It was during the Roaring 20's in America that the first use of fashion considerations to sell more eyeglasses appears to have reached a refined and concentrated level. Prior to that time, gold-filled frames were purchased by the chic, and steel or nickel rims by those who could not afford the more costly metal. Antique eyeglasses came to be subdivided into types which were deemed suitable only for certain occasions.
Some frames might have additional decorations, such as small inset gems, fancy scrollwork on the handles or ribbon loops, and so on. However, even the most lordly thought nothing of wearing the same pair of spectacles at any time they were needed, whether it was while reading a newspaper waiting for a train or attending a world-class operatic performance.
A deliberate advertising campaign for antique eyeglasses resulted in some specs being deemed appropriate for certain occasions, and others for other moments in life. The aim was to cause people to buy multiple pairs of Antique eye glasses, even if they could have made due with a single pair. Advertisers from the major eyeglasses companies in America realized that they could dictate fashion to the population, rather than the other way around, and persuade millions to buy not what they wanted to buy, but what the companies wanted to sell to them.
This fact may hold a hint of why eyeglasses came to be seen as magnificent, stylish fashion accessories in the 1930s and the succeeding decades. The hatred and contempt in which spectacles were held for so long is the actual, natural consensus of human psychology in the absence of mass advertising.
The huge advances made in advertising in the communication age, however, opened the door for eyeglass manufacturers to shape consumers' tastes to their own purposes. Naturally wanting to sell more glasses, they persuaded people that glasses were not a hideous eyesore on the human face, but something that enhanced one's appearance and could correct for minor disproportions in the features.
1920s glasses for working
People of all walks of life who needed vision aids to function comfortably were expected to have four pairs of glasses, the first of which would be a pair of working glasses. These would be either rimless or steel or nickel rimmed, and of a highly practical design. To wear such Spartan antique eyeglasses in other circumstances than when working would, of course, be a solecism, according to the carefully constructed fashion viewpoint constructed by the companies' advertising.
vintage eyeglasses for recreation
Recreation in a relaxed, informal atmosphere called for a completely different pair of glasses to be worn. These circumstances, such as when engaged in a sport or simply enjoying a good conversation with friends and family, were said to require glasses with tortoiseshell rims. Nickel temples were considered to be a sign of exceptionally good taste when attached to such eyerims. Since plastic was making an appearance at this time, many “recreational” vintage eyeglasses were probably plastic-rimmed with mock tortoiseshell coloring, like many frames still made today.
eyeglasses for “semi-evening wear”
Customs in the 1920s being what they were, with a hint of stuffy butlers and minute divisions of the day into degrees of formality, an actual distinction was made between “semi evening wear” and “evening wear”. Presumably, “semi-evening” situations were more formal than regular recreation, but involved only people you were fairly familiar with, and could thus be slightly more relaxed than the full formality of a ball, opera, or dinner with guests. Tortoiseshell eyerims were again called for, but in this case, the temples and bridge were to be made of gold, not nickel.
Glasses for evening wear
The vintage eyeglasses worn for the most formal occasions were rimless pince nez with gold metal fittings. Here, at least, the idea that the height of fashion in glasses was to make it appear, as much as possible, that you were not wearing any glasses at all, still persisted for a brief time, though the rising tide of brilliant, phantasmagorical spectacles was just around the corner.