Me in my vintage cat-eyes.

Me in my vintage cat-eyes.

NEWS ALERT: Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses! Also, puppies aren’t cute and pizza has gone extinct.

I’m just kidding! Especially about pizza. If pizza no longer existed, this site would go down because everyone who works here would die of starvation. The truth is that eyeglasses rule, and anyway you shouldn’t let your style choices be dictated by someone you’re trying to attract. Consider your less-than-perfect vision a blessing; your frames can act as an extension of your personal style.

But it can be really hard to find glasses as special as you are! The selection at my eye doctor’s office makes it seem like my only options are Harry Potter–style specs or frames embellished with rhinestone Ed Hardy logos. People turn to vintage clothes to escape from the monotony of mass-produced fashion, so why not choose vintage eyeglass frames?

Hereby, a guide to finding the right vintage frames for your style and prescription!

María Inés on her vintage round frames: “My boyfriend bought them in a second-hand store for less than a dollar, but they ended up languishing in his basement. Years later, I was looking for some nice frames but couldn’t find anything I liked. He showed me these, and they were PERFECT for my face and weird cheekbones.”

Where to Find Them

Thanks to the ~information superhighway~, finding vintage eyeglass frames is more convenient than ever. Some good places to start your search are Etsy, Vintageous, Fifties Frames, Eyeglass Boy, and 80s Purple.

But before you hand over your credit card number, ask some questions! Confirm that whoever is selling the frames has a fair return policy, in case they look nothing like you thought they would once they’re on your actual face. Eyeglass Boy lets you return your frames and will pay the shipping cost if you exchange them for a different pair, taking pretty much all the risk out of the equation. 80s Purple allows returns within 30 days of receiving your frames, while smaller sites like Vintageous allow returns within seven days. If you’re buying from an Etsy shop, check with the seller. Even though vintage frames are usually cheaper than new ones, the last thing you want to do is drop all of your hard-earned dough on a pair of glasses that you never wear. If you can’t stand the idea of having to wait up to two weeks between the return and the arrival of each pair, a lot of brick-and-mortar vintage stores carry a great selection of old eyeglass frames—if there’s one in your town, ask them if they ever have them in stock.

Shopping for eyeglass frames is basically exactly like online dating; there are lots of attractive options, but only a select few are right for you. Also, be careful: much like 65-year-old weirdos posing as teenagers on OKCupid, some frames may not be as perfect as they seem on the internet.

Arabelle on these spectacular cat-eyes: “My glasses really helped define my style. They were a lucky birthday purchase at my local vintage store. The frames cost $35, and the lenses were $60. I prefer hunting in physical stores, because you can’t try them on easily when you shop online. I always choose square-ish cat-eye frames because I like the way they look on me.”

Choosing a Style

Frames come in tons of different styles. I’m not about to talk about what style “works best for your face shape” or whatever, because style is personal and subjective and not about adhering to rules about what’s “flattering.”

I will tell you, though, that when you’re choosing your frames—especially if you have just one pair of glasses—you should consider how often you’ll be wearing them. Do you need them only for reading? All day, every day? Do you have 20/20 vision, but just wish you had four eyes? I alternate between contacts and glasses, so I invested in a pair of simple gold cat-eyes—they’ve got some personality, but they don’t make me think too hard about anything else I’m wearing. Bright-pink frames adorned with rhinestones are super cute, but if you’re wearing them every day, you might just get sick of them. Or maybe not! This is your eyeglass destiny, don’t let me stop you!

If you’re buying plastic frames, check for discoloration, which can be a sign that the frames have dried out over time and may crack when you try to stick lenses in ’em. Also, be sure the frames are “prescription quality.” A lot of vintage stores sell flimsy reproduction glasses that are made for costume use, but can’t handle prescription lenses.

Our brand-new staffer Kendra: “I found these glasses at Camden Market on a trip to London. They were less than $20. The man at the stall told me he took a trip around Europe searching for vintage clothing and accessories. This particular pair came from France and was made in the 1960s.”

Measure Up

If you’re shopping for frames online, their measurements will probably be listed like this:

1. Width, between hinges: 5 inches
2. Temple length: 5 1/2 inches
3. Lens width: 44mm. Bridge: 20mm

If you’re totally confused by what all of this means, never fear! It’s easy to find your measurements, simply by using a ruler and your current pair of glasses. Record the measurements for reference when looking for a pair of new (to you) frames. (If this is your first pair of prescription glasses, you can use sunglasses to figure out your measurements—but keep in mind that they’re usually at least a little bigger than regular corrective glasses.)

Here are the numbers you’re gonna need:

1. To find the width, measure across the inside of the frames (the side that your eyes are on), from hinge to hinge.
2. The temples are the “arms” of the glasses—the side pieces that go over your ears to keep the glasses from falling off your face. To find their length, measure from the hinge to the end of the bit that goes behind your ear.
3. If your current frames are new/nonvintage, they might have the lens and bridge widths printed on the inside of one of the temples, or on a nose tab (the little doohickey that rests on your nose) in tiny numbers. They’ll look like “44/20.” The first number is the width of each lens, and the second the width of the bridge (the space where your nose fits), both in millimeters. If those numbers are missing, measure across the widest part of one lens—just the clear part, not including the frame around it—and the distance between the closest points of the two lenses.

You might have to size down when you buy vintage, because vintage glasses (much like vintage clothes) tend to be a bit smaller than modern ones. Also, if you’re shopping for a different style of frame than what you wear now, the measurements may not translate from one to the other. If you can find a set of frames that fit you, in the same general shape as the ones you’re thinking of ordering, measure those instead. But you may have to just do some trial-and-error shopping till you find a perfect fit.

(If you’re still confused about all this measuring business, here’s a helpful guide that goes into much more detail than I have here.)

And, of course, if you’re able to shop for vintage frames in person, try on all sorts of pairs until you find one that feels right.

Leeay, a new Rookie illustrator: “I got my Vintage Christian Dior frames for $20 from a lady named Margaret at the St. Lawrence Sunday Antique Market in Toronto.”

The Better to See You With, My Dear

Once you’ve found the perfect frames, it’s time to get them fitted with your prescription lenses. If you bought the frames in person, ask the salesperson to recommend a local place to get the lenses. Most places that sell prescription eyeglasses will be willing to do the job. A lot of chain stores, like Pearle Vision and Lenscrafters, or even discount stores with optical departments, like Costco and Target, are able to install prescription lenses into frames from other sources. If your eye doctor’s office sells glasses, they probably have an optician on staff who can fit the lenses for you.

There are loads of different varieties of lenses, too—and these will vary in price depending on what your eyes need, as well as a few optional features. There are different lenses for nearsightedness, farsightedness, a combination of nearsightedness and farsightedness, and astigmatism. Those are the basics. After that you have a dizzying array of choices: What do you want the lenses to be made of? (Some materials, like polycarbonate and Trivex, are thinner, lighter, and less likely to get scratched than regular plastic or glass.) Do you want to get the lenses coated with something to make them glare-proof, UV-light-proof, scratch-resistant, or less likely to fog up when you come inside from the cold—or some combination of those? Do you want them to darken when you go outside, elimating the need for a separate pair of prescription sunglasses? Each of these options is available, and each one will add to the cost of your lenses, so choose carefully.

Be forewarned: your optician may reject your beloved vintage frames because they deem them unfit to work with. Make sure this is because they think they’re too worn out or fragile, and not because the frames aren’t from their store. Once again, frame shopping is just like online dating: IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S THEM! The optician is probably just looking out for you, but I would advise you to get a second opinion before giving up on the frames of your dreams. You may find the optical department of a big, impersonal store like Target more accommodating. (The possibility that your frames are un-lens-able is another good reason to shop at a store with a solid return policy.)

If you’re lucky enough to have vision insurance (check with your parent/guardian/Earth host family) and these glasses will be your primary source of decent vision, there’s a good chance that the insurance company will cover their cost. But if you don’t have insurance or you’re only gonna wear these glasses every once in a while, don’t worry. Ask whoever sold you the frames for a good and affordable place to get the lenses (prices can vary wildly from place to place), and don’t choose too many bells and whistles like multiple coatings, etc. In any case, be sure to ask whoever’s making the lenses for a quote before you hand over your frames.

Anaheed: “I got these vintage wayfarer frames for about $60 at Fabulous Fanny’s in New York. The lenses were $80, including an anti-glare coating, at Optical 88. I have a bunch of different glasses, but these are the ones I wear most often.”


Once their lenses have been installed, your glasses are almost done—but there’s one more step! Almost all glasses need a little bit of adjustment before they’re totally comfortable and sit evenly on your face—if they’re crooked, too tight, or too loose, they’re going to be annoying at best (at worst they could give you a headache, or even not be as easy to see out of). Take them to a professional, who will tighten the screws, move the nose tabs hither and thither, and bend the temples until they fit your face and head comfortably and evenly. Your eye doctor can do this for you; and a little-known secret among glasses-wearers is that you can walk into any glasses store, in any city, and, even if you didn’t buy your glasses there, if you ask nicely, most of them will adjust and clean your glasses for free! What other business does that? Imagine bringing your Dell to the Apple Store’s Genius Bar for routine maintenance. (If you’re possessed by the DIY spirit, you can try adjusting them yourself, but be very careful, especially with old frames, which can be more fragile than new ones.)

Once you’ve finally procured the glasses of your dreams, everything will look so much better behind four eyes. Who needs rose-colored glasses, when you’ve got vintage horn-rimmed cat-eyes?

Emma S.: “Cat-eyes from Fabulous Fanny’s. Approximately $90.”