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When I was a teenager in the 1970s, North American fashion magazine covers presented an almost uniform sameness month after month, year after year.  Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Lauren Hutton, Shelly Hack, Farrah Fawcett… all blonde, blue-eyed and All-American.  Even the brunette models had the same sky blue eyes; Jaclyn Smith, anyone?

If you were very lucky, Beverly Johnson would make a rare appearance on the cover of something other than Ebony, or Janice Dickinson could be found on the cover of Paris Vogue.

For those of us with hair that wasn’t blond and who didn’t have blue eyes, there were few women in the public eye who looked like us.  And the fashion industry at the time had a ready excuse for it, too -- light eyes photograph better than dark ones was the prevailing wisdom.

With the dawn of the age of the “super” model in the late 1980s, it was obvious that the face of the fashion industry was changing.  While nowhere near as integrated and eclectic as the populations they served, magazines began to showcase culturally diverse women like Yasmeen Ghauri, Iman, Veronica Webb and Christy Turlington, and replaced the blonde, blue-eyed “All-American Girl” with the brown-eyed brunette, Cindy Crawford.

By this time, I was long past those “formative” years and I carried a secret yearning for blue or green eyes to match the pale, celtic skin and rich auburn hair of my Scots-Irish heritage.  But several more years were to pass before technology in the eye care industry was able to make my dream a reality.

In the fall of 1994, I read an article in the Fashion section of The Toronto Star about a local optician who was carrying a new brand of soft contact lenses in colour, including a non-prescription (plano) version of the product for people who simply wanted to change the colour of their eyes.  This optician happened to be located between my apartment building and my office, and on my next pay day, I stopped by his office and plunked down my 50 Canadian dollars to become a green-eyed lady!

It took me a bit of time to learn how to put them in, as I do not wear contacts on a daily basis – I wear glasses with different prescriptions for reading and for distance.  And once I did get them in, they weren’t comfortable for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Over the next couple of years, I kept the same pair and wore them only on special occasions.  I was scrupulous about cleaning them properly, as anyone who wears contacts on a regular basis should be, and they lasted until I lost track of them in my move from Toronto to Ottawa and didn’t find them again until 1998.  At that point, I realized they were probably past their “best before” date, and tossed them out.

It was while researching my column for August 2004 about the makeup colours to suit different eye colours that I thought about buying colour contacts again.  I thought it might be a good idea to put those colour theories to the test.  But by then, it was almost impossible to buy one pair in colour for occasional use.  Almost every contact lens manufacturer offers a six-pack of lenses for about the same price I paid for one pair over 10 years ago.

This summer, I discovered an online company that sells individual pairs of coloured lenses in varieties they call subtle, bold and dramatic.  Comfort Lenses also makes theatrical-effects lenses for television, movies and stage productions.  Though almost the same price for one pair as a box of the most popular brand, Fresh Look, the Comfort Lenses are supposedly suitable for daily wear for up to three months, so I suspect I will get a couple of years from my “dramatic green” and “bold violet”.

The green is intensely, vivid jade.  When I wear them, I am totally startled at how different I look.  And while the violet is less shocking in appearance, I still feel “unlike myself” when I look in the mirror.  These lenses are as comfortable as the manufacturer claims, however, and I was able to wear my “Elizabeth Taylor eyes” for an entire evening when I went to a Halloween party.

Recently, I got Encore Colour lenses from Singapore in blue and grey.  Colour contacts are very popular with Asian women, who regard the lenses as cosmetic items for everyday wear.  These seem to be a bit larger than the American-made Comfort Lenses, although Cooper is a well-known manufacturer.  I find them a little more difficult to get in my eye, but they are easy to wear and very natural-looking.
Until last fall, colour contact lenses were considered “cosmetic items” in the United States.  However, as of November 9, 2005, all contact lenses are classified as “medical devices” by the FDA and you must buy them – even the plain ones – from a reputable eye care professional and have them fitted.

Go ahead!  Turn your brown eyes blue…  just do it safely!

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