What are GI Glasses?

Michael Pollick

For American military recruits who require prescription eyewear, the government is only too happy to issue a particularly unappealing pair of GI glasses, also known as "birth control glasses," "BCGs," or "Clark Kents," among other surprisingly accurate nicknames. GI glasses are designed to be water-resistant, shatterproof and easy to replace if damaged. They are not, however, designed to attract members of the opposite sex, hence the designation of "birth control glasses."

Recruits always undergo eye exams before basic training to determine their prescription for GI glasses.
Recruits always undergo eye exams before basic training to determine their prescription for GI glasses.

GI glasses feature either black or brown frames with thick side arms and squared lenses, a style often associated with the stodgy horn-rimmed glasses of the 1950s and 1960s. Before a recruit reports for basic military training, he or she receives an eye exam in order to determine the proper prescription for the GI glasses. Until those GI glasses are issued, however, the recruit is still permitted to wear civilian glasses, but not contact lenses.

As unaesthetic as GI glasses can be, the design does serve a military purpose or two. The oversized frames and lenses allow for a wide field of vision, and the lenses are designed to be waterproof and shatterproof. The thick arms of the GI glasses are also resistant to stress and breakage, since metal arms may bend out of shape during exercises.

The wearing of Clark Kents or birth control goggles may make a recruit feel self-conscious at first, but usually the sight of hundreds of other recruits wearing the same BCGs will put him or her at ease. Once basic training has ended, most military members are permitted to order a slightly more fashionable frame or tinted lenses. The military generally issues replacement GI glasses on a yearly basis, and military eye doctors are available to determine if a change in prescription is necessary.

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The distinctively out-of-date appearance of GI glasses does hold a certain appeal for civilians who want to emulate the military lifestyle. The same frame for birth control glasses or Clark Kents can usually be found in the economy selection at many civilian optometry stores.

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