GGirls are the last taboo of glamour. You can hug silver gray hair and be on your feet cover of Vogue, like Kristen McMenamy. Armpit hair with a party dress is cool, thanks to Julia Roberts and Miley Cyrus. At 84 and 76, Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren still reign on beauty billboards without their crow’s feet airbrushed.
And yet women are still expected to take off their glasses when the cameras start flashing. Roberts, Fonda, and Mirren all wear glasses off duty, but likely not on camera. When Annie Leibovitz photographed Jill Biden for Vogue last year, the first lady wore glasses in a casual portrait used in the magazine but took them off for the cover. At the 2016 Oscars, the black glasses Kate Winslet wore to the awards ceremony were nowhere to be seen on the red carpet.
But this could be the year that everything changes. The post-pandemic, take-me-as-I-am look gives the way we’ve always looked behind closed doors – hoodie, scrunchie, glasses instead of contacts – a new acceptable vibe, at least at Zoom. Remember Meryl Streep in her lockdown robe and glasses, straining her cocktail shaker into her martini glass? A total vibe. That year, Mirabel Madrigal became the first bespectacled Disney princess in Encanto.
Meryl is 72; Mirabel is 15. Glasses are not a sign of old age, not teen fashion. At the mature end of the scale, eyewear visibility has a lot to do with older women’s visibility. Midlife women these days have the energy of being the protagonist on screen, and since wearing glasses is often part of the narrative of getting older, glasses belong in that territory.
Since the first episode of Sex and the City, the sequel to And Just Like That, the passage of time for Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte has been characterized when they sat down for brunch, pulling out their glasses to read the menu. Even in real life, women stay in the limelight as they get older and wear glasses. We’re used to Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston as the de facto glasses wearers — although neither wore them to last year’s Friends reunion.
The newest generation of supermodels – Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber, both Gigi and Bella Hadid – are the first to be seen wearing glasses on a regular basis. For a generation whose performance is being curated and filtered more ruthlessly than ever, it’s not because of a lack of effort. Authenticity is almost an Instagram filter in its own right. Adding glasses to your selfies looks adorable, as does adding puppy ears or a flower crown. Millennials grew up with Harry Potter; Generation Z with disposable contacts and eye lasers. Glasses are no longer viewed as an unfortunate necessity, but as an option.
On TikTok, last year’s Cottagecore has been replaced by Dark Academia, which (your correspondent writes by adjusting her glasses so she squints at the screen) appears to be about reading Donna Tartt while wearing glasses and preppy clothing from Carrying Depop and burning lots of candles while you do your homework. Imagine that.
Many of us, of all ages, have skin in this game. A survey by the College of Optometrists last year found that a third of Brits believed their vision had deteriorated during the pandemic. The parental warning that screens are bad for your eyes is backed up by recent research. The good news is that the damage can be reversible. The welcome twist is that glasses don’t have to feel like bad news anymore.