The monocle was once a status symbol worn by wealthy and powerful men like Canadian politician Sir Louis-Napoléon Casault. How did this fashion develop? Slate's J. Bryan Lowder explains:
Though the exact origins of the monocle are unclear, fashion historian Richard Corson sets their general appearance around the turn of the 19th century in Great Britain, with quick adoption and further development in Germany. According to a 1950 article fromOptical Journal, from the beginning the single lens carried with it “an air of conscious elegance,” making it ripe for ridicule: “[O]ne had the feeling the wearer was being a trifle foolish, an attitude which resulted to some extent from the fact that monocles frequently did not fit and kept dropping out of place.” [...]
The association of monocles with a stereotype of the rich, especially with the rich and pretentious, began at least as early as Charles Dickens’ skewering of young Mr. Barnacle’s intractable eyepiece in Little Dorrit, serialized between 1855 and 1857. In America, the image was largely popularized by E.A. Sothern’s portrayal of the silly English nobleman Lord Dundreary in Our American Cousin,first performed in 1858.