What are “Birth Control Glasses”?

I can’t add anything to this Wikipedia entry:

“GI glasses are eyeglasses issued by the American military to its service members. Dysphemisms for them include the most common birth control glasses and variants. At one time they were officially designated as “Regulation Prescription Glasses”, or “RPGs”. This was commonly said to mean “Rape Prevention Glasses” due to their unstylish appearance.


The original version was designed for use with gas masks during World War II. It was wire-rimmed with cable temples and a “panto” lens shape. The design was a modification of the shape used by the British military.

After WWII, the material was switched from nickel alloy wire to cellulose acetate. Initially gray cellulose acetate was used (Frame, Spectacle, Cellulose Acetate, Gray). This was discontinued in 1968, with remaining stocks issued until exhausted. The replacement frames used black cellulose acetate (Frame, Spectacle, Cellulose Acetate, Black).

In the late 1970s, the lens shape was re-designed to the “S9”. Black “S9” frames were released for a brief period, before brown cellulose acetate (Frame, Spectacle, Cellulose Acetate, Brown) replaced the black. The brown cellulose acetate frames were discontinued in 2012, and a new smaller unisex lens shape, the “5A”, was introduced, with a black frame. The modern “5A” shape was designed by Rochester Optical, who is the exclusive manufacturer of the R-5A frame…”

The crazy thing about these frames is how the military somehow manages to be precisely 20 years behind the fashion curve at any given time. Here is their new “5A” frame:

The new unisex GI eyeglass frames called the R-5A, made by ROMCO, are actually quite stylish in a retro 90's way.

The new unisex GI eyeglass frames called the R-5A, made by ROMCO, are actually quite stylish in a retro 90’s way.

It just screams 1990s. Meanwhile this poor uncool bastard pictured in ‘Nam would be at the height of fashion right now:

U.S. Army soldier wearing "Birth Control Glasses" circa 1968.   Image sourced from Wikipedia.

U.S. Army soldier wearing “Birth Control Glasses” circa 1968. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

I think the perverse inversion of the prevailing fashion is calculated. It helps keep the soldier isolated from civilian society, thereby making him harder and better equipped psychologically to fight.

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5 Responses

  1. Barry Santini says:

    The S, I’m sure you know, stood fir ‘symmetrical’, as the military did not want to maintain an inventory of right and left lenses. The ‘7’ and ‘9’ stood for the shape difference of 7 & 9 mm, respectively.
    Good work Moss. Keep it up!

  2. John Spencer says:

    Beside being known as “Rape Control Goggles” they had a few other nicknames, some unprintable. My infantry battalion commander had his own pet name for them and one of his favorite pastimes was to catch us wearing civilian glasses instead of issue frames. It made going into the Aviation Medicine Course a way to access less ugly issue glasses.

  3. M. K. says:

    Those 60’s BCG’s really could impact civilian society as a positively aligned fashion statement. I somehow agree that those guys 50 years ago wearing them wouldn’t have shared my opinion.

    • Moss Lipow says:

      I knew an optician who got his hands on a lot of them. They moved like hotcakes. He sold them to hipsters who happily paid decent money for them. A lot of military apparel leaves a mark on fashion, though I’m not entirely sure the BCGs were fundamentally different than the kind of things a high school chemistry teacher of the time might have worn.

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