When eyeglasses became some sort of effective possible-romance repellant, that says a lot about its appearance. The GI glasses, also known as “birth control glasses,” did not disappoint in terms of making even the most attractive, badass military personnel like the biggest dork out there. On the other hand, if you fancy thick black rims and lenses that look like magnifying glasses, then it’s definitely for you.

Recruiting Men With Poor Eyesight

Vietnam-era GI glasses. (Tennessee State Library and Archives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The ancestors of these rather unsightly glasses could be traced back to World War II when the Army recruited tons of people with bad eyesight for the Allied campaigns in Europe and the Pacific. Lt. Col. F. C. Tyng, commanding Fort McClellan in Alabama, wrote a letter informing that 75 of his men had broken their eyeglasses and couldn’t afford to have them replaced. According to The Medical Department of the United States Army in World War II:

In less than a month, on recommendation of The Surgeon General, the Medical Department was directed to provide spectacles repairs and replacements to all military personnel needing them. In the meantime, a plan had been developed to obtain spectacles by letting contracts with optical suppliers in each of the nine corps areas. Since this would have involved nine separate contracts with widely separated contractors some of whom were unable to fill the requirements, this plan was abandoned and a strongly centralized procurement program was adopted.

Ugly For A Most Practical Reason

The result was a P3 lens shape made to be used with gas masks. P3 refers to the tilt or angle of the bottom of the frame rims towards the eye that helps in providing more precise vision correction. After the war, cellulose acetate was used in place of the nickel alloy wire. These were thicker than the normal eyeglasses to protect the wearer’s eyes at the same time, enabling them to see the world clearly. They were originally color gray but were replaced with black after all stocks were exhausted. Black remained the color and design of the GI glasses from 1968 to the 1970s until the redesign with the S9 frames.

Male S9 (“MS9”) GI glasses. (Navy Bureau of Medicine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

For a short time, these s9 frames were black until they were changed to brown cellulose acetate frames and remained just so until it was discontinued in 2012. These glasses had thick frames that could rival the strict librarian stereotypes in movies. A new, smaller unisex lens shape called the “5A” with a black frame followed, exclusively manufactured by Rochester Optical. Thankfully, these are a bit more stylish and modern-looking.

 GI glasses frame introduced in 2012
The GI glasses frame introduced in 2012 that replaced the brown S9 frame. (Navy Bureau of Medicine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Uniform Glasses

GI glasses are issued to new recruits at the Officer Candidate Schools in the United States military and are part of the government expenses. Service members can wear civilian glasses only until the government-issued ones are received. How about contact lenses? Not an option. We gotta make sure that the visually impaired troops looked as geeky as possible. More importantly, it’s because contact lenses were high-maintenance and were nearly impossible to use in the field, let alone replace if lost. A strong wind could probably blow it out from your eyes, a speck of dirt could irritate the eye, and you have to lubricate your eyes and lenses with a drop every now and then to prevent them from drying out; again, possibly irritating your eyes. After recruit training, only then would they be allowed to choose their frame of choice as long as it’s nothing too wacky, or they could get their contact lenses. Hopefully, that could make up for the time they were wearing the birth control glasses.

Regardless, these eyeglasses are not there to make people look attractive and catch other people’s attention (although you still might, there’s no guarantee that it’s always for the right reasons.)