Vernon and Irene Castle and The Birth of Fashion Eyewear

So the topography of the eyewear industry is changing. Sometimes people forget change offers opportunity. I wonder how many realize fashion eyewear as a category was born out of change and uncertainty. Let’s examine the history of modern fashion eyewear and do so from the beginning.

Back at the turn of the 20th Century women wore their hair long. A whole industry with deep roots existed worldwide to provide them with ornamental combs.

Then, just before WWI, women started cutting their hair short.

One of the first practitioners was Irene Castle, half of the most famous ballroom dance team in the world, with her husband Vernon. She pioneered flapper fashion in general.

Vernon and Irene Castle circa 1915

Vernon and Irene Castle circa 1915

By the mid 1920s her style was everywhere:

Screen capture from bio pic "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle".   That's actually Ginger Rogers in the photo.   Sourced from haironfilm.net.

Screen capture from bio pic “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle”. That’s actually Ginger Rogers in the photo. Sourced from haironfilm.net.

It was the height of fashion:

Louise Brooks sporting her famous bob in a photo that features elements of German Expressionist cinema and stuffed animals.

Louise Brooks sporting her famous bob in a photo that features elements of German Expressionist cinema and stuffed animals.

This devastated the ornamental comb industry.

At this same time the burgeoning American film industry began relocating from the New York area to Hollywood. The relentless sun there made sunglasses de rigueur with cinema stars. Photos of them in sunglasses were regularly seen in fan magazines. This spurred a boom in the accessory’s popularity.

Former comb makers began switching production to eyewear, which turned out to be more lucrative than combs. The involvement of this new pool of manufacturers spurred further growth and innovation.

So it worked out nicely.

I remember once, in high school buying some Bazooka Joe bubble gum which featured a comic which bore the slogan: “Don’t fear change, it’s for the best”. A friend was trying to figure out a quote to put in our yearbook under his picture. I blew a large bubble. “How about Bazooka Joe?” He actually used it. None of this invalidates the fundamental sensibleness of the sentiment, though.

One day I’ll write more about the birth of fashion eyewear, combs, Hollywood and all.

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