Tell people you’re shopping for eyeglasses and you get a lot of interesting reactions. Some swear by today’s new online optical retailers. Others tell you about the hip but cheap store you’ve just gotta try. Then there are those who wish you good luck with a pat on the shoulder.
I’ve been wearing glasses for more than forty years so I understand the importance of proper eyewear. After all, they sit right on your face, the first thing people see when they look at you. They have to be right.
I’m in the market for a new pair of specs due to an unfortunate situation in a fashionable Manhattan cocktail lounge. There I was feeling snazzy in a navy suit, Hermes tie, and horn-rimmed glasses. The crowd was attractive. The drinks were flowing. And after a full day of intense business meetings, I was beginning to relax into the moment. Then I bellied up to the bar and asked to see a drinks menu.
Damned if I couldn’t read it — not until I held it at arms length and truly focused. The cute but impatient bartender pretended not to notice my optical struggle, but I swear I heard snickering from the two young faux lumberjacks between whom I’d wedged.
Presbyopia — Greek for “old man’s eye” — hits most people between the ages 40 and 50. I’d been fortunate enough to avoid it and smart enough to deny it. But there in that New York bar, it became clear to me that I could no longer ignore my need for bifocals.
Rather than getting depressed, I convinced myself this might be a good time for an eyeglass makeover. After all, I’ve been wearing the same basic style of preppy round oval glasses (known as the P3 style in the trade) since 1988.
My first pair was a tortoise-colored model known as the O’Malley by that smart Los Angeles firm Oliver People’s. It was supposedly inspired by the glasses worn by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley. At the time, I was working a low-paying publishing job and using all sorts of cost-savings tactics such as bourbon for cologne. The glasses cost more than my rent, but boy did they make me feel smart and fashionable. I still have them as sunglasses now.
The big question in my mind was whether I ought to step out of my P3 comfort zone with a pair of new frames?
My first excursion was to a fancy boutique whose proprietor has a reputation for unique and expensive frames. Well- dressed clients milled about sipping Starbucks and gossiping about mutual acquaintances and Downton Abbey all the while oohing and aahing over the latest stock from France and Germany. I inquired about a pair of little hexagonal frames that were sort of Ben Franklinesque. Absolutely not, the proprietor said, with a bit of a reprimand. She even went so far as refusing to open the display cabinet. Instead, she gently slipped a pair of big blue glasses on my face.
“They’re Mikli frames,” she whispered in my ear. “Note the beautiful herringbone pattern. ”
“That’s nice, but I’m not buying china,” I replied, perhaps a tad tartly. Things went downhill from there. After a few more unsuccessful blue frame recommendations she lost interest and so did I.
At my next stop, a trendy, but cheap, establishment, I encountered a big girl with burgundy hair who told me I had the perfect face for glasses. “You’re an oval and just about any style will look good on you,” she said as she plopped a pair of round orange colored eyeglasses on my puss.
Really? I looked like I was wearing two gigantic butter rum lifesavers. Things didn’t get much better with her other selections, and when she came at me brandishing a pair of beige plastic aviator-style frames I slowly backed away. “C’mon, just try ‘em on,” she coaxed, as I darted out the door.
At the gay eyeglass store everything looked remarkably cloned and everything looked remarkable on me, so said the soft-spoken pocket boy on the floor that day. Seriously? I could swear I looked like Martina Navratilova in a couple of those expensive titanium frames.
There were more visits to more stores and more encounters with sales people. Finally realizing the glasses weren’t any greener on the other side, I returned to my tried and true optician, the place where I purchased those O’Malleys so many decades ago and many of my P3s since. I’d heard a rumor the O’Malley had been revived.
As I stood in the store modeling the “Sir O’Malley,” as the frame was now called, I wondered why I’d ever ditched them in the first place. Just as I was about to whip out my credit card, I caught a glimpse of some hip wooden Italian frames.
Well hello handsome…
I picked up a pair of black rectangular frames. They felt good. They fit good. And, most importantly, they looked good on me, in a trendy kind of way.
Eyeglasses are generally thought to have been invented in Italy in the 13th century for monks and scholars. That’s not surprising, considering Italy – and especially Venice – was a center of glass making during medieval times. Early eyeglass frames were made from wood, horn, leather, and bone. These wooden ones represented a marriage of ancient and modern style. They were unique and I was smitten.
When it was all said and done, the bespoke wooden frames with progressive lenses cost me just about the same as my monthly mortgage. I think maybe I’ll splash on a little bourbon and celebrate, just for old time sake.