I Was Framed!

How to be the best consumer you can be.
April 17 2001 3:00 AM

I Was Framed!

Picking out the best eyeglasses.

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Face it, buying eyeglasses is an unpleasant experience. That downward spiral of agony: you, in front of a mirror, while a smiley saleswoman hands you frame after mother-loving frame, each looking worse than the previous. Or, perhaps, it's you, alone with your reflection amid a rack of frames, unable to tell if this one looks good or if it's the exhaustion talking.

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Consider my situation: a head that's as square as they come; eyes more close-set than I'd like; and a small face that vanishes behind most frames. Contacts aren't an option since I can't stand them for more than an hour or two. And I'm too nervous to go under the corrective knife just yet. Luckily, for the eyeglass-wedded like me, with a little know-how, it's possible to find a pair that complements an imperfect mug.

After polling four-eyed experts and trolling the Web, I learned the rules for selecting the right frames; the ins and outs of the labyrinthine world of lenses, like which extras are worth the money (anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings are both musts); and ways to better the odds that your glasses fit properly and match your prescription.

So, on to the rules of the frame! (We'll get to lenses in a minute.)

Bring your prescription with you. Sure, that seems like obvious advice, but a script in hand streamlines the whole spec-hunting process. Your salesperson can immediately steer you away from frames that aren't optimal for the lenses you'll need. For instance, if you've got a strong prescription, your thick lenses will look better in a smaller frame. A delicate or rimless frame can be quickly overwhelmed by a hunk of lens, too.

Choose a frame that contrasts the shape of your face, not one that mimics it. "It's all about geometry," says Ravane Richman, owner of Seattle's Market Optical. The ideal face shape is an oval, he explains, and since most of us aren't so symmetrically lucky, we look sharper in frames that help us achieve an "oval effect," or, in blunter terms, downplay our defects.

If you're of the round-faced persuasion, try frames with sharp angles: rectangles, trapezoids, and the like. Round glasses would accentuate your chubby cheeks. If a weak chin's your problem, a frame that's slightly wider along the bottom edge will give the lower portion of your face the heft your chin can't. Rimless frames are another good option since they don't add more "weight" up top. If your cheeks and jowl span broader than your forehead (a shape often called the "base-down triangle"), choose a frame with a dramatic top edge to draw your admirers' eyes up. For me, all the pros suggested oval or modified cat-eye frames to soften my jaw line and separate my beady eyes. (Speaking of pros, what's the difference between optician, optometrist, and ophthalmologist? And just what is a "frame stylist"? Click for a primer.)

Bigger isn't better. Even today, when tiny frames are the rage, the most common mistake people make is selecting glasses that are too large for their face. "They don't understand that the bigger the frame, the more distortion there'll be," says optician Lorali Downes of Seattle's Eyes on Fremont. Silver-dollar-size glasses also catch more glare than petite ones. Baby boomers take heart: Manufactures have developed progressives, aka no-line bifocals, for your over-40 eyes that work fine in tiny frames. Other fit issues to keep in mind: Frames shouldn't be wider than your face or rest on your cheeks; they should sit lower than the eyebrows, with your eyes centered in the lenses.

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C hoose a frame that complements your coloring. You're either a warm (yellow-based) or a cool (blue-based). Since I have brown eyes and, when left untouched, brown hair, I naturally assumed I was a warm. Wrong. A trick I learned from the Web site All About Vision is to look at your veins; if they're more blue than green, you're a cool and should consider frames that are black, reddish brown, slate blue, and dark tortoise. More green? You warm-bloods are better off in camel, khaki, and copper. For the outgoing warm, try fire-engine red.

The Price of Beauty
Last year, Americans shelled out $15.4 billion for eyewear, according to the nonprofit Vision Council of America. (In 1997, Consumer Reports found that the markup on glasses is huge—a $200 frame probably cost the shop a mere $70.) A thrifty consumer can find rock-bottom prices like two complete pairs for $40, but those deals often don't include protective lens coatings, and the frames can have that long-in-the-drawer look. Typically, people spend about $150 to $400, according to shopkeepers.

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