History of the Monocle

History of the Monocle

Posted by Paul Gibson on

Who invented the monocle?

One of the earliest known wearers of the monocle was the antiquarian Philipp Von Stosch who wore a monocle in Rome in the 1720s, in order to closely examine engravings and antique engraved gems (although in actual fact corrective lenses date back to pharaonic Egypt and ancient Athens) The monocle, however, did not become an established article of gentlemen's apparel until the nineteenth century. The template for rimless eyeglasses dates back to around 1814 when an Austrian inventor named J.F. Voigtlander marketed a rimless monocle. At the time, eyeglasses were not considered an acceptable fashion statement and carried connotations of one being elderly or a member of the clergy (only clergymen tended to be literate enough to require reading glasses) and therefore there was a desire to make eyewear as inconspicuous as possible.

The rimless eyeglass was replaced with the more comfortable loop of a metal rim in the 1830's onward and in the 1890's an edge-like extension was added known as the gallery, which allowed the monocle to be more secure in the eye and avoided the eyelash getting in the way of the lens. Monocles were usually custom fitted to the wearer's ocular orbit often incorporating ivory or precious metals, and were prohibitively expensive for nearly everyone but the gentry, and when combined with a morning coat and a top-hat, the monocle completed the costume of the stereotypical 1890s capitalist. Monocles were most prevalent in the late 19th Century aristocracy and also found their way into the military.

Practical Solution

The monocle offered a practical solution for many aspiring army officers who couldn't pass an eye test but were barred from wearing spectacles. Unfortunately for the Monocle the German military during the First World War also embraced the monocle which became a stereotypical accessory of the German High Command and gave the monocle a negative connotation, contributing to its decline in popularity throughout Western Europe. Another significant contribution to the decline of the monocle is that some health organisations (specifically Britain's National Health Service) would not fund prescriptions for monocles, even when the prescribing optician recommended a monocle.

Second World War

Finally, following the Second World War, the use of the monocle dwindled significantly, with advances in optometry making glasses as well as contact lenses the preferred visual aids. However, the monocle always had one trump card up its sleeve, total portability being the key benefit combined with the need to read short bursts of text when out and about, particularly with the rapid rise of portable digital devices, has made the monocle more relevant today than it's ever been.

Fashion Statement

Not to mention the fashion statement the wearers exude; there were more people wearing them as accessories than actually needed them in the past!. That is where Monocle Madness comes in, exactly 200 years after the monocle was first commercially available.