The Struggle to Find the Right Eyeglass Frames

From electric blue to cat-eye, putting the "funky" on your face

Getting new glasses, as I did today, is a little like Christmas for your face. There’s the anticipation of seeing well, and indeed the world does look more appealing for about four hours. But the cosmetic change is the real thrill.

People get frustrated with me in glasses stores because I have to try many pairs before I make a decision. So I explain: This is my face. It’s not like choosing a new pair of earrings. If someone sees me walking down the street with blond hair, they might think, “She’d look better as a brunette.” But if they see me with the wrong glasses? They’ll think: “Wow. What kind of person would choose such horrific frames? She must actually think those are cool. After all, they probably cost a couple hundred dollars at least, and insurance only covers maybe one pair a year, depending on her policy. So she chose those glasses deliberately, thinking they were a good choice for the long-term. That decision suggests bad judgment at best and agonizingly poor taste at worst. I’m glad she’s getting off this bus. I don’t even want to stand next to her.”

The stakes, as you can see, are high.

I have an extremely poor track record with choosing frames. I always want to look “funky.” That’s the word I proffer to the beleaguered souls at the optical shop. It always goes the same way: The employee hands me a lovely pair of glasses that flatter my bone structure and make sense for the shape of my face. I find them boring. I then pick frames that would look outré even on Lady Gaga, and the employee says, after a pause, “Yeah, I don’t know. Those look a little big.” Translation: Are you kidding? You have to be kidding.

Then I resent the employee for not “getting” me, so I petulantly order them anyway.

This is exactly what happened with my DKNY electric-blue glasses I bought at Lens Crafters at the Cherry Hill Mall. The guy there was trying very hard not to grab me by the shoulders and shake me until the frames flew off my head and into the air conditioning duct in the ceiling. Poor guy. He was no match for me. I had those frames in an hour, goddamn it, and I loved them—until I got back to civilization (i.e., Philadelphia) and discovered that in real life, oversized electric blue rectangles are simply not sensible for everyday wear.

One time I was blessed with an eyewear shop employee who understood my bid for something “funky.” She helped me find an amazing pair of vintage cat-eye frames in a shimmery dark blue with mother-of-pearl inlay in the corners. They reminded me of my grandmother, and I fell in love with them.

When I wore them for the first time, the reaction was so extreme that it frightened me. People hated them, and they were oddly upfront about it. “Oh no, you can’t do that,” one friend said. I had to calm her down; she was kind of hyperventilating.

In my lifetime, I’ve purchased black glasses with blue on the bottom, brown glasses with blue on the top, red glasses, rimless glasses, gold glasses, plain black glasses, John Lennon specs and more … to say nothing of the ’80s glasses that clung to my face well into the ’90s. Things got so bad at one point that I went on YouTube to ask my subscribers which frames to wear. The subscribers were divided, though one suggested I switch to contacts.

The Bevel glasses I got today are quite gorgeous—I think. I got them at Modern Eye in University City (not West Philly), where my choice was informed by the Rockstar Eye Doc (RED). Every eye doctor I’ve ever seen, whether optometrist or opthamologist, has been bald, short and decidedly uncool. Not so with RED.

Tall, blond, funky frames. Tattoo on chest, popped collar (popped à la New York Fashion Week, not douchebag frat parties). Striped pants, idiosyncratic sneakers, razor-cut hair. It was like having a Viking Julian Casablancas examine your eyes. Here’s how he introduced himself: “Hey, I’m Bryan. I’m the doctor.”

While RED’s medical bona fides were obviously most important, I couldn’t help but notice that his glasses admirably bridged the gap (the nose?) between funky and flattering. Thus I let RED and his colleagues guide me and tried to keep my own opinions out of it.

The Bevel glasses have already received harsh feedback. My mother said they remind her of old-lady glasses from the 1950s. I told her that was the point, though I felt a little wobbly about it. But this time I’m going to stick to my guns. These frames are going to last through Face Christmas 2012, no matter how the winds of fashion change. Or should I say, the winds of funk.