The single lens eyeglass, or monocle, was introduced in the eighteenth century but attained its greatest popularity in nineteenth-century Europe as an emblem of aristocratic arrogance. Often carried purely for dramatic effect, the monocle was usually worn around the neck on a string, ribbon, or chain, and used to peer down on others with an air of superiority, and when placed on the eye, a person was forced to squint in an awkward manner to hold it in place.
First developed in Germany during the 1700s, and originally called an eye ring, the monocle soon spread to Austria thanks to an enterprising young optics student named J. F. Voigtlander, who started making them in Vienna around 1814. The fashion quickly caught on in England and Russia as well, where the first monocle wearers were men in society's upper classes. Many of these early monocles were framed with metal, tortoiseshell, or horn. More elaborate monocles were made of solid gold and studded with gems.
Monocles went in and out of fashion throughout the 1800s. The typical 1860s dandy, a nickname for a fashionable man, wore loud checked trousers and a monocle, for example. Even during the height of its appeal, the monocle was never regarded as an effective solution for people's vision problems and was only rarely fitted with a real corrective lens. Monocles fell out of favor in much of western Europe and the United States during World War I (1914–18) when they became associated with enemy German military officers who were often depicted wearing them.
Chenoune, Farid. A History of Men's Fashion. Paris, France: Flammarion, 1993.
Rosenthal, J. William. Spectacles and Other Vision Aids. Novato, CA: Norman Publishing, 1994.