Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #29: Forget the coercion by sing-song. Glasses make a lady more interesting.
Few accessories add more dimension and intrigue to a lady’s appearance than spectacles. Barbara Stanwyck’s librarian in Forbidden (‘32) fails to see that falling for a married man leads to heartache. Stany’s pince-nez are the height of fashion in lady geekdom.
Miriam Hopkins sports a dark-rimmed pair to play the unassuming secretary in a long con with Herbert Marshall in Trouble in Paradise (‘32). Specs and a monochrome dress are sartorial subterfuge meant to distract Kay Francis from her jewels.
In 42nd Street (‘33), Ginger Rogers counteracts a bad reputation as ‘Anytime Annie’ by adopting a monocle, herringbone tweed and a posh accent. She can stare down the slut-shamers with the glare from one glass and a raised high brow.
Ruby Keeler may have ditched her glasses in Footlight Parade (‘33) in a foolish bid to get a fella’s attention, but her ‘before’ fashion sense remains an attractive template for those of us in the cultivation of a 1930s spinster aesthetic.
A hardworking busy body such as Rosalind Russell in The Women (‘39) needs as many eyes as she can muster, which in this case is a lucky number seven. Russell’s Sylvia Fowler exhibits so much style with a rakish hat, netting, specs and Schiaparelli-inspired whimsy that all bets are off in the ultimate ladies-who-lunch ensemble.
Joan Fontaine may have had the great fortune of having Cary Grant as her own personal hair and wardrobe guide in Suspicion (‘41) but the quiet dignity of a lady with glasses, a book and menswear on the train is indelible in the annals of fashion.
Ingrid Bergman’s spectacles in Spellbound (‘45) are the finishing touch to an empathic doctor. They also remind viewers of an era when Hitchcock preferred to explore the interior lives of women rather than have them butchered by deranged avian or ‘family romance’ antagonists.
Joan Crawford uses glasses to signal regret and missed opportunity in Humoresque (‘46). Crawford’s discontent at being relegated to ‘wife’ or ‘muse’ is underscored each time she puts on her glasses. No wonder she drinks too much. A woman who commands a room clearly needs something to do. Her glasses remind us.
Eve Arden’s Our Miss Brooks (‘52-‘56) is judging you. And nothing helps judgy-face have more impact than a pair of glasses.
Marilyn Monroe never looked as interesting than she does with a pair of cat eye specs in How to Marry a Millionaire (‘53). She almost resists the fashion redemption provided by the ‘destroy-sex-bomb-cliche’ frames.