Doctors in ancient Greece, and later Rome, believed that placing an emerald on the patient's eye could cure inflammation and infections of the eye and enhance sight. Nero was said to have used a monocle made from emerald to read his various documents and watch gladiator fights.
When they appeared in the early 19th century, monocles were a sign of affluence, partly because they had to be tailored to fit the wearer's eye making them expremely expensive. But, from the outset, they were also seen as eccentric; a faddish accessory for those who had money to waste (a shame, because they’re actually quite convenient for reading tiny print, etc).
In the 1930s there was a craze for wearing monocles with colourful frames among young Liverpudlian women.
The Lancashire Post reported: ‘A monocle in jade green, heliotrope, tortoiseshell or platinum is considered an essential accessory when a girl is wearing a semi-military coat and carrying an umbrella patterned on her brother’s’.
Since 1902 The New York Times has repeatedly published articles about the monocle's supposed return. In 1936 they reported that more than 20 British MPs wore them in Parliament and in 1941 they found that monocle sales were 'up 50%'. But any popularity that they may have enjoyed in the ‘30s and ‘40s tailed off after WWII due to their association with German military officers.
In 1970 the New York Times again reported that sales had risen 'by 50%' and quoted a Bond Street optician who said, ‘Today’s monocle-wearing Englishmen have a big bag under their eye and lots of puffy flesh at the top of the eye. They rest the monocle on the bag and insert it into the puffy flesh. There it stays... I don’t know what produces the bags, perhaps it’s gin but I suspect it’s the weather'.
In 2014 the New York Times yet again reported on a comeback, in cities as diverse as Manhattan, Cape Town and Berlin.
The dandy cleans his monocle every day, a silver monocle with a lens of smoked gold, given him by a beautiful lady.
One British company sells monocles to help people read their mobile phones. They claim that the monocle is ‘a 200-year-old gadget that now links with the 21st century'.
The Emperor Franz Josef once refused to promote a general because he wore a monocle, which he considered a strutting, Prussian affectation.
The style of monocle inserted into the eye-socket, was introduced in England in 1806, and was known as an 'eye ring'.
Monocle: This may be worn by (1) good dukes, (2) all Englishmen. No bad man may wear a monocle.
In the 18th century, a monocle had a handle and was called a 'quizzing glass'.
There was a lesbian bar in Paris in the 1920-40s, called `Le Monocle'.