published Monday, March 10th, 2014

Eyes on Fashion: Glasses’ look is as important as how they help you see

Frames, clockwise from bottom left, are Hoxie by l.a. Eyeworks (red, $510), OGI 3117 (tortoise, $255), Donna Su by l.a. Eyeworks (blue, $390), Eckert by Oliver Peoples (tortoise, $370). Frames courtesy of Epic Optical on Chestnut Street.
Frames, clockwise from bottom left, are Hoxie by l.a. Eyeworks (red, $510), OGI 3117 (tortoise, $255), Donna Su by l.a. Eyeworks (blue, $390), Eckert by Oliver Peoples (tortoise, $370). Frames courtesy of Epic Optical on Chestnut Street.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Edie Redish models OGI evolution, "9070" frames from Epic Optical.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Edie Redish models l.a. Eyeworks, "Holland" frames from Epic Optical.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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    Edie Redish models Lafont, "Miroir" frames from Epic Optical.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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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.

Sarah Maddux has been wearing glasses since the fifth grade, but it wasn’t until she was a senior in high school that she got a pair she liked.

“The frames were layered in a black, red and green color block, so they looked black from the outside but you could see a red stripe and the interior was chartreuse,” the 26-year-old says. “Since then, every new pair I’ve gotten has been a variation on those frames, with the lenses getting bigger and bigger.

“In college, I had tortoise-shell Ray-Ban Wayfarers with a blue pattern inside. When I bought them, they were the only frames I could find that I liked at the eyeglass place in the mall I went to, so I ignored the fact that they were too wide for my face and bought them anyway.”

These days, though, fashionable frames are available for people of all ages and from all sorts of outlets, both brick-and-mortar stores and online. While improving your sight may seem the obvious No. 1 goal when it comes to eyeglasses, many people believe it’s more important to make sure you look good in them.

According to eyecessorize.com, a survey conducted by The Vision Council showed that about one quarter of Americans believe frame style is the most important factor when buying glasses. Nearly 16 million Americans have worn eyeglass frames without a prescription for fashion purposes, the survey showed, and 66.9 percent of eyeglass wearers recognize that frames are more fashionable now than they were five years ago.

Eyeglass frames have evolved from “function to fashion” over the last 50 years, says optometrist Tony Leach, owner of Epic Optical in Chattanooga. “But the evolution started for Epic in 1992 when I first heard the term ‘exclusive eye wear,’” he says.

“Frame designers from Italy, France and Japan started offering fashion-forward exclusives,” he explains. “Instead of the frame representative coming to every eye doctor in every city, the eye doctor had to go to the parent company or prove that they were worthy of having their frames in your boutique.”

He says his patients started “having fun” selecting frames from the new and fashionable choices. In his business, he adds, it’s mostly women who select fashionable frames.

“Once they had one frame in blue, they needed one in red, or one for casual and one for dress,” Leach says. “I think women can more easily appreciate that a pair of glasses is much like a necklace, earrings or any other piece of jewelry.

“The majority of my patients have at least one pair of glasses even if they wear contacts so that they can give their eyes a rest from the contacts. If I see that a patient is wearing contacts and doesn’t have glasses, even if they are just for backup, I get a little nervous. Those people tend to overwear their contacts, which is unhealthy.”

Tami Chamberlain got her first pair of glasses when she was in the third grade. She hated them.

Trendy frames weren’t an option for children in the ’80s, says Chamberlain, 41, of Signal Mountain. “I disliked them so much but we all wore the tortoise-colored wire polo frames that were huge.”

Chamberlain is relieved that her daughter, Emma, 10, has many choices when it comes to frames. And, it turns out, the young girl is “picky” about her glasses, Chamberlain says.

“Her preferred glasses are scratch-free, have transition lenses, have springs on the arms that bend in both directions and they must be stylish,” she says. “She ends up getting a new pair every year due to her wear normal wear and tear on the lenses. I don’t necessarily always agree with Emma’s taste in style but she is her own person and I would like for her to be happy. Her favorite is a pair of black and white, rectangular frames by Ralph Lauren.”

Donna Morse, 65, of Ooltewah, says style was a definite factor in her recent purchase of glasses. She says she chose frames that reflect the influence of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

“My choice of glasses had to do with mostly how they fit my face and of course I do like the Frank Lloyd Wright style,” Morse says. “Cost is definitely a consideration and I waited until I found a special. I had the sales person to help me although I made the choice. Also the fact that I had 90 days to change my mind was of great value.”

Still, the cost of designer frames can be costly. According to a report on cbsnews.com in 2012, designer frames can cost “hundreds and hundreds” of dollars.

The reason? One company, Luxottica, controls a big chunk of business, the report said. In 2011, Luxottica made nearly 65 million pairs of sunglasses and optical frames. Among the brands distributed by Luxottica are Prada, Chanel, Dolce Gabbana, Versace, Burberry, Ralph Laurent, Tiffany and Bulgari. The company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, earned $8 billion in 2011, the website reported.

The company’s CEO Andrea Guerra said the expense of the frames reflects the work that goes into making them.

“This is one of the very few things that are 100 percent functional, 100 percent aesthetical, and they need to be on your face for 15 hours a day,” Guerra told CBS.

Still, it pays to shop around, Morse says, explaining that she got a substantial discount on Ray-Bans and a nondesigner brand at Sears Optical’s recent “Family & Friends” sale. She got both pairs for $289.

Today, Maddux purchases her glasses online.

“I was, at first, a little wary of purchasing online, but I’ve been pleased with the quality of the lenses and frames, don’t have any issues with glare, and they look like they did the day they arrived in the mail,” she says.

Chamberlain, who says she spends about $350 each year for her daughter’s prescription glasses, has reservations about purchasing eyewear online.

“I couldn’t imagine buying them online unless I knew exactly what I was ordering,” she says. “The fit is so important.”

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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