Last month, the NY Times plunged to new depths of self-parodying trend baiting when they declared the monocle was back in fashion (for the sixth time). We saw it as another step in the wrong direction for the paper of record, and the Gray Lady later used this story as a jumping-off point for some deep thoughts and self-reflection (even the Styles editor thought it was a joke at first). But it turns out the Times has a chicken/egg relationship with trend stories: even if there was no monocle trend to begin with...there now (kind of) is. Time really is a flat piece of circular glass, wedged in your eye socket.
As of 2013, monocles were one of Warby Parker's poorest selling items—the company has sold a "handsome tortoiseshell model named after Colonel Mustard" since 2010. It was so bad, company co-founder Neil Blumenthal felt the need to write a blog post explaining why the company continued selling them despite no one buying them (in short, monocles surprise people, and surprises are the spice of life or whatever). But here's the scary thing: sometime between last summer and now, the monocles started selling.
Warby's Director of Data Science Carl Anderson explained to Data Science Weekly about the phenomenon, noting that people who use their Home Try-On program (which allows a customer "to order five frames, have them shipped home to try-on and can then send the box back to us, all free of charge") have forced them to reevaluate their whole evaluation system. "Warby Parker sells a monocle and it has an extremely high conversion rate," he said. "Most people who order this in their Home Try-On boxes end up purchasing it. Conversion is so high that we had to tweak our basket analysis algorithm specifically to account for it."
Is this uptick a direct result of the NY Times' trend piece? Public Editor Margaret Sullivan floated the idea on Twitter today:
— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) April 30, 2014
We can't say for sure, but there is no underestimating the Influence of the Times, especially upon the tastes of the class of people who order five frames at one time. And hey, there is certainly at least one "elderly former CIA agent" who sports both a monocle and a cane ("rumored to be filled with booze") who feels a lot less alone today.
All this, even though Style editor Denny Lee, who worked on the monocle piece, thought the story was intentionally "slightly overwrought," and felt the writer was making it clear that he "was in on the joke." “When I first read it, I thought, ‘This is so Onion,’ ” he told Sullivan at the time. Does this mean the Times is now literally unbelievable?
[h/t Refinery 29]