What's the point of a monocle?
December 6, 2007 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What's up with monocles? Were they an affectation, or did people used to have vision problems in just one eye? Were you supposed to close one eye if you wanted better vision? I would expect having one eye with corrected vision and one without to give you a headache.
posted by bonecrusher to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It was a highly portable reading glass. You could tuck it in your waistcoat pocket at the opera, then quickly read your program with one eye then toss it back in your pocket. This was back in the day when actual spectacles were made of heavy wire and couldn't fold.
posted by OldReliable at 1:04 PM on December 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

The OED says:
The monocle was particularly popular in Britain and Germany in the late 19th cent. It was prescribed chiefly as a reading aid for the long-sighted, but was never favoured by opticians, and came to be worn as a fashion accessory, often connoting membership of the upper class.
posted by languagehat at 1:05 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

And yes, some people have vision problems in only one eye. As noted, though, they weren't really the monocle demographic (the 'monograph,' as they used to say).
posted by box at 1:13 PM on December 6, 2007

I portray a nineteenth-century English aristocrat and use a quizzing glass as an affectation, to appear properly poncy. I also wear one contact lens in my dominant eye since wearing both my usual single-vision lenses caused me to be unable to read things up close. It can be a bit disorienting, but does not cause headaches, as a rule.
posted by beetsuits at 1:24 PM on December 6, 2007

Here's one of my country's most famous monocle wearers from a few years ago on how they are no longer being made (and why he wore one).

And here's some more on Percy Toplis, The Monocled Mutineer (to get the joke)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

The monocle developed from the reading stone and many of them came with handles as well as strings or straps. The earliest historical record of one is from 1270, predating eyeglasses by a few years.

They became an affectation of dandies in the 19th century (see the New Yorker logo) and in the 20th century became associated with cross-dressers (see Cabaret).

When was the last time you saw anyone wearing a monocle?

Rise and Fall of the Monocle (NYT, 1902)
posted by dhartung at 3:42 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Currently made or not, they still can be had, and to prescription at that.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:39 PM on December 6, 2007

Here's another no-vote for the headaches. I've never worn a monocle, per se, but I have much experience using only one of my two contacts at a given time.

My prescription wasn't altogether strong (-2.25 in both eyes) but once I got used to it I could function quite well on only one contact lens. The only real problem is focusing near and then far - using a computer or reading was somewhat tiresome with both eyes open.

It led to some interesting brain stuff - it would seem my brain got used to filling in the depth perception, such that occasionally projected 2-d images would appear to be 3-d to me. Very occasionally.
posted by codger at 8:57 PM on December 6, 2007

Not to get utterly pedantic, but I think a distinction can be drawn between a monocle, which is a type of corrective lens worn in the eye, and a quizzing glass, which is a small magnifying glass held at a distance.

Though more or less interchangable to us today, I would imagine that the two items had different connotations to our ancestors: a monocle represented a certain kind of stodgy upper-class stuffiness, whereas using a quizzing glass to inspect some passing fancy would signify a more effete snobbishness.

(That is, the joke is that a dandy like Eustace Tilley--the New Yorker dude--is using a magnifying glass to archly inspect a passing butterfly.)

I've often thought that a small portable magnifying glass would be quite useful. However, when I asked my preferred antiques dealer to be on the lookout for a proper quizzing glass, he suggested I needed to increase the frequency of my sexual encounters.
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:31 AM on December 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

I have 20/20 vision in one eye, and 20/50 with an astigmatism in the other eye. I half-jokingly looked for a monocle but couldn't find one, so I just wear regular glasses with no prescription in the one eye. The modern day equivalent is a single contact lense. My sister who has similar vision requirements went with that option.
posted by jrishel at 3:50 AM on December 7, 2007

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