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The icons of eyeglasses

Sketch of different glasses frame shapesCan you imagine Elton John with contact lenses? Or Gandhi with 20/20 vision and no glasses? 

There are some legendary figures throughout history whose glasses have become an intrinsic part of their iconography. From a wizard to a Beatle, here is a list of the most famous icons of spectacles.

John Lennon

John Lennon needs no introduction. Renowned for his music and political activism, he died on 8 December 1980, victim of a shooting that ignited the mourning of fans all over the world. Since his death, his trademark round-rimmed glasses have become a legacy in their own right, epitome of the power of iconography, and synonymous of all the values John stood for.

On their 44th wedding anniversary, Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono tweeted a photograph of the glasses her husband was wearing when he died: cracked and blood-stained, they were poignantly positioned in front of the New York skyline. Ono accompanied the image with a political message against gun crime in America, once again reinforcing the power of Lennon’s glasses as symbol of his fight for peace.

Harry Potter

The fictional wizard Harry Potter is also renowned for his old-fashioned round-rimmed spectacles. Harry’s glasses are symbolic, as author J.K Rowling has stated that they represent him being the “eyes into the book”, the character from whose perspective the readers see the magical world of Hogwarts. Rowling also states: “Harry inherited his poor eyesight from his father James Potter. He values other qualities in himself, and doesn’t feel the need to ‘fix’ his eyesight”.

Harry’s glasses are more than a fashion statement; they are a symbolic representation of his courageous Gryffindor nature, and debunk the unkind cliche of glasses being “uncool” or “geeky”. The rise in popularity of the “geek chic” fashion movement can be attributed to this wizard, as sales of round-rimmed spectacles have risen exponentially since the last two books in the Harry Potter series were published.

Dame Edna Everage

Like Harry Potter, Dame Edna Everage is also a fictitious character, featured in several Broadway plays and TV shows since the 1950s. Played by Australian comedian Barry Humphries, she has become so much of an institution that her “autobiography”, “My gorgeous life”, was sold as nonfiction. Dame Edna is famous the world over for her outlandish style: her lilac “wisteria hue” hair, her boisterous greeting “Hello, Possums!”, and more significantly, her cat-eye glasses, which she fondly calls her “face furniture”.

Her collection of spectacles includes many over-the-top, flamboyant pieces, commonly encrusted with bright jewels and sporting extravagant winged tips. Dame Edna even states that her collection inspired Elton John’s own obsession for glasses. After she told him that his outfit was “boring”, Elton discovered that glasses were the missing link to perfection, and started wearing them to enhance his look. As they say, the rest is history.

Elton John

Elton John, piano extraordinaire and singing legend, owns tens of thousands of pairs of glasses. Known for his eccentric stage outfits, he is rarely pictured without his signature shades.

His glasses are legendary: on a recent tour of Brazil, rumors circulated that Elton asked for an extra room in the hotel, kept at a constant temperature of 16°C, specifically reserved for his eclectic collection of specs. The singer’s peculiar passion has even spawned a stage comedy called “Elton John’s Glasses”, in which his favourite football team Watford loses a match because the goalkeeper is blinded by a flash of sunlight, reflected by the star’s lenses.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi is an enduring historical icon with an instantly identifiable look. He was renowned for his shaved head, loin cloth, flip flops, and glasses: all symbols of his metaphorical “shed of the industrial cloth”.

Like John Lennon’s spectacles, Gandhi’s glasses have become a principal part of his image, and are worth astronomical amounts of money; his glasses were purchased in an 2009 auction alongside his sandals, pocket watch, bowl, and plate for a whopping £1.27 million!

These iconic glasses have acquired their own celebrity (and in Elton John’s case, their own room) thanks to their world-famous wearers. Although many of their owners have passed away, the legend of their glasses lives on. 

It is a testament to their legacy that a simple pair of glasses outlined against the New York City skyline can be so poignantly political, or that horn-rimmed glasses worn by a fictional wizard can dispel schoolyard stereotypes. It all goes to show that, from coloured contact lenses to spectacles, even visual aids have a story to tell!