Illustrated by Maia Grecco.
I wanted to look like Michael Caine when I picked out my first pair of glasses. They were a thick bookish pair that reminded me of his effortless cool in The Ipcress File. He played a dour and cerebral spy, the alternative to James Bond, and his glasses matched with his sharp and tailored suits. It was an iconic look, which made realize that there was a certain swagger in the right pair of glasses that could make me feel inwardly iconic.
A 1960s spy film was not a frame of reference for my classmates, who reacted with bemused looks and even compliments of “They are SO you,” and “They’re big but they suit you.” I felt ecstatic because I’d made a good impression on everyone and felt cool, and any compliment was stored away in grade 8. It was a minor feat, but I had pulled off a rewarding stunt that went with all my outfits of grungy t-shirts and ripped jeans, so when I lost them at school a few months later I was crushed.
That first pair of glasses was almost my first rush of feeling confident in my style, so to lose them was like giving up any chances of being looked at in a reverent way again. 13-year-olds have inflated ideas of their place in the social hierarchy, so I was convinced that my subsequent wiry frames made me lose my footing in the esteem of everyone else. They were the glasses I shudder at now because they’re so ill-suited and rectangular on me, but they were typical fuck-it pair that suited my angsty ages from 13-15.
I’ve definitely been chasing that first pair of glasses ever since, because it was fun to turn heads and to think I was hot shit walking through the hallways. Fishing for those compliments was teenage validation, but in their praising I felt like I’d accomplished that look of effortless cool that Caine had. I’d continue to look to Bollywood and Hollywood cinema in fashioning my style identity, where I’d draw on Shirley Maclaine’s pouffy dresses in The Apartment for my after-prom dress or Saira Banu’s paisley suits for my obsession with prints. My glasses fitted into that process, because they had to fit the look I was creating that day.
I may not have been anything like my icons, but that’s just what hybridity is when it comes to fashion: you pick and choose elements from your influences, culture, and signifiers that flow into your identity. So when I found my current pair of cat-eye frames, I knew instantly that they were my signature. Immediately, they reminded me of my grainy photos of uncles and aunts in the 60s, what better way could I say that I was the oldest soul than wearing glasses with wide gold rims and amber and brown shading that anybody’s aunt and grandma might’ve worn? They were also my “student” glasses, because I was going away for university to a much smaller city so I knew I wanted to stand out.
All my stages of glasses have come at significant moments in my life, and these cat-eye frames were my chance to reclaim that inner joy of the first pair at university. I needed to be seen as different, and perhaps I overdid it at times with my loud vintage dresses, ombre hair, and big glasses but I reveled in it. I relished the fact that I’d found my sense of style in finding these glasses, because they made me feel iconic in whatever slouchy or loud thing I wore that day. I didn’t bother changing this pair when I entered journalism school, because they made me feel like the quirky one, but also the one you could tell was on the ‘arts and culture’ beat.
These glasses made me feel fearless, because for once I felt comfortable that I’d found my style, that you’d think of Rumnique and go, “Ohh her, with the glasses, and big curly hair.” But now I’m changing the guard.
Whether it’s turning 25 and not having the meltdown I thought I would or graduating journalism school, I’m feeling restless for something new in 2016. And that goes for my glasses, because as much as I’m reluctant to let go of them, they’ve represent that student side of me that I’m ready to be done with.
While others may stick to their 2016 resolutions, I’m taking small steps in reinventing this period of my life that’s far more uncertain and away from the security of school. So shedding this pair will be hard, but a certain fearlessness has sunk in that I can be a bit more subtle in the way I distinguish myself rather than the, “Here I am, please look at how fun I am!”
Though that feeling has permeated much of my fashion choices, I’m enjoying the process of finding something unique that suits me. Much like trying on clothes, glasses shopping has been a funny process in picking something that’s a bit more adult but reflects my silly and gregarious side.
Trying on this wild pair made me feel like Redfoo from LMFAO, I almost felt like I could walk out there and rock them. Wiser sense prevailed, though I knew my 16-year-old self would have loved this pair.
This upside down pair made me look like a brown Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse, but also a bit like an 80s nerd. I came very close to pondering how I’d get through job interviews with these ones on.
This funky pair made me start gravitating toward a rounder frame, perhaps ones that didn’t make my eyebrows look triangles on top! Harry Potter was a good touchstone to the glasses I’d try on later, because he was a character whose glasses were instantly recognizable.
After having cat-eye frames, I wanted to feel a bit fresh with a Truman Capote-esque tortoise-shell frames. Going to shops and trying on frames has been a bit like trying on a different personality each time. I could imagine myself wearing them at a job or them livening up my slouchy unemployment clothes. What person could I see myself as, in them?
Sometimes, I couldn’t help but enjoy the playful spirit it brought out in me, like trying on a pair that were the almost exactly the same as my uncle’s.
Picking out frames also brought out how indecisive I am, because I’m always left with that #FOMO after I’ve made a decision. Glasses aren’t supposed to be one-for-a-lifetime thing, but in choosing the right one I’ve got a bit restless with searching for the one that I left behind and the reactions it might’ve elicited if I’d chosen them.
Narrowing down my options in this search has been daunting but it finally feels like it’s new beginnings again. If my glasses have taught me anything, it’s that I’m attention-seeking and vainglorious performer just like the next person, but that it doesn’t have be such a laboured effort. If I was chasing the first pair for the reactions that came from it, then I overlooked how comfortable they made me feel in feeling effortless and chic. That kind of acceptance comes from without trying too hard or at least making that effort look a bit more natural. It’s an everyday struggle but I think I’ve found it in this search.
My new glasses are dubbed the DGAF Glasses because they’re about letting go of that overt performance, and just reveling in being funky to please myself. But which is funkiest?
Rumnique is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, but you can probably spot her a mile away with that curly hair of mismatched purple. Her work has appeared in Empire Magazine, Mojo Magazine, Hello Giggles, The Toast, The Aerogram, and Jugni Style. Follow her on Twitter @rotikapadarum.