The Evolution of Eyeglasses

The Evolution of Eyeglasses

Sketched drawing of antique eyeglasses and case

Eyewear has come a long way since the 13th century, when the first pair of wearable glasses were introduced. At that time, only one eyewear option was available: metal frames with glass lenses. These days the options are endless, and glasses are a fashion statement in addition to a medical device. In this blog, we’ll discuss the evolution of eyewear from function to fashion and everything in between.

The Invention of Eyeglasses

Lenses were originally used only for magnification, primarily to treat the symptoms of hyperopia (farsightedness) and presbyopia. The earliest written documentation of magnification lenses dates back to the 5 BC, when the philosopher Seneca was said to use a glass globe of water to magnify small text. By 1000 AD, the reading stone, a glass sphere set on top of text to magnify it, was invented, and these stones were commonly produced by glass blowers in Venice throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. Around 1285 the earliest form of glasses were developed when lenses were set into frames made of metal or leather and worn on the face. These frames did not fit over the ears, but instead were held up to the face or balanced on the nose. 

Common Use

Glasses became common in the 14th century. The earliest depiction of eyewear in a work of art is displayed in a 1352 fresco painted by Tomaso de Modena. By the early 15th century, convex lens designs were developed for treatment of myopia (nearsightedness). In the 1600s, frame design evolved to include temples made of ribbon or string which were tied or wrapped around the ears to hold the frames onto the face. In 1730, an English optician named Edward Scarlett is credited with developing rigid temples that fit around the ear to create a more secure fit. 

Developments in Lens Design

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin introduced the first multifocal lenses with the invention of bifocals. Lens design was further improved in the 19th century with the development of toric lenses to correct astigmatism. While glasses were now an important tool for those with poor eyesight, they were often associated with weakness and old age. It was not until the 20th century that eyewear was regarded as fashionable as well as functional. 

Tinted lenses date back to the mid 18th century, although these early designs were not used for sun protection, but rather to treat medical symptoms, including the effects of syphilis. 

In 1929, Sam Foster began selling mass-produced sunglasses to protect wearers from the sun’s rays in Atlantic City, New Jersey, though early ancestors of the Inuit devised “snow goggles” to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare hundreds of years earlier. 

Developments in Frame Design

In the 1930s, plastic eyewear emerged. This material opened the doors for a new era in fashionable eyewear. Glasses could now be made in a variety of colors and styles, and men’s and women’s eyewear took on distinctly different looks. In the 1940’s-60’s, cat eye frames were popular for women, while men mostly wore round frames. By the 1970’s, oversized frames were in style for both men and women. This remained fashionable until the early 1990’s. In the later part of the decade, smaller, more understated styles emerged. 

Modern History

Throughout recent history, we have seen developments in frame and lens materials. Frames are now made of a wide variety of materials from flexible metals to wood. They are manufactured all over the world, and come in an endless variety of colors and shapes. While glasses were once considered “nerdy” or embarrassing, they are now a fashion statement, with many high end clothing designers manufacturing eyewear lines. 

At Mountain View Optical, we feel that glasses should be an extension of your style. That’s why we carry hundreds of eyewear styles for you to choose from! Whether you are looking for luxury frames to elevate your look or sporty eyewear that is ready for your Alaskan lifestyle, we have you covered. To speak with an optician, call or text (907) 328-2920. To learn more about your eyewear options, check out the blog section of our website at


Image: A pair of antique spectacles with their case. Transfer litho Wellcome V0015862.jpg” is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Written By: Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC

Posted in: Glasses

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