ST. LOUIS — We are in the midst of an eyewear revolution, or should I say zeitgeist. It’s desirable to be a girl (or guy) who wears glasses. This wasn’t always the case, as you’ll remember from those unflattering childhood rhymes.
There are fancy glass-walled boutiques of eyewear that look more like jewelry than medical devices, and prices soar near four digits even with insurance plans. Then there are practical websites of frames that you can order for the cost of shipping and handling.
My last two pairs of prescription glasses purchased over the past six months cost $226.39 and $15.48.
The former was thanks to my insurance benefit, which dropped $161 from the price. The latter was attributed to an online promotion.
I didn’t discover that I needed glasses until my 20s, but I remember the landscape then: bleak.
Eyeglass wearers had one pair of glasses or a set of contact lenses and they wore that one option with everything, every day, all the time … you get the picture. It wasn’t even weird because it was just the way it was. It’s kind of like when people didn’t question standing in the kitchen to talk on a pastel pink corded phone attached to the wall. That’s just the way it was.
Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council, a national trade association, has worn glasses since she was 12. “I have to wear them. I can’t see. I can’t drive. I can’t do anything, so why wouldn’t I take the same time and energy that I put into dressing that I use to pick an item that I wear on my face,” she said. She emphasized the words, “on my face.”
“Not everyone is over the top; a person can pick a pair that’s very neutral and not so noticeable, but they can also find something fun that gets noticed.”
Giberson said that having a wardrobe of eyewear is much more common today because it’s so affordable. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s also on trend.
“Now you see eyewear on the runways all the time. There are more and more designer brands. That wasn’t the case 10 or more years ago,” Giberson said. She has a wardrobe of about seven pairs of prescription glasses, including a pair of sunglasses.
Justin Scarbrough of St. Louis has five pairs of Warby Parker frames, an online eyewear retailer that sells hipster prescription frames for less than $100 delivered. He said that he loves options. Changing eyewear for him is akin to wearing different shoes, jeans or watches to match his mood.
“The bonus is that Warby Parker gives a pair (of eyeglasses) to someone in need when you buy a pair. I mean $95 is a great price for glasses already but now you’re helping someone else,” Scarbrough said. “And whenever I wear a pair, I get a compliment almost every time I wear them. That feels good, too.”
Scarbrough said that if the frames cost hundreds of, he’d never have so many, but for $100 he feels OK splurging on a third, fourth or sixth pair.
The same goes for April Wilson of St. Louis who has purchased numerous pairs for her 12-year-old son, Sean, in the year that he’s been diagnosed with needing eyeglasses.
“I bought the first pair from Costco, wire frames with a little plastic, and he broke those in two weeks,” Wilson said. “I bought the frame again. He got hit in head with a ball and they broke again maybe within the month. So we needed hardcore glasses.”
Because her son plays football and basketball and stands 5-foot-10-inches, she knew that he’d need adult frames that could withstand impact. She eventually landed on Warby Parker as well and picked up a pair. Her son also has a purchase from the online site Coastal.com and a surprisingly sturdy $59 pair of sports goggles from Firmoo.com.
“I could never have gotten him all those options if I was paying the full-price at some of the optician offices,” Wilson said. But she said that if she found the right pair after an eye exam, she’d definitely purchase on site.
Scarbrough said the same. He has a good relationship with his optician, so much so that he took his Warby Parker frames, which were a little too wide for his face, in to be adjusted at the local optician’s office.
“I know some offices can be a little apprehensive about that. I mean, I understand, they used to have that business sewn up, but I think they understand. I still go there for my exam and I’ve purchased glasses there,” Scarbrough said. “I even told them that I’d be fine if they wanted to charge me to do the adjustment, but they just did it for free.”
And as much as Scarbrough enjoys an affordably priced pair of frames, he said that he has his limits.
“I’m like a $95 snob now (laugh). I look at sites where the glasses are $69 or $39 and I’m like … hmm… that’s too low,” Scarbrough said. “It sounds crazy but $95, that’s my threshold.”
TIPS FOR BUYING EYEWEAR ONLINE
1. First things first: Don’t guess and be skeptical.
2. Visit an optician and get your eye health thoroughly checked out.
3. Ask for your prescription and have them make note of your Pupillary Distance or PD. This is the distance from the center of one pupil to the next, and it’s important for the technician creating your glasses. If you forget, don’t worry. This is pretty easy to figure out. You can download a PD ruler online that is printed backward so that you can read it in a mirror.
4. Start shopping after your exam. Designer frames are abundant, and if you have insurance there’s no reason to pass up on your benefits for something cheap online (which aren’t covered by insurance, but usually are covered under flexible spending plans). Besides, trying on a variety of glasses is the best way to figure out your style. And a professional opinion might be just what the doctor ordered.
5. Make note of the glasses that fit you best based on the dimensions, not just style. Glasses are like custom clothing for your face; size matters. Look inside the temple and you’ll see a series of numbers that look like 50-19-140. These measurements are in millimeters and correspond to the eye (width of one lens); bridge (distance between the two lenses); and temple (from lens to tip that fits behind ear). You should also ask about the vertical height if there’s a frame that you consistently gravitate toward. If you own a pair, check out those dimensions, but ask yourself is the width too small, or large, does the nose pinch, etc. Do they fit well or do you tolerate them?
6. Online, you’ll have a huge selection, so start by narrowing your choices before you look. Most sites will let you select by width. Start there, but don’t guess or go by the photos. Check the dimensions. Then double check before buying.
7. If your prescription is simple, you’ll find the best deals, but if you want thinner glasses or specialty lenses or tint, the cost goes up and up, so before you buy make sure you know all the add-ons.
8. If you can request the glasses for a free try-on before you buy, do it. Don’t just assume the online, virtual try-on tools are accurate. Some are better than others, but they typically aren’t so good.
9. Find out the return policy.
10. If you need the glasses adjusted after your purchase, don’t despair. Technicians at your opticians office may help if you ask them nicely. The same goes for if you have a membership to a discount chain store that has an optical department.
PLACES TO SHOP
Coastal.com — Get your first pair free on select frames (shipping and handling, about $16, is not).
Eyebuydirect.com — Advertises glasses from $6.95, but $29.99 will get you a much cuter pair.
Madeeyewear.com — Custom frames that let you pick all the components — front, right temple, left temple, engraving separately. Test three free pairs with your prescription for seven days.
Spiffysociety.com — Starts at $95 for upgraded lenses; 30-day free returns.
WarbyParker.com — A leader in this niche. Known for simplicity of a free home trial — five pairs for five days free. Every pair you buy, means someone else in need gets a free pair of glasses.
Iristocracy.com — “Purveyors of uncommon eyewear.” Prices start at $245 for the frames no lenses. Uncommon doesn’t come cheap.
Mezzmer.com — Hands down, some of the best glasses descriptions online and great looking frames, too, starting at $69.95.
Zennioptical.com — Glasses start as low as $6.95 for prescription glasses, and it has one of the best interactive virtual try-on tools around.