Ah glasses, the burden of many a fashion-conscious and budget-conscious person. I've been shopping around for a new pair and it seems the best deal for an attractive set is $200! Well, would you believe that was about the same asking price for them in late 18th century America as well? Spectacles were pricey!
Spectacles have been around forever but they underwent some of the most important changes in the eighteenth century that have given us the glasses we have today. One of the biggest issues with spectacles was how to keep them on your face. It was in 1730 that a London Optician, Edward Scarlett came up with the genius solution of creating sidepieces that could rest atop a person's ears. Before that there were balancing acts on noses and ribbons going every which way (the Chinese took that Western aspect and added weights to keep them on). By 1752 the glasses now had hinges thanks to another British Optician, James Asycough. With these adjustments, Spectacle sales increased.
Spectacles could be made with clear or tinted glass. After Georgiana went through the trouble with her eyes she would wear spectacles of black crepe to keep the light out of her sensitive eye. Lenses were available in a variety of colors, usually blue or green in England. You might think, with all these fabulous color combinations that Spectacles could be trendsetting, they weren't. People were extremely self-conscious about wearing glasses in public. Think teenagers going to the grocery store with mom in complicated orthodontic headgear. The fashion-conscious French were especially notorious for their hatred of spectacles; they would much rather walk into a door at Versailles than be seen in spectacles. When Princess Sophia needed glasses, she fretted about wearing them to the opera, worried about what the newspapers would say. Her sister Augusta scolded,
"...What...can they say? That Princess Sophia wears spectacles! Well, and what harm can that do her? Would it not be better they should say it, than she loose all sight of the performers?"I think Augusta and I would get along.
Yet another improvement in spectacles came in 1784 from America when Ben Franklin was getting frustrated reading one night. Franklin had two sets of spectacles, one for his near-sightedness and one for his far-sightedness. He found himself constantly switching from one set to the other. He sliced both sets of lenses in half, glued (so to speak) them together, and thus created the bifocal. Clever Ben!
So it is safe to say that the modern glasses as we know it, is strictly an eighteenth century invention. This invention comes with the same price and the same occasional insecurity about how one looks in their glasses. You would think after a couple of centuries of improvements in ophthalmology we would finally be rid of the glasses stigma!