Steampunk Goggles

From Origins to Nowadays

Steampunk goggles
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Steampunk goggles are emblematic of the steampunk genre and a must have for any steamsona! Whether you are a dandy of the Victorian era, a mad scientist or a zeppelin pilot, no steampunk outfit would be complete without a pair of goggles. But have you ever wondered what goggles looked like at the time of industrial revolution?

Goggles: Did People Wear Them in the Victorian Era?

As a matter of fact, yes! With the Railway Mania of the 1840s, cinder goggles began to be mass produced. Contrary to what one might think, these safety glasses were not reserved for only railway workers. The passengers also wore them as wagons at the time didn’t have glass in the windows! Besides, third class cars did not even have a roof! Dust and cinders from the chimneys of the steam locomotives would blow into the wagons. To protect themselves, the passengers used to wear protective eye pieces like these:

Cinder goggles

Steampunk goggles? Nope! These are cinder goggles from the 19th century!

Like the traditional glasses, these protective goggles could have temples. However, these were more often replaced by a leather strap or an elastic band so that the goggles fit tightly against the face for maximum protection. The lenses could be white, blue, green or smoky. So, good news: you can be historically accurate while wearing steampunk goggles with gorgeous colored lenses!

Was It Common to Wear Goggles When Driving During the 19th Century?

Holmes and Watson wearing steampunk outfit and goggleSherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) and his famous sidekick Doctor Watson (Jude Law) are both wearing goggles in this scene from the film Sherlock Holmes: a game of shadows, which was released in 2011.

The plot of the film takes place in 1891, but it was unusual to wear goggles when driving an automobile at that time. On the one hand, goggles were an affront to good taste, especially for ladies. On the other hand, wearing protective eyewear was unnecessary, since the maximum speed of motor vehicles was 15-20 km/h (9-12 mph). It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that faster automobiles appeared and drivers began to wear goggles frequently. These would then be considered absolutely necessary both for comfort and safety, according to Sir Alfred Charles William Harmsworth (see pages 67 and 73 of Motors and Motor-driving, his book published in 1904).

And What About Aviator Goggles?

Aviator gogglesAviator goggles were introduced in the early 20th century. It wasn’t long after the invention of the airplane in 1903 that goggles became a necessity for the pilots. The near death experience of Rudolf William “Shorty” Shroeder is there to remind us that one must protect his eyes from the bitter cold at high altitudes. On February 27, 1920, this U.S. Air Force test pilot achieved an altitude record for piloted aircraft, taking his Packard-LePère LUSAC 11 to 33,114 feet (10,000 meters). At that point, his air supply ran out and he made the terrible mistake of lifting his goggles to change his bottle of oxygen. The negative 67 degrees Fahrenheit (-50°C) air temperature immediately froze his eyeballs. Then, he passed out from the lack of oxygen. The airplane was within a few thousand feet of the ground when Shorty Schroeder regained consciousness, thanks to the normal air density of the lower altitude. Although he was almost blind, he miraculously managed to land his plane.

The point is that in the 19th century, the use of goggles was mostly limited to steam rail transport. Aviator, motorist, and motorcycle goggles were all introduced in the next century.

From Cinder Goggles to Steampunk Goggles

As you can see from the gallery below, steampunk goggles are largely inspired by the cinder goggles of the Victorian age. Same shape, different materials. To add to the steampunk vibe, steampunk goggles are usually made of copper or leather (or an imitation of these materials). Some designs also feature spikes – for a nice post-apocalyptic feel – or come with magnifying lenses to spice up the look with a touch of sophistication.

Steampunk costumes with goggles

In the steampunk world, engineers can expose themselves to steam spurts next to the machines; airship crew members need protection from wind and low temperatures at high altitudes; and mad scientists risk being injured by sparks or projections of dangerous substances. This may be the reason why safety goggles are a part of the steampunk “uniform”: to protect the eyes from these many dangers (and because they look seriously cool).

If you too want to offer ocular security to your steamsona (steampunk persona), take a few seconds to browse these models and see if they are to your liking:

The problem with steampunk goggles is that apart from photoshoots, steampunk weddings or conventions, you don’t have that many occasions to wear them. It is the same with most steampunk clothing (corset, Victorian skirt) or steampunk accessories (top hat, can, monocle/eyeglass).

Steampunk sunglasses, however, are great to bring a touch of retro-future into daily life. But what did sunglasses look like in the 19th century? Well, that is another story.

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Last updated: 04 October 2020
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