Friday, 28 August 2009

Society of the Spectacles

There is no escaping the fact that, in fashion, what comes around goes around. Yesterday’s discarded object of fashion ridicule will be tomorrow’s band new retro. Just as my folks must have been bemused by my enthusiasm for flares and brown corduroy, so it’s been bizarre watching fashion horrors from the Eighties excavated by the high street and sold to knowing (and unknowing) Gen-Y kids.

And yet, even though we’ve seen the return of ra-ra skirts, footless tights, slogan tees, neon, Rayban Wayfarers and vintage Kylie-style prom dresses, there is one sartorial frontier that I hitherto thought unbreachable; big glasses. Now before you get all fashionista on me, I’m not talking about those enormous bug-eyed sunglasses favoured by footballers’ wives and Paris Hilton. No, I’m talking about those large unattractive plastic spectacles your mum might have favoured in 1986.

You know the ones I mean. They wore them on The Golden Girls. Like Clark Kent in reverse Dustin Hoffman became Tootsie the minute the big glasses (and other accoutrements) went on. I don’t know when they became popular but a generation of mums, aunties and teachers must have looked at Estelle Getty and thought ‘I’ll have me some of that.’

Usually accompanied by a tight bubble perm, such glasses have been by used by comedians for the past twenty years to denote a certain type of woman; one who never left the eighties, in attitude or fashion. Consider the Fast Show’s Roy and Renée (‘Oh I got a really dicky tummy on the Wednesday, I said oh Roy, my tummy’s off- what did I say Roy? You said you could have shit through the eye of a needle. I did not say that Roy).

An eerily similar look is favoured by undercover social benefits investigator Beverley Hilscopto (think about it) in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.

And when Shane Meadows wanted to make sure we understood that young Shaun’s mum in
This is England was downtrodden and a bit mousy, he did this to the otherwise attractive Jo Hartley:

And yet, curiously, I am starting to see young women wearing these monstrosities in 2009. Young, attractive, fashion conscious and otherwise immaculately turned out women, with my Grandma’s enormous glasses perched on their nose. Why do they do it? To be different I guess. All generations wants to prove they’re different from the last, and what better way, superficially at least, than to embrace everything that the last generation held up for ridicule?

I recall the first time I pulled my Dad’s black horn-rimmed NHS glasses out of the loft and started wearing them out, even though I couldn’t see through them properly. I was inspired by a photo of Jarvis Cocker recreating this classic shot of Michael Caine by David Bailey.

My Dad and my friends all thought I was a bit odd (fair enough) which is interesting considering how common and ordinary they are these days. I’m certainly no fashion risk taker - I just wanted to look cool like Jarvis, so I can kind of understand wearing something that other people might see as horrible to stand out a bit.

Perhaps the same will happen with Tootsie specs. In five years time everyone will be wearing them too. Maybe, but those oft-mocked NHS black-frames somehow became ‘classics’ because there is something attractive about them in the first place – the sleek plastic, harsh black edges, the way they dominate a person’s face. This is as much about taste as anything else, but it’s hard to imagine those enormous vaguely-clear-brown plastic horrors in quite the same way regardless of how many beautiful young things wear them. At least not for me – not whilst I can still see Estelle Getty’s little eyes peering out from them.

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