How 'Argo' Recreated the Pre-Lasik World of 1970s Eyewear

Costume designer Jacqueline West searched high and low for the perfect glasses to complement Ben Affleck's period thriller.

Ben Affleck’s Argo, has been praised for its direction, writing, cinematography and acting. But another admirable aspect of this ‘70s period thriller -- based on the actual secret 1979 rescue of six Americans during the Iranian hostage situation -- is the authentic costumes, designed by Jacqueline West, and the distinctive film's ‘70s eyewear.

Fact is that most people  -- even those who actually remember the ‘70s -- have completely forgotten how many people wore eye glasses back then. Big, heavy, thick-rimmed eyewear.

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“One of the most distinctive features of seeing glasses in a film about the late '70s is actually seeing the glasses,” West admits. “In today's day and age of contact lenses and corrective surgery, it is easy to forget how important a sea of specs is to the authenticity of the period.”

West discusses her research into the styles the real people wore: “We started with meticulous research, from press pages and newsreels to the actual passport photos of the house guests,” says West.  “Preserving the style accuracy was very important to being credible to the houseguests' story.”

But as always, there were considerations other than accuracy. “Victor Garber as Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor wouldn't be Ken without his signature heavy rimmed, thick eyeglasses,” she explains, adding that the key was “finding the balance between a harmonious fit with the actor's face shape while still maintaining the style accuracy of the real person they portrayed.”

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West was pleased to have struck this balance so well that while Garber did not wear the actual frames the ambassador did during the Iranian hostage turmoil of 1979, the real Ken Taylor commented, "I see he's wearing the glasses I used to wear."

Luckily, West’s work on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life actually paved the way for her period eyewear search for Argo.

“When searching for the perfect pair of glasses for Brad Pitt's character in Tree of Life I discovered vintage spectacle aficionados Allyn Scura Eyeworks. I have been working with Scott and his wife, Allyn, ever since. In addition, we worked with them to recreate for Ben the gold rimless specs worn by Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor. " 

“So when we began prep on Argo, and were faced with procuring the hundreds of genuine peepers required to authentically re-create the pre-Lasik world of 1979, one of our first calls was to Allyn Scura Eyeworks. They worked tirelessly with my assistant designer, J.R. Hawbaker, to keep the river of vintage frames flowing throughout production and to preserve the style accuracy for each character.”

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As for the style variations, ‘70s eyewear ran the gamut. West notes the variations from Affleck's rimless gold reading specs to the White House phone operator's oversized Gloria Steinem frames to the young Iranian student in her Chador wearing a slightly outdated '70s plastic saucer frame.   

Distinguishing features of ‘70s  eyewear included: oversized plastic frames, brow bars, thicker lenses, leather wrapped frames, and for sunglasses, the Ray Ban "shooter" and ubiquitous aviators.

“The "shooter" Ray Ban, with it's distinguishable circle atop the bridge, was originally used by WWII pilots so they could smoke cigarettes while flying their planes,” West notes. “This style, in vogue in the late 70s, is worn by Rory Cochran who plays U.S. Embassy Argicultural attache Lee Schatz.”

Will Argo cause a resurgence of ‘70s eyewear styles today? Why not? Plus Ray Ban classic aviators have never gone out of style.