According to the non-profit organization The Vision Council, 75 percent of American adults rely on vision correction — either glasses or contacts — each day. Of these more than 194 million adults, 85 percent choose glasses and 15 percent wear contacts, either exclusively or in tandem with their frames. But expect to see even more of both in years to come, researchers believe. Myopia (aka nearsightedness) impacted 1.4 billion people globally in 2016, The Vision Council reported. That number will likely reach over 5 billion by 2050, but we could get there even sooner, more recent studies suggest. Our hours of daily screen time multiplied exponentially during the pandemic, and overworked, blue-light-battered eyes deteriorate.
But don't freak out. While all the aforementioned data serves as a warning, it's also reassurance — you're not alone.
How to Buy Glasses Online
For those familiar with how things work, meaning those that wear glasses or contacts already, it's no stretch to say the way we buy glasses has changed. There are direct-to-consumer brands aplenty, companies galore that can swap out old lenses for you, and stores for every style that sell glasses at lower prices than ever. It's sort of the Wild, Wild West out there; that's why it can be so hard to pick the perfect frame for you. There are just so many options. But there's an order of operations to all of it.
Get an Eye Exam
Before you shop for glasses, get an eye exam. There are national organizations — like The AOA Foundation and EyeCare America — that connect individuals to offices that do routine eye exams. And they're completely covered, even if you're uninsured.
It's best to know your prescription and if you'll need any add-ons ahead of time. These appointments will also give you pertinent info like your PD (pupillary distance) and your ideal frame width. Plus, it's an opportunity to discuss whether you need bi- or trifocals, anti-fog or anti-reflective coatings, transition lenses or perhaps lenses tinted a certain color to help with headaches or block blue light.
Invest in Quality Frames
If you already have your new prescription on hand, consider what kind of frame you want — classic and repeatable or refined and rare. From there, you can use these north stars in your search for a brand to buy from. If you buy nicer frames, you'll own them longer. Cheap frames might save you a little money, but if they break, you'll be forced to replace them and the lenses they came with. With nicer frames, you can just replace the lenses, which you should do every time your prescription changes. Services like Lensabl, for example, can do this for you.
You can always buy more, but it's easiest to find a frame you can cling to forever and build your entire wardrobe around. It'll be a style you can always return to — a signature if you will.
Warby Parker rewrote the rules with its e-commerce-centric approach to eyewear. The brand was founded in 2010 and made over $265 million in 2019, a sign that the brand's approach clearly worked. Frames here skew simple, but they appeal to the new acetate-heavy era, where thicker frames are more "in" than thin metal ones. Pairs start at just $95, and Warby Parker will distribute a pair to someone in need for every pair sold.
Jerome Jacques Marie Mage founded his LA-based eponymous eyewear brand, Jacques Marie Mage, in 2014 after a few decades of experience in the industry. His designs reference cultural revolutionaries, heroes and anti-heroes, art movements and dole out a healthy dose of attitude. Some designs are made in Italy, while others are crafted in Japan, but all of the brand's most-trusted manufacturers strive for the same level of quality.
Akila's collection of approachable yet adventurous eyewear veers more modern than others, which often emphasize designs done a few decades ago. Unisex and LA-designed, the glasses range from bold and colorful, occasionally with tinted lenses to match, or simple and sleek.
Coastal by nature, hence the name, SALT Optics' designs have an unmistakable, authentically cool air about them but emphasize craftsmanship over catering to trends. All of SALT's eyeglasses are made from either Japanese acetate or Japanese titanium, promising durability but also a luxe look.
Ray-Ban is an easy brand to remember. On all of its sunglass designs, the logo is scribed right into the lens, a glaring ad for everyone that looks at you. On the optical pairs, it's less prevalent, but it persists nonetheless. It's worth dealing worth for some of the brand's most iconic designs, like the Clubmaster, a retro-tinged frame with few frills but the right amount of swag.
Garrett Leight founded his eponymous eyewear brand in 2010 in Venice Beach. The brand's first designs were made in L.A., inspired by scenes and people from all of California. Think of its frames as luxury-level designs at a fair compromise of price because they're all made in China.
Mr. Leight is a collaboration between Garrett (owner of Garrett Leight) and his father, Larry, the founder of Oliver Peoples. This line serves the same ethos but is even more elevated, meaning finer materials, more intricate designs and enhanced durability. Come here for an investment-level set that'll last forever.
Ace and Tate launched in the US in 2020 with a vision similar to Warby Parker's in that it would bring affordability to designer eyewear. And they've done just that. Most pairs are right around $100, and the experience is far easier and more fun than visiting an optician.
You've probably heard of Persol. The brand, an on-screen favorite of everyone from James Bond to Batman, produces a massive collection of handsome eyewear. It's been doing so since 1917, but it no longer does it independently. Luxottica (which owns Ray-Ban and Oakley, too) bought Persol in 1990.
One of the worst parts about glasses is the immediacy with which you're disqualified from a bunch of adventure sports. It's hard to run with some pairs and sports like basketball or even football make it dangerous to jaunt around with glasses on. Roka's pairs promise to never slip off, courtesy of a proprietary grip on the inside of the arms. It's tacky but not sticky, and they really do stay.
New luxury eyewear brand Native Sons is spearheaded by designer Tommy O'Gara (f0rmerly of DITA) and Shinsuke Takizawa, the creator of NEIGHBORHOOD. O'Gara draws every frame by hand, and they're made in Japan by the brand's six-person manufacturing team. Together they make roughly 2,000 a month. They're artful and avant-garde and yet totally timeless.
For Tommy O’Gara, the celebrated designer behind Sauvage, Native Sons and Max Pittion, small details make all the difference.
Raen makes a range of flattering sunglasses and eyeglasses that mix modern and timeless design theories. They're another brand based in California, although this time further north, in San Diego. There, cool surfers and casual beach bums influence the brand, which merges sophistication and simplicity.
Mitsuhiro Matsuda launched his namesake, Toky0-based fashion brand in 1967. By the 80s, the brand was renowned for its ready-to-wear and eyewear, of which both were revered for striking lines and interesting influences. This remains true to this day because the glasses, a range of fashion-forward, craftsmanship-focused frames, look as good as ever.
Contemporary brand Retrosuperfuture was founded in 2007 and is based out of Italy. The designs recently arrived stateside to widespread acclaim. They mix European aesthetics with refined tailoring references, streetwear cues and occasional pops of color.
Moscot's made a name for itself in New York City since 1899, when Hyman Moscot sold eyeglasses from his pushcart in downtown Manhattan. The brand remains family-owned and -operated, although the collection's been divvied up into two categories, Moscot Originals and Moscot Spirit, the latter of which riffs on Moscot's signature designs with pops of color, ornamentation and other adornments. You'll find a lot of acetate frames, but the occasional metal ones, too.
Oliver Peoples was founded by Mr. Leight co-founder Larry Leight. It launched in 1986, then independently, although the brand has since been sold to Luxottica (who owns Oakley and Ray-Ban). All of the frames are designed in LA and manufactured in Japan or Italy, like many other brands that sustain similar quality levels. You can find Oliver Peoples at eponymous boutiques or a bunch of eyeglass retailers.
Cutler and Gross gathers inspiration from interesting sources: art and architecture, parks and progressive design movements. These influences result in frames that push the boundaries of vision correction, veering it closer toward art than merely a means of seeing better. (But, don't fret, these will surely help you see better.)