Safety Spectacles

Parallel Earth: 571454
Exhibition: The World In A Haze
Parallel Historian: Ben Tumbling.

IMG_1172 sized edited

Safety Spectacles
Amalgamated Tools (est. 1856, London, United Kingdom), 1901
Steel, rubber, and tempered glass

Originally designed as protective gear for craftsmen and artisans during the Industrial Renaissance, safety spectacles became a status symbol during the fashionable trend known as “workman’s finery”. The era’s heroes were inventors, engineers, science-pirates, and industry lords. So the upper classes, in aping their idols, appropriated the trappings of laborers. This was a sad irony for working class people, whose standard of living did not reflect the new imperial wealth.

Soirées in the noble old houses of London were filled with wealthy young men clomping about in heavy work boots, leather oiled and shining, with not a spot of dirt to be seen. They carried pencil stubs on their person, but in silver cases hung from their necks, or chained to their waistcoats like pocket watches. Sometimes, they would even sport a hole in their shirts, carefully placed so as to be noticeable but not obvious. A small rip in the seam at the shirt cuff, carefully worn out with a nail file, was popular; one could hide or reveal it by simply adjusting one’s coat sleeve.

Safety spectacles were a more conspicuous accessory. It fit all the criteria for the aesthetic of the age: made of steel, partly covered in rubber, articulated, and slightly bulky. Most models folded, like reading glasses, but in different configurations, making each pair a kind of puzzle. Fumbling with them marked you as a novice, and not in style.

Note the slightly nonintuitive folding design.

Some would replace the safety glass with their graduated prescription lenses. Others put in smoked glass, turning their spectacles into sun glasses. Still others wore even more cumbersome welding goggles and, eventually, aviation goggles. Such trends betrayed the posturing and artificiality in service of fashion that was rampant at the time, an almost satirical longing for authenticity.

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