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Fashion archive: Making a spectacle of eyewear

Southport, Tuesday.

If opticians used the language of dress designers, they might talk this year in terms of “the winged look.” Most of the latest fashions in spectacles on view in the annual exhibition of the Northern Optical Congress which opened here today seemed to be based on a sloping winged shape, and one design even projected a pair of wings across the forehead.

“Exotic” is the word the more conservative opticians used to describe the styles of the last few years, as if they regretted the passing of the old horn-rimmed, and “exotic” most of this year’s exhibits looked, with names like “Mischief,” shaped like lorgnettes, and good-looking girls to show them off, against a background of daffodils and the Southport boulevards.

It is already accepted in the profession that patients no longer want what one optician called “discrete frames” but – particularly in the case of women – wish to get the pleasure from a new pair of glasses that they get from a new hat. What amazes the opticians is the steady stream of new styles each year, a contrast to ten years ago, when “hardly more than a dozen variations were available,” according to Mr WL Schaeffler, the chairman of the Association of Wholesale and Manufacturing Opticians.

Mr Schaeffler referred in a message to the congress to “the present proliferation of frame styles to which, at the moment, there still appears to be no end,” and he added that “while there may be those among us who think that there are now too many styles,” such a change in ten years was at least “reassuring evidence of the industry’s remarkable creative ability and its adaptability to changing circumstances.”

A comparison with the dress designers is not far-fetched. When asked to explain some of the latest styles one exhibitor said: “They are based on consultations with the West End fashion houses who know what people want to wear. The idea of making spectacles as inconspicuous as possible has gone out.”

A lot of phrases such as “harmony between lens shape and browline” were being bandied about here, but one middle-aged optician, who caught his daughter trying on a pair which makes the wearer appear to have a large new pair of eyebrows, seized them and said he’d be damned if he’d allow a child of his to be seen in such frames.

But then, as another optician observed philosophically, there were sometimes similar reactions from husbands when wives or daughters proposed to have a dress in the sack-style, or whatever the latest fashion was called. It is difficult to estimate the demand for the latest styles. Mr Schaeffler said in his message that the present annual demand for spectacles on the National Health Service was about five millions, but what proportion of these frames were obtained outside the Service, as it offers only a limited choice, it was “almost impossible” to assess.

An “intelligent guess” was that the proportion of private work fluctuated from 20 to 50 per cent in volume and from 40 to 75 per cent in value, and on this basis the annual demand would be between six and seven millions, including the supply of new lenses to old frames.

The congress, which ends on Thursday, also held a discussion group about opticians in industry, at which the chairman, Mr GO Aves, stated that there are at present 40 opticians actively working in industry, but many more are interested in taking industrial jobs.

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