What are Rose-Colored Glasses?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

If you'll permit me to smash two idioms together shamelessly, what a cockeyed optimist really needs is a pair of rose-colored glasses. Both idioms suggest the same basic premise, that a perpetual optimist may not be viewing the world very realistically. By wearing rose-colored glasses, a person's grasp of a situation or circumstance would be unnaturally filtered or soft-pedaled. While a more optimistic worldview is not a bad idea in itself, deliberately failing to acknowledge unpleasant or negative aspects of the human experience can be a form of delusion or denial.

Someone said to be wearing rose-colored glasses may be exhibiting unfounded optimism.
Someone said to be wearing rose-colored glasses may be exhibiting unfounded optimism.

The origin of the idiom "rose-colored glasses" is still a mystery to this day, although there are a few interesting and plausible theories. The idea of a idyllic rose-colored worldview can be traced back to at least the 17th century. Quite possibly the popularity of romantic imagery in artwork inspired viewers to associate optimism with the rose gardens and deep reds they saw. Victorians certainly were familiar with the idea of a "rosy glow" or "painting a rosy picture." Viewing the world through rose-colored glasses could be an extension of painting extraneous roses to liven up a painting or decoration.

It is thought that rose petals used by map makers to clean their eyeglasses left a rose-colored stain on the lenses.
It is thought that rose petals used by map makers to clean their eyeglasses left a rose-colored stain on the lenses.

Another theory concerns early mapmakers and their special corrective lenses. Because map making required a great deal of attention to detail, mapmakers needed to keep the lenses of their eyeglasses especially clean and scratch-free. It is believed by some that these mapmakers would use rose petals to clean any dust or other contaminants from their lenses. The rose petal's natural oils would protect the lenses, but often left a rose-colored stain. Therefore, viewing the world through rose-colored glasses would be the equivalent of focusing all of one's attention on the smallest details and ignoring the realities of the larger world around him or her.

The idea of looking through filtered lenses was also a familiar one by the 19th Century. Some people may have been accused of looking through blue or green-tinted glasses, which would have altered their perception of reality. Perhaps the same concept of a filtered worldview was applied philosophically to eternal optimists who preferred a sanitized or filtered version of reality to the one they were forced to live in by circumstances beyond their control.

One of the most entertaining theories suggests that the "rose-colored glasses" were not eye wear at all, but rather bar glasses. Viewing the world through the bottom of a glass containing red wine or rose-colored spirits might be considered the same as cockeyed optimism. Whether the soft-focused worldview was inspired by alcohol or an optimistic philosophy, it could be argued that a person looking at a situation through rose-colored glasses is making a conscious choice to accept or not accept certain realities.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Lately I had this huge meditation epiphany and the world did literally look rosy, the rose-tint, everything seemed to be infused with a healthy crimson, a flush in the world's cheeks. The idea of Jesus glasses and being washed in the blood of the Lord truly does stand with this, as in this blissful state one sees other humans only as inherently beautiful, fear and desire slip away and one only wants to bless those around him and celebrate living. It's very Buddhist (think the end of Groundhog Day), the color of the Buddhist monk robes. That deep red is actually identical to the rose color the world is infused with, or was to my eyes.

Now it's been a few weeks and the rose is draining out with the approach of winter. But I've been looking for posts on the rosy concept and this is the first I've found.


Rose colored glasses are essentially "Jesus glasses". The best way to cover red paint when you re-paint is to cover it with red paint. Red covers red.

A person who wears Jesus glasses cannot see the scarlet lettering of another's transgressions because they themselves have chosen to be completely covered by Jesus' red blood. As they look through the blood, if they themselves choose to remain covered, they should not be able to see anyone else's transgressions.

Those who are truly following Jesus should not be able to see another's sins and transgressions. Shalom!


E.T.A. Hoffman wrote a story in which an inventor invented rose coloured glasses. When Hoffman put the glasses on it made him see everything as beautiful and he fell in love with Olympia -- a mechanical doll. This story is depicted in the Tales of Hoffman, an opera by Offenbach. Now you know.


Hey anon229916, you and Barry Weiss are 100 percent correct!


I was watching an episode of Storage Wars, and this guy pulled out a pair of "rose colored glasses." He ended up getting them appraised by a chicken farmer.

They were commonly used to prevent the chickens from seeing blood on another chicken that may have been scratched accidentally. When the chickens would see blood, they would turn cannibalistic, and kill the injured one. I thought this might be where it comes from.


Could this refer to people who have a rose-colored aura (the field of energy around all things)?

People who have a predisposition for thinking optimistic, idealistic thoughts may often have a pinkish tinge to their aura that they are constantly looking through at the world around them, similar to people "seeing red" or being "green with envy".


Could "rose colored glasses" refer to the reddish crystals that doctors used to cover their eyes during the black plague?

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