Rockin’ “Flasses” – the new cool
By: Christina Cheng
What do you immediately envision when you hear the word hipster?
Well, for many Torontonians, it plays along the lines of fashion-conscious 20 to 30 year-olds who hang around the hipster circuit streets of Queen Street West, Dundas West and Ossington. They drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, smoke Parliament cigarettes and sport various numbers of predictable, cliché stylistic trademarks: vintage flannel shirts; skinny jeans; unflattering printed wool sweaters from dad’s closet; beat up old school sneakers; a collection of vinyl records; thick, dark beards from the Paleolithic period; greasy side comb over like John Travolta in Grease; and of course they love rockin’ heavy, dark, humungous “flasses”- or should I say, fake glasses?
According to Jeffery Fernandes, a 36-year-old optician and operations manager at Spectacle on Queen Street West, works with hipster-esque clients and says they buy glasses but order fake “anti-reflective, UV-coating lenses so they look more like real glasses.” While replacing a client’s broken left temple from their Italian made DITA frame, Fernandes also adds with a chuckle that he sees “many hipsters swing by the store with no lenses in their frames at all and they act all nonchalant about it.”
Bizarre indeed but in all fairness, hipsters are known to extensively aim to stand out in a crowd with their left-wing persona.
The reality of a hipster is that their “I don’t care” attitude is extremely, carefully constructed. Ignoring the ordinary craze of consumerism, hipsters refuse to associate themselves to generic consuming and prefer to show their independence and rebellious side by making choices that deliberately reflect their desire to openly make statements, whether it’s through having big ridiculous thick geeky nonprescription glasses.
“Part of the hipster fashion style is looking like you don’t care what you look like,” said 22-year-old, Nuelie America who considers herself a downtown hipster.
“So throwing on a fake pair of oversized geeky glasses is kind of like, I don’t care what I look like and that’s cool… Being cool is not caring to be cool.”
Tanja Souza, a frame stylist at Spectacle says wearing glasses is ideal in the hipster lifestyle because they feel glasses set them apart from the crowd. “Those who want to set the trends will find a way to stand out and glasses were a way of them to do that,” she said.
Darren Pelcz is a slim, 6’4 curly haired, energetic, semi-hipster looking student optician who sports a dark chunky Cutler and Gross frame, is also a resident of the Queen Street West area and is familiar with the hipster lifestyle. He describes his best friend as “One of Toronto’s biggest hipsters you’ll ever come across and he goes by the name of Cheeseman”.
“Hipster-style glasses are ‘similarly different’… It all depends on the person’s individual personality and style; certain people can make glasses look new and fresh where as it may look more well worn and time tested on someone else,” he said.
Whether they are real or fake glasses, Pelcz says it’s one way to “express yourself and be cool in a really individualized way.”
Beverly Suliteanu is the vice-president and creative director of product development for Wescan Optical and says she disagrees with Pelcz’s idea of individuality being key in the hipster community. “Hipsters are into black, plastic, geeky glasses… It is quite interesting because there is not a lot of individuality with this crowd. They all have the same look,” she said.
In retrospect, many hipsters are sporting the ever so trendy ‘nerd look’ without the realization that they’re actually following one of the oldest bits of advise in fashion: “When in doubt, throw on a conversational piece of accessory and make it the focal point of your outfit.”
Souza says hipsters “took the look of glasses and made them an accessory – whether they needed them or not. That is why the big, bold acetates have become one of the biggest trends because it stands out the most.”
With glasses being so closely associated to the way one defines their face and sense of style, Pelcz says, “why not be as bold as possible if you could pull it off?”
Jordan Bray is Toronto’s Distillery District optician and says glasses, as part of the hipster lifestyle is personally important to them because they enjoy being out of the norm compared to everybody else around them. Bray finds the comparison between a hipster and glasses similar because glasses are seen as an accessory that cannot be replaced or compared to by any other accessory, and hipsters find it thrilling to be unique amongst the rest.
“Glasses as an accessory isn’t like a scarf or earrings or bracelets,” he said.
“Anyone could buy the same scarf, earring or bracelet and it would look the same but if someone were to buy the same glasses, it would look different on the individual because glasses are tailored to ones face and hipsters like the idea of that.”
Michael Allen is also a frame stylist at Spectacle and says he couldn’t agree more with Bray and adds that glasses are one of the few key fashion items that can be completely unique to one person where nobody else can wear it or pull it off. He says that, “In fact, eyewear didn’t really come into fashion until the late 70s and early 80s when a few independent designers set out to design glasses that were unique as a fashion accessory as well as tapping into an individual’s style and personality in addition to face shape.”
Allen says modern-day artsy hipsters view designer, Alain Mikli as the “godfather” of designer spectacles because he “introduced a variety of new materials such as titanium and added vibrant colours and patterns in acetate and optyl frames.” Allan adds that today’s hipsters are drawn to this style because the designer’s intent was to create wearable art and to showcase his frames that not only have a unique look to them, but are also built to last and to one day be considered a vintage collection.
Stereotypically, hipsters live and dress like their aspiring artists. For instance, the whole vintage, retro look that they go for in their appearance stems from the popular looks of the ‘50s and ‘60s. This can be attributed to the look of musicians such as: John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and others who wore glasses. A lot of hipsters took these looks and tried to emulate them.
Sax Carr, a comedian hipster blogger for http://www.craveonline.com, says he was once in denial that he was a hipster. On his online post, Hipsters stole my glasses and other stories, he says, “I was awestruck. It took me a long time to recover from the accusation… I never imagined people might suggest I was a hipster!”
With his vintage baseball caps, plaid shirts, printed graphic t-shirts, Doc Martins and a pair of heavy thick black-rimmed glasses, it’s pretty evident that he has all the “symptoms” of being a hipster. Carr admits that his powerful desire to claim he wears his glasses is to “support my nerd roots, or because I love Buddy Holly, or I love Bo Diddley, or any of a million reasons that are not the simple, hard, facts.”
Suliteanu explains that the trends in glasses is always evolving and then going back in time just like fashion. Designing glasses is about looking at the past and seeing how it can be made relevant to today. She says the styles haven’t changed much.
People used to be hesitant about wearing glasses that made a statement largely because traditional frame designs focused on function over form, but with a few exceptions (such as Moscot in U.S., Persol in Italy and Oliver Goldsmith in U.K.). Nonetheless, Allan says “spectacles were either thin wire aviator shapes with light Rx’s or large bulky shapes to accommodate heavy thick glass lenses.”
Long before hiding behind a thick pair of horn dark frames was considered “chic” the thicker the glasses on your face, the cooler you seemed to be. Anti-style icons from Elvis to Kurt Cobain are both light years a head of their time in terms of fashion but are both known to rock big bold frames.
Also, shows like Mad Men and people in the entertainment industry who wear chunky frames have made the look mainstream and set the trend of wearing frames viral to the hipster community.
For instance, Dan Levy is Toronto’s glasses-wearer television icon. He’s known for co-hosting MTV’s The After Show, and for being American Pie’s Eugene Levy’s son. Regardless of what he’s known for, there’s no way you can talk about Levy without talking about his amazing collection of heavy, black ironic and hipster-esque frames he wears ever so naturally.
In an interview with The Grid, he says, “I’ve worn these big frames since the fifth grade since they were very not cool or stylish. I’ve kept all my pairs… maybe 25 of them.”
Following the hipster trend of being out of the ordinary, Levy buys retro looking sunglasses and substitutes the sunglass lenses with single vision clear prescription lenses. Levy is known for wearing his infamous heavy Retro Super Future frames in public and says one day he wants to design a line of his own.
He tells The Grid, that, “I think there’s a niche for a few more different frames out there, that might be affordable and have my point of view. I definitely want to pursue that, so we’ll see what happens.
Today, hipsters are slowly beginning to stray away from dark, heavy acetates and experiment more with colour and other materials in eyewear.
Suliteanu says coloured frames such as red are beginning to be popular in the hipster community “but then again so is black.”
She points out that organic materials is still fairly new in the eyewear industry and says this is “significant in the hipster community” because a lot of hipsters have been environmentalists and apart of the free environmentalist movement.
“We are seeing much more natural textures and materials than before… Wood acetate and recyclable materials are more common as ‘being green’ starts to permeate the eyewear industry… This is a huge plus for hipsters!” Suliteanu said.