Enter the 1950s: an era of rock n’ roll and Buddy Holly glasses. Rock n’ roll really owes its rise during this era to incredible musical pioneers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and of course—Buddy Holly. But of these pioneers, Buddy Holly was probably the true pioneer of a particular kind of fashion and style in rock n’ roll. We’re talking of course, about Buddy Holly glasses and the rock n’ roll star himself helped to put the Buddy Holly glasses style on the charts as one of the most iconic looks in history. So what exactly are Buddy Holly glasses? When we talk about “Buddy Holly glasses”, we’re referring to a pair of thick, black, horn-rimmed glasses.
To this day, Buddy Holly glasses are one of the most sought after kinds of styles for anyone who wears glasses. They’re also probably the most expensive pair of prescription glasses to have ever existed—the authentic ones at least. In 1990, the widow of Buddy Holly sold for $50,000, one of two pairs of frames that Buddy Holly himself wore. In 1998, the last pair was sold at an auction for $80,000, which now sits in the city of Lubbock’s Buddy Holly exhibit. But what makes them all the rage? What’s so special about Buddy Holly glasses?
Like a lot of other possessions and products, glasses have this relation to what and how people express themselves. And this is especially true of Buddy Holly glasses. It’s not quite so much the fact that Buddy Holly glasses are extra special or of better quality, but rather the association it has with the rock n’ roll world of the 1950s and the image that Buddy Holly himself pushed through during his career.
Born in Lubbock, Texas in 1936, Buddy Holly was the fourth and last child in his family. Starting from childhood, he was influenced by a variety of musical styles ranging from gospel to country, and rhythm and blues which all contributed to the musical style that he made central to his career as a rock n’ roll pioneer. But the Buddy Holly glasses didn’t come until his serious pursuit of music as a career began.
Despite your initial impressions of the musician, he didn’t have his iconic Buddy Holly glasses his entire career. Buddy Holly very much wanted to be like other musicians in the sense that he did not want to wear glasses—especially on stage. After all, how could he be a rock n’ roll enthusiast and performer if he had glasses on?
With determination, he tried out an early form of contact lenses, but that plan fell through because early contact lenses were too big and too uncomfortable, meaning that you could only wear them for brief moments at a time. Considering contact lenses were out of the question, he tried to simply play without glasses. Keep in mind that he had a vision of 20/800 in both eyes, and we can only guess that this plan wasn’t the best either. Yes, this plan proved to be futile as well because at a particular show, Buddy Holly dropped his pick. Unable to see, he had to get down on his hands and knees to find it.
Buddy Holly realized that glasses were really the only way to go and that there was no way around it. But considering he had gathered a good following, he assumed that glasses shouldn’t change that as long as his music kept his fans happy. But even at this point, the Buddy Holly glasses did not come into play.
At first, he wore frames with a combination of plastic and wire which are usually referred to as split-frame glasses. It was during his rise as a musician that he and the Crickets became well acquainted with the Everly Brothers. They essentially told him that if he was going to wear glasses, he might as well go all out and make a statement with them. With this encouragement, he donned a pair of thick black frames which bolstered his popularity. To be fair, these were probably the first pair of glasses which can be considered the first Buddy Holly glasses.
But the truly iconic $80,000 Buddy Holly glasses came from his fateful meeting with an optometrist named Jesse Davis Armistead. Dr. Armistead, a simple optometrist living in Texas was taking a vacation in Mexico. It was from this neighboring region of the Lone Star state that he was able to find the perfect pair of glasses for Buddy Holly—a pair of heavy, thick, horn-rimmed Faoisa glasses—one in black and one in tortoiseshell. Buddy Holly chose the black ones and kept the tortoiseshell in his file, but unfortunately would not be able to wear the tortoiseshell.
Regardless, Buddy Holly glasses created a sensation between the time Buddy Holly donned them and his untimely death. Even in 1958, the idea of “Buddy Holly glasses” caught on fairly easily. Contrary to what Buddy Holly thought would happen, it didn’t hamper the image of a rocker—it struck the public, specifically teenagers, as more of a nerd-gone-cool kind of concept. Part of the reason Buddy Holly could break this image was because he was good at what he did: he wasn’t just any stiff passing off as a rock n’ roll star trying to be a trendsetter. This was obvious considering that John Lennon of The Beatles remarked, “Buddy Holly was the first one that we were really aware of in England who could play and sing at the same time – not just strum, but actually play the licks.” Buddy Holly was skillful and as a result, the Buddy Holly glasses became a significant byproduct.
Instead of going against the rebellious spirit of rock n’ roll, the Buddy Holly glasses accentuated and emboldened it. After all, breaking the image of what a rocker was supposed to look like was in itself a rebellious act and the Buddy Holly glasses only reinforced the idea that rock n’ roll didn’t need to have a particular mold. Thus he set his place as the first rock n’ roll star to wear glasses.
This title he gained with his Buddy Holly glasses not only set a trend in style but also a precedent for future musical artists. While wearing glasses was not a taboo in any way for musicians, Buddy Holly glasses legitimized the path for musicians to exhibit their own glasses. In other words, Buddy Holly glasses made it “okay” to wear glasses on the stage while performing. Indeed, the precedent that Buddy Holly set with his glasses influenced another prominent successor of his—John Lennon of The Beatles. Before Buddy Holly, John Lennon was recounted by his band members as only wearing his glasses in private, but that with Buddy Holly, he began to wear them on stage as well.
While the spirit of rock n’ roll is alive and well with the Buddy Holly glasses style, there was and continues to be a real physical style element to them that renders them as a popular pick. If we take a detailed look at Buddy Holly glasses, we can see that they’re quite bold, heavy rimmed, and oversized all with a glossy black acetate. And the reason Buddy Holly could pull off those glasses was due to a combination of his softly angled hairstyle and his distinctive features; the glasses complemented his facial structure rather well and vice versa.
The 1950s was an era of big bands; the rock n’ roll bands were completely unlike the sort of alternative rock groups we have today: fashion, looks, and style were completely different. The 50s rock n’ roll groups all had a distinctive classy feel to them. Whether you were on the drums, played the guitar, or were the lead vocal, all the musicians wore suits with ties. The same was true of Buddy Holly and the Crickets as they wore business suits when they started out as a band. But the Everly Brothers introduced them to Ivy League clothes, which is the iconic look they’re remembered for. In any case, this is another one of the reasons Buddy Holly was able to in a sense get away with wearing his Buddy Holly glasses despite being in a rock n’ roll band—his glasses gave a sort of “finishing touch” to an already polished look.
The legacy of Buddy Holly glasses continues to live on and influences a lot of glasses styles today. Perhaps the exact make and model of the Buddy Holly glasses are not necessarily reproduced on a mass scale, but it’s evident that many glasses have a twinge of the Buddy Holly glasses style to them. Take, for instance, the oversized factor and the thickness component of modern eyewear and it’s obvious the Buddy Holly glasses style is a subtle on-going trend. What’s certain is that Buddy Holly glasses did change the landscape in fashion and left a footprint in the significance of eyewear.