Penny Rutterford: when cancer treatment meant I lost my hair, statement glasses helped me find my style

Penny Rutterford is a freelance writer and blogger. She writes on health, lifestyle, travel and positive ageing. Her blog Great Things about Cancer explores life with and beyond breast cancer. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @pennyrutterford.


I was walking across London’s iconic Millennium Bridge when a gust of wind whipped my headscarf from my bald head. As it swept away like an out of control psychedelic comb-over, I simply let it go. I was mid-way through treatment for breast cancer. I might have been bald, but boy was I wearing some mean face furniture and it made me feel bold.

I thought I was prepared for hair loss when I started chemotherapy. I’d seen the cancer movies, I’d applauded all those friends and family who ‘brave the shave’. But no, in reality things were very different. The day my hair came off in my hand was unnerving, but what I saw in the mirror was the real shock. I wasn’t prepared for the loss of my eyebrows and eyelashes. Looking at my reflection I was faced with something akin to a ping-pong ball. I looked like a cancer patient.

Shallow as it might sound, before cancer, my eyelash curlers would have been my luxury item of choice should I find myself stranded on a desert island with only Tom Hardy for company. We take our facial hair for granted, but without it there is little to frame our features and my make up skills were ill-prepared for the extreme blank canvas of my bare and bloated chemo-face. My answer: massive spectacles. I took inspiration from 97 year old model and style icon, Iris Apfel. Signed by a modelling agency in her 90s her trademark look includes massive thick framed round glasses –  with 1.3 million Instagram followers and a Barbie doll in her likeness, her approach to style can’t be wrong.

 I decided that if I had to stand out, I needed to style it out.

It is hard to fade into the background when you have cancer. People stare. I tried wigs but they were hot and uncomfortable and gave me an overly coiffured ‘mother of the bride’ look which was ageing. I decided that if I had to stand out, I needed to style it out. On a visit to a flea-market I unearthed some round black 80s frames to match the globe of my bald head. And that is when my love affair with quirky glasses began.

Glasses haven’t always been considered  cool or sexy. There were scenes in films when the lead actress would remove her glasses, let down her hair and only then would the male lead be moved to take her into his arms for a passionate embrace. Back in my school days, glasses were for nerds. But now nerds are the height of fashion. Gigi Hadid and Kylie Minogue have their own eyewear collections. I may not have the pert bum but I do now have more than breast cancer in common with Kylie because apparently, she too has a penchant for vintage inspired frames.

I’ve always loved a rummage at a fleamarket and now I do so with purpose. To date I own six pairs of vintage glasses and counting. It’s close to an addiction, I even excused myself for a ‘comfort break’ at a work meeting to win some especially covetable 60s frames on Ebay. The fashion world is currently still in love with statement glasses, demonstrated by the recent launch of Gucci’s pre-fall collection, which includes some pretty groovy frames. My glasses have now become integral to my style. I’ve appeared in charity campaigns and on the cover of a Macmillan Cancer Support booklet on body image extolling the virtues of glasses during cancer treatment. I probably own a pair for every mood and mode. I now have hair, and no longer have cancer – but I’m keeping the look.

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