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Joseph Chamberlain wearing a monocle
Cliché of a gentleman wearing a monocle

A monocle is a type of corrective lens used to correct or enhance the visual perception in only one eye. It consists of a circular lens placed in front of the eye and held in place by the eye socket itself. Often, to avoid losing the monocle, a string or wire is connected to the wearer's clothing at one end and, at the other end, to either a hole in the lens or, more often, a wire ring around its circumference.


The antiquarian Philipp von Stosch wore a monocle in Rome in the 1720s, in order to closely examine engravings and antique engraved gems, but the monocle did not become an article of gentlemen's apparel until the 19th century. The dandy's quizzing glass of the 1790s was an article of high fashion,[1] which differs from the monocle in being held to one's eye with a handle in a fashion similar to a lorgnette, rather than being held in place by the eye socket itself.


An early-20th-century gold-filled monocle with gallery

There are three additional styles of the monocle. The first style consists of a simple loop of metal with a lens that was slotted into the eye orbit. These were the first monocles worn in England and could be found from the 1830s onwards. The second style, which was developed in the 1890s, was the most elaborate, consisting of a frame with a raised edge-like extension known as the gallery.[2] The gallery was designed to help secure the monocle in place by raising it out of the eye's orbit slightly so that the eyelashes would not jar it. Monocles with galleries were often the most expensive. The wealthy would have the frames custom-made to fit their eye sockets. A sub-category of the galleried monocle was the "sprung gallery", where the gallery was replaced by an incomplete circle of flattened, ridged wire supported by three posts. The ends were pulled together, the monocle was placed in the eye orbit, and the ends were released, causing the gallery to spring out and keep the monocle in place. The third style of monocle was frameless. This consisted of a cut piece of glass, with a serrated edge to provide a grip and sometimes a hole drilled into one side for a cord. Often the frameless monocle had no cord and would be worn freely. This style was popular at the beginning of the 20th century as the lens could be cut to fit any shape eye orbit inexpensively, without the cost of a customized frame.

Wearing a monocle is generally not uncomfortable.[citation needed] If customized, monocles could be worn securely with little effort. However, periodic adjustment is common for monocle wearers to keep the monocle from popping, as can be seen in films featuring Erich von Stroheim. Often only the rich could afford to have a monocle custom-fabricated, while the poor had to settle for ill-fitting monocles that were less comfortable and less secure. The popular perception was (and still is) that a monocle could easily fall off with the wrong facial expression. This is true to an extent, for example raising the eyebrow too far will allow the monocle to fall.

19th-century gold-filled quizzing glass

A once-standard comedic device exploits this: an upper-class gentleman affects a shocked expression in response to some event, and his monocle falls into his drink or smashes to pieces on the floor, etc.


During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the monocle was generally associated with wealthy upper-class men.[3][4] Combined with a morning coat and a top hat, the monocle completed the costume of the stereotypical 1890s capitalist.[citation needed] Monocles were also accessories of German military officers from this period; especially from World War I and World War II. German military officers known to have worn a monocle include Hans Krebs, Werner von Fritsch,[5] Erich Ludendorff,[6] Walter Model, Walter von Reichenau, Dietrich von Saucken, Wilhelm Keitel, Hans von Seeckt,[7] and Hugo Sperrle.

Monocles were most prevalent in the late 19th century, but are rarely worn today. This is due in large part to advances in optometry which allow for better measurement of refractive error, so that glasses and contact lenses can be prescribed with different strengths in each eye.

The monocle did, however, gain a following in the stylish lesbian circles of the early 20th century, when lesbians would wear a monocle for effect. Such women included Una Lady Troubridge, Radclyffe Hall, and Weimar German reporter Sylvia von Harden; The painting Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden by German expressionist painter Otto Dix depicts its subject wearing a monocle.

Famous figures who wore a monocle include British politicians Joseph Chamberlain, his son Austen, Henry Chaplin, and Angus Maude. Percy Toplis (The Monocled Mutineer), founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Portuguese President António de Spínola, filmmakers Fritz Lang and Erich von Stroheim, prominent 19th-century Portuguese writer Eça de Queiroz, Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov, actor Conrad Veidt, Dadaists Tristan Tzara and Raoul Hausmann, esoteric-fascist Julius Evola, French collaborationist politician Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, singer Richard Tauber, diplomat Christopher Ewart-Biggs (a smoked-glass monocle, to disguise his glass eye), Major Johnnie Cradock, actors Ralph Lynn, George Arliss and Martyn Green, and Karl Marx. In another vein, G. E. M. Anscombe was one of only a few noted women who occasionally wore a monocle.[8] Famous wearers of the 21st century so far include astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, and former boxer Chris Eubank. Abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman wore a monocle mainly for getting a closer look at artworks.[9] Richard Tauber wore a monocle to mask a squint in one eye. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats wore them at times too.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Monocles". Spectacles Gallery. The College of Optometrists. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  2. ^ Ekstein, J.; Perkinks, J.; Perkinks, G. (1994). Gentlemen's Dress Accessories. U.K.: Shire Publications. ISBN 0-85263-904-X.
  3. ^ Lowder, J. Bryan (27 December 2012). "The One-Eyed Man Is King". Slate. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  4. ^ Will Femia (19 September 2012). "Monocles: 'Ow, do people really wear these?'". MSNBC. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Werner von Fritsch". Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  6. ^ "Erich Ludendorff". Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  7. ^ "Hans von Seeckt". Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  8. ^ O'Grady, Jane (11 January 2001). "Elizabeth Anscombe". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  9. ^ Schneider, Pierre (Summer 1969). "Through the Louvre with Barnett Newman". Artnews. 68 (4): 34–39, 70–72.
  10. ^ "Inspector Kemp!" on YouTube