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Glasses in pop culture are often coded to mean something beyond imperfect eyesight, whether it is to "hide" a character’s hotness, protect their identity, or emphasize a studious nature. In teen movies, the removal of a pair of spectacles coincides with a makeover, whereas in the case of a superhero like Superman or Wonder Woman, eyewear is part of their regular non-hero attire. The idea of someone acquainted to Clark Kent not realizing he is Superman because of a slight hairstyle change and thick-rimmed specs is laughable, but a suspension of disbelief is required.
In Patty Jenkins' recent Wonder Woman, Diana (Gal Gadot) gets a 1918 London outfit makeover that includes eyewear. However, unlike her 1970s TV counterpart, Diana losses the specs rather quickly. The glasses are Steve Trevor's (Chris Pine) idea, an addition Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) thankfully scoffs at saying, "Really? Specs? And suddenly she's not the most beautiful woman you've ever seen." This underscores just how self-aware this version of Wonder Woman is, subverting a now tired trope dating back to the source material.
Diana and Clark’s glasses are purely for aesthetic reasons as they definitely don’t need corrective lenses. However, Peter Parker falls into the 61 percent of Americans who require glasses or contact lenses. After he was bitten this was no longer the case. Peter’s onscreen look is also influenced by the original source material. From a visual point-of-view, glasses are a good way to show a before and after. But it also does double down on certain archetypes. In this case, he is a nerd and as pop culture has long told us, nerds wear glasses.
For Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as their respective Peter Parkers, the audience sees them both in their pre-Spidey state, specs and all. Waking up with these powers the morning after is, of course, a metaphor for puberty. Peter’s body has changed in all these overwhelming ways including increased strength, a hot new bod, but there is also a lot of sticking to things. Awkward.
Sam Rami's 2002 movie has the honor of introducing this character to a new generation, which included a Peter who finds his vision has been enhanced thanks to his arachnid encounter. This moment has since been turned into a meme (because this is the internet). His signature specs are no longer needed, even so, he still wears them in the second movie. Peter's costume hides his face, but his glasses are used as an anchor to the person he used to be.
Glasses trends, as with clothing, cycle in and out of fashion — face shape, hairstyle, and clothing also factor in. Maguire’s Parker leans harder into the dorky side. On the other hand, it is hard for Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man to look like anything other than a cute hipster nerd. All that hair and the Oliver Peoples ‘Larrabee’ frames are a perfect recipe for hotness. Unlike Maguire’s version of Peter Parker, the specs Garfield’s Peter have a deeper meaning as he found them in his father’s briefcase.
Bridging this gap is Tom Holland as the most recent version of the iconic web-slinger. When yet another incarnation of this character was announced, the thought of having to sit through another origin story was less-than-appealing. In the same way, audiences have seen Bruce Wayne’s parents gunned down far too many times, there was no need to see Uncle Ben's death once again. With great power, blah, blah, blah.
It isn’t Peter who wears glasses in Homecoming, that honor goes to Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). A 1970s-inspired closet brimming with high-waisted pants, loose vests, and striped tops — courtesy of costume designer Louise Frogley — make her the secret style star of this movie. Aunt May tops this look off with oversized gold frames that I am still coveting hard.
However, the recent Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer did feature Peter wearing glasses and like Andrew Garfield before him, they are not his own.
Spoilers for Endgame ahead
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is both a mentor and a father figure to Peter. His death in Avengers: Endgame gave Holland the opportunity to show off his particularly crushing chin-quiver cry face. There are lots of nods to Iron Man in this trailer — Peter's eyes are also tear-stained in this — but perhaps the most exciting and intriguing moment is Peter taking off what appears to be Tony’s glasses. It isn't just nerds and "ugly ducklings" who wear specs on screen. The rich are also fans of eyewear, but they tend to be sunglasses or sunglasses adjacent. Tony's very expensive high-tech tinted lenses fall into the latter category and are part of his playboy vibe.
What does this mean for Peter? I don’t think he will be taking it upon himself to stick to this look as it really doesn’t go with the rest of his aesthetic (even if they are laboring the “new Iron Man” aspect). Nevertheless, these are no ordinary glasses, as they very likely have Stark tech built into them. Could this be a message from the great beyond for Peter when he needs an extra boost?
The legacy of Peter Parker wearing glasses started in the comics, which continues in the movie versions. Unlike Clark Kent and Diana Prince, they are not part of his disguise because his face is covered, but they are a vital part of his past, whether it is the connection to who he was pre-bite or to the legacy of his father. Tom Holland’s Peter eschewed this tradition, but even he is taking on the spectacles mantle. There are many ways to spin the glasses storyline and Far From Home is adding another entry into this ongoing accessory saga.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.