People tell optician Cindy Elkin that choosing a new pair of eyeglasses is worse than buying a bathing suit.
“What they're really worried about is that they're going to look funny,” said Ms. Elkin, who has been matching frames to faces for more than 30 years at her business in Falls Church, Va. She's also a spokesman for the Vision Council of America, an optical industry trade group based in Alexandria, Va.
As difficult as it may be to pick out a flattering eyeglass frame, in theory it is quite simple. Experts say the frame should contrast with your face shape, be in scale with your face size, and enhance your best features.
“Eyewear is one of the first things people see when they look at you,” Ms. Elkin said. “It can really make a statement about you. It's a real easy, fun way to change your looks and your image.”
She said a growing number of people have more than one pair of prescription eyeglasses - and not just for practical reasons such as an extra pair for playing sports and another for working at the computer. Such fashion-conscious types may have glasses for the office, glasses for casual weekend wear, glasses for dressy occasions, glasses to match this outfit or that, or glasses just to be noticed.
Some people with perfectly fine vision have been known to wear frames with nonprescription lenses, just for image purposes.
For the tens of millions of Americans who require vision correction, being able to fake it would be an enviable and economical option. According to VisionWatch-Jobson Optical Research in New York City, 70 percent of the adult population in the United States wears eyeglasses. They pay an average of $120 for a pair of frames and $50 to $200 for lenses, depending on material and design.
Robert Johnston, optician and owner of the Sylvania Vision Center on Monroe Street, estimated that 40 to 45 percent of his patients buy new glasses just to stay abreast of fashion trends. Their purchases are driven by what they see in the movies, on television, and in magazines, he added. “It's more of a want than a need.”
Particularly hot right now are fun plastics and rimless glasses in which the bridge and temple pieces are mounted directly into the lenses with screws. The rimless, minimalist approach appeals to people of all ages, can be used with all lens shapes, and is the most popular choice among patients at Pinnacle Eye Group in Perrysburg, said optician Jolie Ditch.
Of the options in plastic, Mrs. Ditch said, their most popular frame is light brown or clear with horizontal pinstriping. Other choices include lively colors such as ruby red and light green, laminates with one color on the front side of the frame and a second color on the side facing the wearer, and plastics with patterns.
The most cutting-edge styles appeal to people who are a little more daring, Mrs. Ditch said, and to those who have more than one pair of eyeglasses - “one pair for business or day and another pair for `attitude.'”
Mrs. Ditch - who said she has 12 pairs of prescription eyeglasses and another on order - said another popular line is made of metal, but fashioned to look like plastic with flat rather than rounded edges. “That's fun and edgy, and there are a lot of retro designs that are out,” she continued. “You can still find the cat eyes with rhinestones in the corner.”
Manufacturers are using lighter-weight materials such as titanium to make frames more comfortable, observed Mr. Johnston of Sylvania Vision Center. Frames also are smaller today, adding to comfort.
Clunky, oversized eyeglasses are passe, gone into fashion exile with big hair and Dynasty-inspired shoulder pads. Yet smaller isn't necessarily better, Ms. Elkin cautioned. The frame needs to be in proportion to the width and length of the face and to the size of facial features.
Frames should contrast with the face shape, according to the vision council - curved faces look best in angular styles, and angular faces look best in curved styles. Keeping in mind that most faces are a combination of shapes and angles, here are more of the council's tips:
In choosing frame color, consider the colors of your eyes, skin, and hair.
“Color is real easy,” Ms. Elkin said. “You need to choose eyewear the same way you choose clothing.”
Most people intuitively understand what colors are best for them, she added. If your coloring is “warm” (a peaches-and-cream or yellow-cast skin tone with maybe brown eyes and golden-blond hair), the best frame colors would include camel, khaki, gold, copper, peach, orange, coral, off-white, fire-engine red, warm blue, and blond tortoise, according to the vision council.
If you have “cool” coloring (a blue-based complexion with maybe light blue eyes and platinum or blue-black hair), the best frame hues would include black, rose brown, blue-gray, plum, magenta, pink, jade, blue, and darker tortoise.
Sometimes the image one wants to project overrides all the guidelines about face shape and features, of course.
“You can make whatever statement you want to make with eyewear,” said Valerie McCaskill, manager of public relations for the vision council, who confessed that she has a pair of stylish, black-framed eyeglasses that make her feel “like I'm Miss New York.”
“You carry yourself a little different,” in a high-style, look-at-me frame, she added. “It's like playing dress-up.”
For a Capitol Hill staffer who bought a new pair of eyeglasses recently from Ms. Elkin's business, eyewear is about more than just seeing clearly - it's about how one is seen.
“She was very tiny, and she wanted something extremely bold and kind of in-your-face, because she felt people would take her more seriously in her job,” Ms. Elkin said. “She wanted a definite kind of power look.”