They say fashion is a cycle. What was fashionable decades ago will eventually come back in style. That is part of the reason we at Eyeglassses Warehouse exist, offering antique, vintage, and retro eyeglass frames for modern wear.
But perhaps no glasses have had such a surprising comeback as National Health Service spectacles. Originally offered as a British government health program between the 1950s and 1980s, these glasses were considered low class, but are back in style today as a retro accessory. Browse our selection of NHS glasses below, and check out the other mid-century vintage glasses on our site.
About NHS Spectacles at Eyeglasses Warehouse
As part of the WWII recovery effort in Great Britain, the country launched the National Health Service. This subsidized healthcare program aimed to provide care for those who could not afford it, including free and reduced priced eye examinations and glasses.
The program was an immediate success after the launch of the glasses in 1948. After the first year, the waiting list to get free glasses was 18 months long, and the NHS imposed a small fee by 1951 to help offset the cost.
Popular styles included the 524, a Wayfarer-style frame, and the 211, a Windsor-style frame. The 924 ladies glasses were added in 1983 and were the first new style since the program’s inception.
Before the new styles in the 80s, adults could choose from 10 frames, plus an additional 3 styles if they wanted to pay a small amount. Shapes included ovoid lenses, square lenses, circle lenses, and demi glasses for reading. The available materials were:
- Gold Filled Glasses
- Nickel Glasses
- Cellulose Acetate (Plastic) Glasses
Children had similarly limited choices, and it was not until the 1970s that the NHS introduced color options for children’s glasses, giving them the option to choose:
- Ice Blue
- Light Brown
- Dark Brown
Temple styles for both adult NHS glasses and children’s glasses included straight temples, curved temples, and cable temples. For children, the temples that curved around the ears were best for keeping the glasses on while children played, but they were extremely uncomfortable.
For adults and children, the limited styles soon meant that the NHS glasses developed a stigma. So few designs meant that the glasses were easily recognizable, and it was easy to tell that someone had a pair of free or subsidized glasses rather than being able to buy their own. In the 1960s and 70s, NHS glasses were cause for much playground bullying and social judgment.
But as with many things in fashion, NHS glasses are back in style today. Their retro look has a sense of nostalgia for those who grew up wearing them, and an appealing style for everyone else. Since the NHS focused on creating durable and resistant glasses, even if they were not fashionable, and produced millions of these glasses, there are still many available today in great condition.
You can find all the vintage NHS glasses we have available here on our site. Each pair is selected for quality and ready to be fitted with your own lenses. We also encourage you to bookmark our page and check back often to have the first chance at new glasses.