Want to give your character a prop that sets him as high as possible in the social strata? Give him a monocle.
Largely obsolete today (it disappeared sometime during The Great Depression of the 1930s, when being conspicuously wealthy was a quick way to get yourself despised), the monocle is a corrective lens applied to only one eye. In this sense it is no different from eyeglasses. But while eyeglasses have never been anything more than a medical appliance (with the possible exception of the pince-nez), the monocle has been a status symbol virtually since its invention.
They are never seen on the faces of the working class. Instead, they are the exclusive province of titled nobility, high ranking military officers, upper-echelon businessmen, academics, etc. They are also exclusively worn by men — though lesbians in the early 20th century sometimes used them for a subtly masculine edge. Monocles were available to the lower classes, but proper manufacture and fitting made them very expensive. Cheaper versions were of poor quality and very uncomfortable to wear.
In media, the monocle's wearer will constantly clean it and fidget with it. It will be whipped out and squinted through when the wearer views something below his social station. In comedies, a monocle will pop off its wearer's face and/or shatter in shocked response to the working class hero giving this pompous toady his well-deserved comeuppance. The monocle is also a popular graffito to draw on a sleeping person's face.
A trope largely as obsolete as the monocle itself, it still turns up in periodpieces and parodies, and is gaining popularity in the Steam Punk scene.
The female version is the lorgnette, which is a pair of spectacles on a small stick to be held up when you want to look at something. It is a common property of the Grande Dame.
Given its association with wealth and status, it's a very popular prop for the Mock Millionaire. Today, putting a monocle and top hat on anything is sure to get a laugh just out of the pure absurdity.note Unless you go by the name of John Bain. Sub-trope of Stock Costume Traits.
In a Frank's red hot sauce commercial, where Ethel makes Cucumber sandwiches for the Queen of England, she says the secret is Frank's red hot, she puts that *** on everything. Someone drops his monocle.
Anime & Manga
Walter Dornez, loyal retainer to the Hellsing family in Hellsing wears a monocle. It goes into Scary Shiny Glasses mode when he's ready to kick undead ass.
Dr. Adashino from Mushishi wears a monocle, presumably to make him look more intellegent and make him visually distinguishable from the other villagers, since the series' art style mostly averts the Hair Colors commonly see in anime and gives most people black hair.
Cho Hakkai from Saiyuki has one over his artificial right eye, presumably to protect it. He's also generally the most level-headed and polite of the group — unless he has to pull his I Am Not Left-Handed trick and remove his Restraining Bolt accessories when it's time to kick some ass.
In Trinity Blood, Cardinal Sforza is a woman who wears a monocle. She's also a duchess and half-sister to the Pope.
Aversion that apparently needs mentioning: Rich Uncle Pennybags, a.k.a. Mr Monopoly does not wear a monocle, even though he looks like he should.
Colonel Mustard from Clue is usually depicted as wearing one.
The Penguin from Batman. This has been played with in various subsequent adaptations. In Batman Returns the Penguin's father wore a monocle, but the Penguin himself uses one only when he's writing at his desk. On Batman: The Animated Series, he does wear the monocle all the time, but is actually dirt-poor, the idea that he is living the high life being just a delusion in his head.
The DC Comics supervillain The Monocle. It's a weaponized monocle, too.
Marvel had their own villain named The Monocle, also sporting a monocle that could fire energy blasts and hypnotize people. Fought the Fantastic Four a couple of times.
Berim from Lucifer wears a monocle, even when shapeshifted as a tiger. Or even weirder things.
In Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, the FF traveled through several alternate universes, including one with the FF as the royal family in a mock-Elisabethan England. The Thing, dressed as a chamberlain and sporting a monocle, has become an internet meme.
For sure, Mr. Grasshopper in James and the Giant Peach is this. Especially when he puts on a top hat during the song number "That's the Life for Me".
Slightly averted in Shane Acker's 9 with 2, who wears a top hat made from a piece of candelabra and topped off with a spoon, with a monocle made out of the discarded remains of a pair of eyeglasses attached to it. He even has a cane and a catchphrase of, "This is smashing!" However, he loses all his gear about twenty minutes into the movie and acts more like an eager explorer not afraid to get himself dirty than a high-class citizen. Admittedly, he IS a seven-inch-tall doll made from scraps of burlap and the remnants of a human soul, but still.
Professor Z, The Dragon of the Pixar film Cars 2 actually wears a monocle over his windshield.
The evil owl from Rock-A-Doodle is first seen with a monocle over his face, but then he takes it off when he finds out that Edmund had touched his face (or at least on a storybook illustration of his face). He then turns Edmund into a cat with his magic as revenge.
Grand Duke: These are expensive... you little brat!
In the animated The King and I, the Kralahome (King Mongkut's treacherous majordomo) wears a tuxedo and monocle to a state dinner so he'll appear to be a British sympathizer. In fact, he's just trying to impress the British diplomats in attendance as part of a scheme to get Mongkut overthrown and have himself installed as King of Siam.
Films — Live-Action
Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy.
In Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, Transsylvanian police Inspector Kemp is evidently so attached to his monocle he continues to wear it even though the eye in question is also covered with a patch.
One of the villains in The Assassination Bureau, Limited (based on an unfinished novel by Jack London) is a Prussian general. At one point, when he's about to shoot a woman, his Slasher Smile involves an abrupt widening of his eyes, causing his monocle to fall and dangle on its cord.
In the Spanish comedy Hay que educar a papá (1971), the aristocratic character Count De Ronda wears a monocle, which pops off his face whenever the main character, a lower-class Self-Made Man, shows any of his traits. In the end, De Ronda is found to be a con man pretending to be an aristocrat.
De Ronda is played by a real-life self-styled aristocrat (albeit he never really had a title) and eccentric Don Jaime De Mora y Aragón, who used monocle, walking stick and hair gel in his constant public appearances as a celebrity (one of these "famous for being famous" types).
Lord Peter Wimsey from Dorothy L. Sayers' detective novels. His monocle was actually a disguised magnifying glass, perfect for taking a really close look at something — and looking like a bloody ass while doing it.
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix features two slight subversions of the trope. The persons wearing the monocles are a judge and a schoolteacher, but both are women — Madam Amelia Bones and Professor Wilhemina Grubbly-Plank, respectively.
H. Beam Piper's Uller Uprising has General Carlos Von Schlicten, who wears a monocle; the only thing ever observed to knock it out of his eye is a nuclear blast while kissing a lady. "Don't you know, lieutenant, that no gentleman ever wears a monocle while kissing a lady?"
This continues into the distant future. In Isaac Asimov's Foundation stories, the warlord of Kalgan wore a monocle along with his "fur-lined scarlet robe and high-crowned hat". In his humbler role as the loyal viceroy of the Mule, he wears none of these.
In Patricia A. McKillip's The Bell at Sealey Head, Mr. Moren eyes Emma with a monocle while quizzing her about where the heiress, Miranda Beryl, went. (And expresses disdain for the local squire's son while he's about it.)
Bertie Wooster once was painted wearing a monocle, though it is unclear whether it is a habit or an affectation assumed especially for the portrait.
Welkin Weasels: Lord Hannover Haukin (Word of God says he's a pastiche of Bertie Wooster) wears one. At one point he drops it, and puts it back in the other eye, revealing that he only wears it for the "upper class" chic.
In A Little Princess, in one of the scenes illustrating Sara's luxurious lifestyle, it's mentioned that her new doll has its own little opera glasses.
The Oberstleutenant Boerner bot from Daemon wears a monocle.
In Monstrous Regiment Prince Heinreich wears one. There's no particular comedy to it, although a groan may result from his Obligatory Joke, "If I had two I'd make a spectacle of myself."
Johnny from the Doc Savage novels originally wears a monocle to correct the vision in his injured left eye. After Doc operates on the eye and repairs the damage, Johnny keeps the monocle as an affectation, although it now contains a powerful magnifying lens that he uses as a tool.
Colonel Wilhelm Klink of Hogan's Heroes sports a monocle, being an aristocrat of Junker descent and all-around pretentious.
When Robert Novak described Jon Stewart as a "self-righteous comedian taking on airs of grandeur" (moments after claiming he'd never seen the show), Stewart's response involved trying to wear a monocle and pince-nez at the same time, while smoking a pipe.
In You Rang, M'Lord?, there is an example of a lesbian in the early 20th century wearing a monocle, Lady Cissy.
Ted Mosby, of How I Met Your Mother, wants to be a high class guy. At a society function, he encounters a man in a monocle. Just before he's pulled away...
Ted: No, I like it; I think they're coming back. I just wanna ask, do they cost half as much as glasses?
Later he asks the guy if he's trying to kill James Bond.
In one episode of The Persuaders!, Danny Wilde has to impersonnate his friend Lord Brett Sinclair and portrays him as an Upper-Class Twit, naturally wearing a monocle that keeps popping off.
In Dads Army, it's revealed that upper-class Sgt. Wilson requires a monocle because his sight is weaker in one eye than the other. Captain Mainwaring — who is lower-class, wears glasses and is ridiculously class-conscious — immediately feels threatened because of this.
Doctor Who: The First Doctor wore one, which very much fitted with his Victorian gentleman persona.
Grayson the School Bully from "Tomkinson's School Days" of Ripping Yarns had a monocle and always wore a nice suit and a top hat.
One video on an episode of Americas Funniest Home Videos showed an old man dressed as a gentlemanly German general for an Oktoberfest celebration. The funny part is when his monocle slips off and lands in his mug of beer; it's all foamy when he pulls it out.
Now, you too can evoke this trope with this Emoticon! ಠ_ರೃ
The New Yorker has as its semi-official mascot Eustace Tilley, a top-hatted, monocled dandy who appeared on the cover of the first issue, and has been parodied lots and lots over the decades.
A number of Dungeons & Dragons magic items are monocles. They are often described as a "lens". The "Lens of True Seeing", which allows someone to see through illusions and invisibility (well, to not see through invisible creatures), is probably the most famous.
Sparda from Devil May Cry used to have a monocle as part of his attire. It's one-way and tinted purple.
The twin bosses Lechku and Nechku in Ōkami isn't satisfied with just wearing monocles, but they also wear top hats and wield canes. They are also GIANT DEMONIC CLOCKWORK OWLS (who may or may not be shoutouts to Clockwerk, the recurring antagonist of the Sly Cooper series)!
One quest has you helping the TzHaars (Some kind of a sentient lava-and-rock race) make a theatrical play. One of these TzHaars has to play the role of a rich mystic caste member, and how does he dress up? With nothing more than a monocle.
Zimberfizz gets both a tophat and a monocle as he takes over the Soul Wars area as a successor of Nomad who you kill.
Mr. King from Mega Man Star Force 3 may or may not wear a monocle, as it is difficult to tell from his overworld sprite. However, his face portrait does not show a monocle, but rather blue markings under his eyes.
Many wealthy or prestigious enemies wear monocles, such as the Wealthy Pirates and the 101st Infantrygentlemen. A few, like Baron von Ratsworth, also wear tophats.
The stuffed monocle is now available to players:
This essential rich-person accoutrement is rendered fairly useless when made out of fabric and stuffing. But if there's one thing rich folks like more than ostentatious displays of wealth, it's ostentatious displays of wealth that don't serve any function.
Baron Von Ratsworth's monocle allows you to find more items, because "Rich people have cool stuff and wear monocles".
There are a few monocles in World of Warcraft. They're all head items and most are cloth armour.
The Beholder Eyes can come in different armour types but are more steampunk-engineer monocles than aristocrat monocles.
Of particular note is the Noble's Monocle which, being wearable by Level 1 characters, is highly sought after by bank alts. Because of this, it has an average auction house value of 400 gold, despite providing no combat benefits.
In Scribblenauts, this is the main difference between a normal velociraptor and thePhilosoraptor. In Super Scribblenauts, applying the "gentlemanly" adjective will give objects a top hat and monocle along with making them friendly, even if the object in question normally spawns hostile (the Tyrannosarus Rex, for example).
Team Fortress 2. One of the Pyro's new unlockable hats is a monocle and fake mustache taped over his mask. Which can be worn in conjunction with the MANY different top hats available to various classes.
EVE Online added a cash shop with player clothing in the Incarna update. Although all of the items are rather expensive for in-game microtransactions, the most expensive by far is a $70 "ocular implant" which looks conspicuously like a monocle, meaning that players who have enough money to spend that much on a cosmetic item in an MMO can now fly around looking like a 19th-century industrialist. The rest of the playerbase is less than thrilled about this, what with the in-game riots and the player-led advisory board being sent all the way to the developers in Iceland in an attempt to save face.
The Penguin in Batman: Arkham Citylooks like he has one of these at first glance... then you get a closer look and realize it's a broken bottleembedded around his eye. Zsasz's dialog implies that he lost that particular eye outright.
Fugue, one of Count Waltz's lackeys in Eternal Sonata. In the PlayStation 3Updated Re-release of the game, it earns him the mean nickname "three-eyed freak" from Salsa. Even March uses it, which is unusual, given her Blue Oni status to Salsa's Red Oni. Naturally, it really tees Fugue off. "Little girl, I hope you aren't referring to me."
Gentlemanassassin Shelly DeKiller in Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All, and Detective Luke Atmey in the sequel Trials and Tribulations, who has a monocle that doubles as magnifying glass. Curiously enough, when de Killer testifies in court via transciever, the gadget's button mimics his monocle.
And the trailer to Ace Attorney Investigations 2 shows him holding an ice cream cone with a cherry to mimic the monocle. Guy really loves that monocle.
In Real Life Comics, one arc had Greg gain super-intelligence from a gamer-marketed energy drink. He also claimed it gave him myopia in one eye, requiring a monocle.
Subverted/deconstructed in a strip ofJump Leads, where it was revealed that in the world Meany jumped in, monocles, and high-class wear in general, were used by peasants to compensate for lack of good treatment/clothing for their body, like monocle instead of eye surgery. It turns out that top hat was actually able to kill body-possessing slugs because it's made of silk. The people who join the army to receive better clothes actually abandon a good mean of defense against these slugs.
Von Pinn from Girl Genius wears a tinted-red monocle. She gets an uncharacteristic monocle pop at one time.
Tarvek, aristocratic even among aristocrats, wears a pair of pince-nez, which pops off when he gets stabbed by his cousin Tweedle.
Poked fun at in Bob and George where Nate and Chadling, two shapeshifting Devils from the Mega Man verse, get mixed up in their bodies. Seeing as Nate wears gigantic glasses they end up with one glass and one normal eye. So they get a top hat because they already had the monocle.
In MegaTokyo, Largo wears a monocle with his clubbing outfit.
One arc of Sluggy Freelance involving parodic supervillains included "Monicruel", who is easily impersonated by Sasha due to the fact that all the other supervillains only remember her appearance as "boobs and a monocle".
Capu from Death Brigade also sports one, although character art shows that he wore glasses when he was much younger.
Often used in The Simpsons and Futurama in flagrant parodies of rich white people. At one point, when the rich white couple gasps dramatically at some display of boorish lower-class behavior and the man's monocle falls off and breaks, he laments "That's the third monocle this week. I simply MUST stop being so horrified."
Leela wears one of these from time to time, mostly to play up the fact that she's a cyclops. She wore one as an awkward adolescent, and occasionally as an adult to read. These are more like glasses than traditional monocles, though. After she got reconstructive surgery to have two eyes, she threw out a whole box of monocles.
Billionaire Bot. In the Movie The Beast with a Billion Backs he has a monocle made with a HUMAN EYE! Which he actually needs to see, despite only missing one eye.
The episode "The Mutants are Revolting" features a banner at a high society event reading: "NO TOP HAT, NO MONOCLE, NO SERVICE"
Archibald Asparagus of Veggie Tales fame wears a monocle seemingly to emphasize the fact he's a culture-obsessed Brit. Fun fact: before the introduction of the Maya software at Big Idea, Archie's monocle had no glass in it.
Beezy on Jimmy Two-Shoes wears a monocle during a brief gag involving him and Jimmy looking smart.
Jeebie, the furry cyclopian brother of Milton the Monster, wears a monocle when reading. His ward, Professor Weirdo, mentions he's soon getting a contact lens (singular).
In the episode "The Best Night Ever", a number of high-class ponies at the Grand Galloping Gala are seen wearing monocles. During Rarity's part of "At the Gala", she imagines one such pony's monocle popping off when she enters the room.
Several men in the Steampunk community have one, although usually with regular glass instead of a lens.
As mentioned under "Films-Live Action", Spanish celebrity Don Jaime De Mora y Aragón commonly had public appearances with a monocle, walking stick, hair gel and chauffeur ("Pepe"), especially in the night scene of Marbella in the 1980s. He made a number of movies playing characters similar to himself. Many people believed that De Mora was a rich aristocrat; he was simply the brother of the consort Queen of Belgium, and apparently liked his lifestyle.
Petri Purho, Finnish video game designer sometimes wears one in public.
Roy Ridley, Chaplain of Balliol College, Oxford and reputedly one of the inspirations for Dorothy L. Sayers' sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, was — according to legend — the only Church of England priest to say Mass wearing a monocle. Sadly, nobody thought to photograph him doing so.
Actress Phyllida Law (Emma Thompson's mother and known for playing sophisticates) used to be quite famous for sporting a monocle. She doesn't appear to have worn one for a while, at least not in public.
On establishment the British National Health Service refused to provide monocles through their services. The Other Wiki suggests this led to their decline.