobe is worn on my face.
So 20/20 vision is overrated, agrees fashion blogger Lorna Weightman of StyleIsle.ie.
"Glasses have always been a necessity for me and I used to detest wearing them when I was younger," says Lorna, "but now I actually choose to wear them over contact lenses as they add to my individual style.
"Glasses have become the latest 'It' accessory, with nearly all designers dabbling in eyewear.
"It's got a lot to do with the power of celebrity; when Cheryl Cole first wore a pair of black-rimmed frames at a Julien MacDonald fashion show a few years back, it was a real turning point for glasses-wearers."
Of course, bespectacled stars Alexa Chung, Eva Longoria, Kanye West and Madonna aren't the first to own up to poor eyesight in style.
Before contact lenses or laser eye surgery, iconic nerds like James Joyce, Andy Warhol and, eh, Dame Edna did their bit for speccy four eyes everywhere.
So synonymous with their specs are some of today's optically-challenged celebrities that they're no longer only lending their name to designer clothes and jewellery, but geeky glasses, too.
How to Look Good Naked presenter Gok Wan, who seems to change his eyewear as often as his underwear, has been snapped up as a style advisor for Specsavers, imparting tips on finding frames to suit your face. While Stateside, Glee's Dianna Agron, who plays cheerleader Quinn, is currently making glasses gorgeous in Op Eyewear's autumn ad campaign.
Whether for fashion or function, our attitude toward opticals is changing, says Yvonne Davis, Retail Manager of Specsavers Grafton St.
"People aren't embarrassed to wear glasses anymore," she says. "With all these celebrities wearing them, it's actually become quite trendy.
"Our biggest customers are 19 to 25-year-olds, especially young professional women. We get quite a few students over from Trinity looking for 'geek' frames -- even ones who don't need glasses at all.
'And when (actor) Michael Cera was in Dublin for the premiere of Scott Pilgrim vs The World recently, he came in and bought a pair of €29 frames to wear on the red carpet."
From horn-rimmed to cat eyes in a spectrum of colours and materials, your next eye test might feel more like a fashion show.
The high-street optician even hosts an annual 'glasses model' hunt here, launched earlier this year by specs-kitten Kelly Brook.
"Years ago, styles of frames weren't great," admits boss Yvonne. "But now there's such a variety that customers will look for advice on which styles suit their face and our staff are very well trained in the fashion side of things, as well as the technical side."
And whether buttoned-up librarian or soft-porn secretary, glasses can transform your look -- just take Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent, who nobody ever clocked with his specs on. "With our two-for-one offers, most customers will buy more than one pair," she adds. "It's not unusual for women to own five or six pairs to go with different outfits. Glasses are just another accessory."
The chain's most popular specs by Tommy Hilfiger, Bench and French Connection cost less than €200.
But for those of us still haunted by memories of the Napoleon Dynamite-esque Health Board glasses of our youth, the sky's the limit in pursuit of perfect sight.
Four-eyed fashionistas will happily drop up to a grand on brand-name specs -- like the €500 Prada pair I've got on, says Yvonne. For people like me who have to wear them for everyday tasks such as driving, reading and watching television, however, glasses aren't just a trend -- they're a lifetime investment.
Lifelong glasses-wearer Caroline Corrigan (28) from Nobber, Co Meath, has been wearing hers consistently since she was 8 -- and will be wearing them long after the current trend for all things optical fizzles out.
"I've been wearing my glasses for as long as I can remember," she says.
"As a child, being trendy didn't concern me. But when I started secondary school, I did become a little more self-conscious.
"I even went through a phase of carrying them to school in my bag, putting them on when class started and taking them off again straight afterwards -- but that didn't last too long because my sight isn't good enough to get by without them.
"At school, I got called the usual 'Four eyes'," adds Caroline, a Deaf Studies student at Trinity College Dublin, "but nothing worse than that.
"One thing that baffles me even now, though, is that people will point to a sign that's really far away and ask me what it says -- as though glasses provide superhuman powers. Maybe it's linked to the assumption that people who wear glasses are more intelligent -- and all-round better!"
As for fancy frames with specs factor, Caroline reckons they're just for the fickle fashion crowd.
"Growing up, the trendier frames were always out of my price range," she says, "so it was a matter of trying not to look laughable rather than trying to look cool.
"A few years ago, I decided to splash out on a bold, new style. But I was swiftly directed away from the designer frames and back towards the basic ones I was trying to avoid; the optician told me that designer glasses were fine for fashion, but they wouldn't be able to hold the weight of my prescription lens.
"I was a bit disappointed, but I'm happy with the glasses I have now. They're basic enough, so at least they don't clash with any of my clothes or accessories."
Despite being very much in vogue, the number of people trying to ditch their glasses for good has not decreased, according to laser-eye surgery specialists the Wellington Eye Clinic in Dublin.
'People who don't need glasses don't necessarily understand the hassle and cost associated with them," says Richard Corkin, consultant at the Sandyford-based clinic. "We get everyone from young mothers having difficulty minding their babies to sports people keen to improve their performance on the pitch coming through our doors.
"Designer glasses are well and good, but if you're out on a yacht and they're ripped off your face because of the wind -- unless you're very well insured -- that's it, they're gone.
"You can pay an awful lot for frames before you even start to think about the lens," he adds, "and as your prescription usually changes over time, it doesn't take long before it starts adding up.
"Depending on the person, laser eye surgery costs around €2,000 per eye. But it's a one-time investment and we offer a lifetime warranty."
"You can't underestimate the ability to get up in the morning and see your partner in the bed beside you and the baby in the cot without having to scramble for your glasses.
"I've had clients tell me it's changed their life -- that's something designer glasses can never do."