On Eyeglasses

Charlottesville, Virginia

May 21, 2020

Before the 1930s, most eyeglasses were round, oval or rectangular shaped. But since then, "P3" frames have become one of the most popular frames styles in the world.

The "P" in P3 is for Pantoscopic, and refers to the angle or tilt of the bottom of the frame rims towards the eye. This inward tilt allows for more precise and accurate vision correction, allows the wearer to rotate the eyes from distance to reading without having difficulty, and even cuts down on lens glare. The "3" refers to the 3mm difference between the height and the width of the lenses in the original versions of these frame, and which gives them their oblong shape.

The P3 originated in wire for military use and released in the early 1930s. After WWII, the shape was reimagined in acetate. Why the military background? The design is quite practical, in that the round shape fits many different lens prescriptions, and they were designed to fit well under gas masks.

Images of soldiers wearing the P3 shape are frequent from that time. As with many things which began in the armed theatre, the public soon adopted the look, with soldiers returning home to their hero’s welcome.

You can see the P3 on President Truman (pictured below), and Gregory Peck (pictured above).

P3 frames with keyhole bridge

The P3 shape is not perfectly round. It is slightly wider at the top, giving it a more flattering angle than a perfectly round pair. You’ll find them with or without the "keyhole" bridge, so named because, well, it looks like a keyhole! For those looking for the "classic look," go with the keyhole. It’s more forgiving with different nose shapes: particularly those with more prominent noses.

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