ggirls are the last taboo of glamour. You can embrace silver gray hair and be on the cover of Vogue, like Kristen McMenamy. Underarm hair with a party dress is cool, thanks to Julia Roberts and Miley Cyrus. At 84 and 76, Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren still rule the beauty billboards without airbrushed crow’s feet.
And yet, women are still expected to take off their glasses when the cameras start flashing. Roberts, Fonda, and Mirren all wear off-duty glasses, but tend not to on camera. When Annie Leibovitz photographed Jill Biden for Vogue last year, the first lady wore glasses in a casual portrait used inside the magazine, but took them off for the cover. At the 2016 Oscars, the dark glasses Kate Winslet wore to present an award were nowhere to be found on the red carpet.
But this could be the year all that changes. The post-pandemic look takes me like I’m ready for the way we’ve always looked behind closed doors — hoodie, scrunchie, glasses rather than contacts — a newly acceptable vibe, at least on Zoom. Remember Meryl Streep in her dressing gown and locking glasses, squeezing her shaker into her martini glass? A total atmosphere. This year, Mirabel Madrigal in Encanto became the first Disney princess with glasses.
Meryl is 72 years old; Mirabel is 15 years old. Glasses are not just an old age thing, nor just a teenage fad. At the mature end of the scale, the visibility of glasses has a lot to do with the visibility of older women. Midlife women have the energy of the main character on screen these days, and since wearing glasses is often part of the aging narrative, glasses come with that territory.
From the first episode of the sequel to Sex and the City And Just Like That, the passing of time for Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte was marked by the fact that when they sat down for brunch, they took out their glasses to read the menu. In real life too, women remain in the spotlight as they age and start wearing glasses. We’re used to Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston as the de facto spec wearers – though neither wore them for Friends reunion last year.
The latest generation of models – Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber, Gigi and Bella Hadid – are the first to be regularly seen wearing glasses. For a generation whose appearance is more ruthlessly curated and filtered than ever, it’s not a lack of effort. Authenticity is almost an Instagram filter in its own right. Adding specs to your selfies is adorable, as is adding puppy ears or a flower crown. Millennials grew up with Harry Potter; generation Z with disposable contacts and laser eye surgery. Glasses are no longer seen as an unfortunate necessity, but as a choice.
On TikTok, last year’s cottagecore has been replaced by Dark Academia, which (your correspondent writes, adjusting her specs to squint at the screen) seems to consist of reading Donna Tartt while wearing glasses and preppy clothes of Depop, and having lots of candles lit while you do your homework. Go figure.
Many of us, of all ages, have our skin in this game. A survey from the College of Optometrists last year found that a third of Britons believed their eyesight had deteriorated during the pandemic . The inescapable parental warning that screens are bad for the eyes is backed up by recent research. The good news is that the harm can be reversed. The welcome touch is that glasses no longer have to feel like bad news.