Of Men and Monocles

Actor Sam Bernard in costume. 1909. Source
Not surprisingly, you don't see many monocles around these days..and why would you? They are cumbersome, fiddly objects, only cover one eye and are apt to pop put at inconvenient moments. And yet...by Jove they're eye-catching and offer the wearer an instant transformation into eccentric gentleman - an interesting accessory perhaps, for fans of chappism.

Contrary to appearances, monocles are evidently perfectly comfortable to wear and are handy as a reading glass that can be tucked discreetly into a pocket when not in use. When they first appeared in the early half of the 19th century, they were a simple affair - an unpretentious circle of metal-rimmed glass which slotted into the eye orbit. The second wave of monocles in the late 1800s however, were more elaborate and featured a gallery, which was a kind of of  wire extension on the underside of the rim, designed to increase comfort and prevent the eyelashes from getting in the way of the glass. 

Early 20th century gold-rimmed monocle, featuring a gallery beneath the lens, for added eye comfort. Source
If you had the funds, you could get a monocle tailor-made to the particular dimensions of your eye socket. Most monocles came with an attached wire ring and a cord which could be fastened to clothing for security. Dramatic effects of expression could be achieved by popping out your monocle at the appropriate moment during conversation, where it would dangle helplessly until retrieved by the owner and place back on the eye. At the height of their popularity, monocles were a high fashion item for the refined, dandified man and tended to be worn by the middle and upper classes. In the early part of the last century, a new style was developed which were rimless, had a special edging that provided grip and were often worn without the chord. 

Barry Humphries & monocle. Circa 1970s.  Source
Monocle Fans
Even after they disappeared from vogue as the 20th century progressed, the monocle continued to have its enthusiasts. Entertainer Barry Humphries sported one for years, as did the King of Tonga and  astronomer Patrick Moore. While the iconic image of the monocled man is a gent in top hat and pinstripe trousers, there's no reason why monocles can't be worn casually, with any kind of gentleman's outfit - they look particularly fetching with a jaunty hat and amused expression. George Arliss managed to wear one with great aplomb.

Actor and Playwright George Arliss. Source
The modern monocled man is self-assured...he has to be to wear such an obvious and eccentric accessory. Affected? Perhaps. Atavistic? No doubt.  Yet it's the inner confidence that such outlandish outer chattels project that tends to endear the wearer to us. At the very least the monocle is attention-getting...an island of visual rebellion in a sea of facial conformity.

Of course monocles were never exclusively the province of men, as occasionally women wore them too but as a sartorial statement, they rarely feature on the female face, perhaps because, while fine for the bohemian intellectual look,  its hard to be a sexy siren with a chunk of glass scrunching up one eye.

So, can a man be sexy in a monocle...? Weirdly, yes he can, though probably not if he's also wearing a handlebar moustache - that's just too much clutter for one face.