If you grew up during the Boomer Era, chances are you heard kids who wore eyeglasses referred to as “four eyes.” It was a derogatory term that made fun of the lenses kids had to wear, especially thick lenses that were additionally called “Coke bottles.”
In the early part of the twentieth century, the most common eyeglasses were the pince-nez variety; lenses that sat on the nose without support. Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge wore them. During World War I, the military helped advance the technology of eyeglasses that were supported by temples. After the War, that style replaced the pince-nez and continued into the Boomer Era and beyond.
By the 1930s, plastic frames hit the scene and fashion inched its way into the equation. World War II saw innovations in style and function, especially for sunglasses, but with a utilitarian purpose in mind. By the 1950s, women’s eyewear came in a myriad of shapes and colors, while men’s eyewear was more subdued in shades of black, gray or brown.
Lenses, on the other hand, were a different story. Although plastic lenses had appeared before the second World War, they did not catch on with the public, in no small part because of the cost, availability and they scratched quite easily. Consequently, for Mister Boomer and many boomer kids like him, eyeglasses he began to wear in the early sixties all had lenses made of glass.
The glass lenses had some serious disadvantages: they were heavy, and that made the plastic frames sink into the bridge of the nose, causing near-constant breaks in the skin and irritation; they were thick, and depending on the prescription, could make matters worse for those, like Mister B, who had the “Coke bottles”; and they were practically universally ridiculed. People who wore glasses were considered nerds, “braniacs” or overall lacking in social graces. A famous phrase from the fifties and sixties was meant as a precautionary note for girls; it stated, “Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
Contact lenses were not a choice for many of us. Lyndon Johnson wore them on occasion. Contact lenses were known for being hard to fit and uncomfortable to wear, until soft lenses were released in the U.S. in 1971. Mister B did not have contact lenses, nor did he want to have something stuck in his eyes.
By the late sixties and early seventies, strides in technology produced plastic lenses that were lighter weight and more scratch resistant. But for Mister B and boomers like him, more than a decade of breaking glass lenses and fighting to keep heavy eyewear on his nose had made its mark — literally.
Did you wear glasses as a kid, boomers? Or did you call anyone “four eyes?”