Up until recently, if you even knew what a lorgnette was, you probably associated it with old movies featuring beautifully dressed women (and a few men) who dripped diamonds and extreme wealth. Occasionally when they especially wanted to see something they’d hold up a pair of reading glasses on a long wand. Today, these beautiful glasses are coming back as exactly what they always were — a very elegant fashion statement.
Although the word is French, these glasses were invented by an Englishman named George Adams. Extremely popular in the 1800s, they were used as reading glasses and especially at theaters and opera houses. They were the forerunner of today’s opera glasses, which are also available on long stems.
There are many different types of lorgnette glasses. They were made of tortoise shell, ivory, even bone. Some of the most beautiful ones were sterling silver. Like some fans, they folded up to become quite small. They could be worn on a long chain as part of a chatelaine, the portable tool case which was an indispensable accessory for the mistress of the house. The chatelaine might also hold a tiny sewing kit, a watch and keys.
Most of today’s lorgnette glasses are produced without lenses, for use in films, party costumes and stage plays. They are not made to be fitted with prescription lenses.
However, the lorgnette is beginning to make a comeback, especially among young people who embrace the romantic Goth look and those who are fascinated with steampunk. This idealization of Victorian styles combined with science fiction and fantasy adventure is embodied in shows like “Doctor Who” and movies like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. You’re likely to see lorgnettes along with tiaras, chatelaines and bustles, on the Red Carpet at awards shows in the next few years. It’s possible that optical frame makers will begin to produce them if there is enough demand.