Style

How to Find the Vintage Eyeglasses of Your Dreams

It’s basically exactly like online dating.

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.”

Adjustment

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.”

57 Comments

  • Chelsea November 26th, 2012 11:11 PM

    Arabelle, you have such a gorgeous face! You look like a badass comic book character.

  • jenaimarley November 26th, 2012 11:16 PM

    I WISH I NEEDED GLASSES!

  • PandaJane November 26th, 2012 11:17 PM

    damn, girls…y’all look good! or, should i say, spectacle-lar? ;^)

  • Lola Witch November 26th, 2012 11:22 PM

    absolutely fabulous article!!! over the summer i found my dream pair of vintage cat-eye frames at a store in spain!!! glasses are the best~

  • DreamBoat November 26th, 2012 11:25 PM

    UGH EVERYONE IN THIS ARTICLE IS SO BABELY I’M DYING.

    Now I NEED SOME VINTAGE GLASSES, even though I’ve got perf eyesight. CHRISTMAS LIST TIME!!!

    I have a question– if you have good vision and want some, would you just replace the frames with clear, plastic ones (like the ones on fashion glasses)?? I REALLY WANT A PAIR NOW!

    Rookie is the greatest and I LOVEEEEED this article <3 <3 <3

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com

    • Anaheed November 26th, 2012 11:25 PM

      Yes, you can get just plain plastic lenses.

  • harstyarter November 26th, 2012 11:40 PM

    zennioptical.com is an AMAZING place to look for glasses, since they sell the glasses with your prescription lens in already, for super cheap, like, ten bucks. You’ll need to know your prescription and measurements when ordering, and they’re pretty good quality for the price. I have a sturdy pair of glasses from my doctor and a whole bunch of fun fashion glasses from Zenni’s I ordered offline in different shapes and colors. They’re cheap, fashion glasses with lenses included. Seriously awesome –
    I mean, look at these adorable purple cat eyes for $12! http://www.zennioptical.com/?prescription_type=single&frm_shape%5B%5D=844&nav_cat_id=2&navused=1

    and these harry potter ones for 10!
    http://www.zennioptical.com/?prescription_type=single&frm_shape%5B%5D=725&frm_shape%5B%5D=844&nav_cat_id=2&navused=1

    seriously, this website is the best.

  • harstyarter November 26th, 2012 11:41 PM

    *online. not offline

  • Faith November 26th, 2012 11:45 PM

    This is awesome!! I so wish I needed glasses.

    http://vintagereverie.blogspot.com

  • Adrienne November 27th, 2012 12:12 AM

    Rookie has read my mind once again. I’m currently in search for cute cat-eye or browline glasses because I’ve had my current glasses since 8th grade and apparently my eyesight got even worse!! I LOVE YOU GUYS YOUR TIMING IS PERFECT.

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • Dylan November 27th, 2012 12:15 AM

    Rookie staffers are bomb

  • TheAwesomePossum November 27th, 2012 12:25 AM

    I have the most amazing light blue 1960′s cat eye glasses with rhinestones at the temples, and they are definitely my favorite out of all the frames I’ve ever had. Also, as a side- opticians get SO EXCITED about vintage frames. I’d brought mine to For Eyes to put my prescription lenses in and everyone in the store was swooning :3 ehehe.

  • firky November 27th, 2012 12:27 AM

    What about “How to Find the Hair of Your Dreams” like EVERY SINGLE GIRL IN THIS ARTICLE.

    http://haleyyael.tumblr.com

  • Cauliflower November 27th, 2012 12:45 AM

    I really liked seeing the super cool ladies at Rookie sporting their cute frames–makes me feel like I’m in good company. :)
    Also, Anaheed, you look so adorable! I love your hair.

    • Anaheed November 27th, 2012 1:17 AM

      Aw thank you! It was SO dirty & greasy in that picture but that is probably when it’s at its best.

  • marineo November 27th, 2012 1:17 AM

    I tried shopping for cat eyes earlier today!!!
    rookie reads my mind…

    also I kind of screamed when i saw that kendra is now a staffer… unadoptable is hands down my favorite tumblr.

    <3 <3 <3

  • notdarkyet November 27th, 2012 2:00 AM

    I JUST spent days pouring over etsy in search of new frames. I went with a pair from this place:
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/MODvintageshop

    Other great ones I considered are:
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/Chigal
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/OldFocals
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/THAYEReyewear

    I also tried out Warby Parker, which is really fun because they’ll deliver frames to your door five at a time for free.

  • purrr November 27th, 2012 4:35 AM

    anaheed.. on the main page it says “after school specials” twice instead of once! O_O are you the one who fixes this? also – lovely pic, i wish we saw more of your face in rookie articles because it’s a nice face! <3

    and leeays style is the bomb.

    http://sanctifiedyouth.blogspot.com/

    • Anaheed November 27th, 2012 4:56 AM

      Oof! It’s because we moved something at the last minute and I totally forgot to change the time designation. Thank you. PURRRRRRR

  • LilySew November 27th, 2012 4:49 AM

    I got an eye test not long ago and was told i have a teeeeny bit of a script but that i don’t urgently need glasses, but could get them if i want to. Maybe i’ll reconsider and pick up some vintage frames to clarify my world while looking super stylist too, hehe :D

    http://sewoverdressed.blogspot.com.au/

  • landlockedblues November 27th, 2012 5:08 AM

    YES, cute girls with even cuter glasses unite!

    i wear big glasses and one time, this douchey guy in my class asked me why i wore glasses that were so different and i said “BECAUSE I CAN.”

  • KatyKamikaze November 27th, 2012 5:44 AM

    I wear glasses… I figure too that if I HAVE to wear them I may aswell have loads of pairs pf awesome ones! My collection currently stands at 5 pairs! :D Still counting hahah! I usually go for reproduction just because I know for certain they won’t break when being glazed but I really do fancy some weird 60′s glasses.. let’s see!

  • Sorcha M November 27th, 2012 6:03 AM

    Thank you for this! I was looking everywhere for some cat-eyes and I ended up picking some half-assed leopard ones from my opticians. They’re okay but *sob* not quite right. But I will take your advice!

  • HollinsCollins November 27th, 2012 9:15 AM

    How are all you Rookie gals so gorgeous??
    And I wish I had your hair, Anaheed <333 you look adorable!!

  • Mary the freak November 27th, 2012 11:04 AM

    I have ALWAYS wanted glasses so badly! I love them because if you are wearing amazing ones, they add something great to your entire look! I need to get a vintage pair of glasses. Like, who cares if I need them? (:

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • sissiLOL November 27th, 2012 11:11 AM

    I love this article! I wear glasses since I was 8 years old! And I find it wonderful to see so nice girls with so nice glasses! Glasses are not now for nerds!

  • Yayo November 27th, 2012 11:42 AM

    MY GOD ARABELLE. Your hair and glasses and face are way too awesome.

    I thought I was cool buying stupidly-priced Rayban wayfarers at the start of last year (NHS payed for lenses because I’m under 18, but still, frames were like £90).
    The day after I bought them I found some vintage frames on American Apparel which where so pretty for half the price.

    And now 40% of my school have the same style (and have the same shocked expression and prolonged eye contact in the corridor when they realise the same thing).
    *die*

    My parents are making me wait until next year to get new ones.

    (gosh, this sounds so petty and angsty. I’m not a brat, I swear)

  • ErikaLynn November 27th, 2012 12:01 PM

    I love my vintage eyeglasses… I had them for a year or so but they pinched my nose a lot. I got them from this site

    http://www.vintageeyeglassesonline.com/

    But now I wear glasses that are so comfortable from warbyparker.com

    • Maddy November 27th, 2012 3:51 PM

      lol i was just on warbyparker looking at dog prescription lenses just because haha

  • mubymuu November 27th, 2012 1:30 PM

    As soon as i manage to break my recent glasses i shall surely follow this guide to get my own vintage glasses!!!!!!!!!!

  • Franckswife November 27th, 2012 2:17 PM

    OH MY GOD. LOVE ALL THOSES FACES (AND SUNGLASSES).

    Anaheed, you look so young and cute !

  • Franckswife November 27th, 2012 2:18 PM

    (don’t know why I wrote “SUNglasses” maybe because I’m french and stupid)

    • Simone November 27th, 2012 6:04 PM

      You meant to say French and delightful, right???

  • Ree November 27th, 2012 4:38 PM

    I have exactly the same frames as Anaheed; I feel special.

  • Kathryn November 27th, 2012 4:54 PM

    currently going crazy over maría and kendra’s glasses!!

    also cutie anaheed and her cutie hair

  • Taylor WM November 27th, 2012 5:22 PM

    Even though I spent a good month searching for the perfect pair of prescription glasses frames (Proudlock inspired tortoiseshell ones http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-FXv_ReNp76s/T9bl6qSUrUI/AAAAAAAABLk/EL8CDZgvJpk/s1600/DSC06606.JPG) , this has definitely given my the wanting (and the necessary advice!) to get another pair, or two… haha Thank you!
    Taylor x
    http://www.whitemoth.blogspot.co.uk

  • Simone November 27th, 2012 6:01 PM

    This is such a well-written and informative piece. And “check with your parent/guardian/Earth host family” cracked me up so bad. Gabby is hilarious!

    • Gabby November 28th, 2012 8:02 PM

      just looking out for all of our extraterrestrial readers!
      xx

  • litchick November 27th, 2012 7:25 PM

    This is so great, seriously! I’m getting sick of my current frames… time to look for a good vintage pair!

    P.S. Arabelle, your hair-color is amazing!

  • leaaislinn November 27th, 2012 8:20 PM

    kendraa!! so happy for her first article.

  • TexTerror November 27th, 2012 8:29 PM

    i have the exact same frames (http://instagram.com/p/QvbHkbMmIg/) as arabelle small world. i get an insane amount of compliments on them. :)))

  • stephanieaurora November 27th, 2012 8:57 PM

    AHHHHH now I can rekindle my love for vintage cat eye glasses! I’ve worn them since the sixth grade and it was so hard to find the perfect pair. Too bad the hipsters have discovered vintage glasses. x) Thank you Rookie!! <3

  • unicorn November 27th, 2012 11:09 PM

    ANAHEED WE HAVE MATCHING GLASSES!

  • cleobea November 27th, 2012 11:32 PM

    You are all so cool and your glasses are all so cool! Arabelle your glasses are so beautiful!! I want them! Also your hair color is kick-ass. I kinda wish I needed glasses now..

  • unicornconnect November 28th, 2012 1:01 AM

    THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!
    Glasses rule! It is super super annoying that people think glasses can’t be attractive and boys won’t like you unless you wear contacts.

    Next time I need glasses I will get some super cool vintage ones. I wanted to get these massive grandma ones but mum said they looked stupid:(

    Glasses kick asses baby!!!

    redpunzel-carla.blogspot.com

  • Blythe November 28th, 2012 2:18 PM

    DON’T get those transition lenses that get dark when you’re in a bright place. I’ve had them and they’re awful. They look dumb, since normal glasses are smaller than sunglasses, they take a long time to adjust so if you go from a dark place to a light place they won’t darken fast enough, and they darken with the flash when you take pictures.

  • giant vintage December 3rd, 2012 7:32 PM

    Oh my..you all look so lovely in your glasses and this article is very good.
    FYI – you CAN put lenses in any frames…even crappy glasses from F21.
    I have a vintage sunglasses shop and we have people put lenses in everything from our “optical quality” and acetate frames to our cheapest repro plastic…you just have to sign a waiver.

    not being a know-it-all..just thinking for the peeps who don’t have 30-80 bucks for the vintage frame of their dreams..this would be a good thing to know :)

    WORD! You guys rule!!

  • thesexyzebra December 22nd, 2012 10:46 PM

    My glasses are big, chunky purple plastic sunglasses frames which I had my prescription popped into. They’re super sturdy and cheap. <3 this.

  • mike January 1st, 2013 6:11 PM

    I just saw this great selection of vintage glasses at http://vintageopticalshop.com/vintage-eyeglasses.html

    I personally like the one on the second row

  • hiraari January 4th, 2013 3:51 PM

    I read this article like 2 months ago and then, I started looking for /the/ glasses, now, 2 months later I have my new vintage eye glasses and I’m loving them!
    Thank you so much guys for this article!
    Now my hipster eyeglasses are GONE! YAY!

  • StrawberryTwist January 13th, 2013 4:30 PM

    This article makes me want to go get some glasses! I have one average looking pair, but these are just crazy! I have always wanted to try a bright colored pair of glasses, such as sea foam green.

    http://fashiononfire.org/

  • Magdalen January 24th, 2013 12:56 AM

    Aaahhh! This article reminds me of my vintage Wayfarers with the cracked temple piece (50 cents [?!], because I am old and this was long ago). I only wore reading glasses then, and used to carry them in my front blazer pocket. They fell out one day on the bus, and I never saw them again.

    My grandma gave me a bunch of her old frames after that. The last ones broke just a few years ago. I have some Warby Parkers that I like now, but I am SO inspired to go hunting for a new old pair…. :)

  • Raebbies June 14th, 2013 6:23 AM

    My frames weren’t true vintage, but vintage inspired. They fit me so well most people at school would tell me how great my glasses were and one day in a hotel in paris…I SAT ON THEM and now i’ve been unsatisfied ever since. I’m not super happy with my current pair, but I own another pair of transparent frames that are quirky, kinda suits me when I’m in the mood