Buying new eyeglasses... lots of questions
August 7, 2005 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Multi-part question about eyeglasses and eye tests...

Okay, so I'm in the market for new eyeglasses and I also need to get my eyes tested as it's been about a decade. I have a lot of questions, some for eyeglass shoppers and others for opticians / optometrists if we have any here on Mefi:

1. Eye Tests:

a. The gov't used to cover eye tests (I'm in Ontario) but no longer do, so I have to pay for an eye test. Are they all the same (and I should therefore find the cheapest) or does it make a difference who I go to? I don't mind paying extra if it's worth it but do if I'm just paying more to cover their chi-chi offices. How do I find a good optometrist and what should I expect to pay? (I'm a 37 yo male if that makes a difference.)

b. Is there an optimal time of the day to get one's eyes checked in order to get a prescription? X hours after waking, for instance. I know this sounds stupid but I thought I'd ask anyway.

2. Frames

I like subtle but unique looking frames, usually not-wire rims. Past brands have included LA Eyeworks and Face A Face, to give you an idea of what I like. These (flash site/sound) are also cool but haven't been able to find them in Toronto. With that in mind:

a. Toronto people: I usually shop at Rapp, but I'm gonna try other places this time around. Was in Spectacle on Queen W the other day and found a nice pair. Where do you shop for cool specs?

b. Web eyeglass shoppers: What are some good sites that I can order frames from? I'm especially interested in purchasing ones that I am able to try on locally and then buy online (for cheaper), so that's probably only possible with well known brands.

c. What are some web sites for eyeglass designers that I can look at to be somewhat armed when I shop? I'm looking for more sites like the Michel Henau one linked above.

3. Any opticians on Mefi?

a. Do you have any advice for shopping for glasses? How do I get the best price/options? I know there are different kinds of coatings and whatnot you can get. Are they bullshit? Are some better than others? What should I get/avoid?

b. What should I expect for my money? (Rapp, for instance, allows you to come in anytime and have your glasses adjusted on the spot.)

c. I prefer the weight of glass over plastic for my lenses. What are the pros and cons of each?

4. Anything else whatsoever that I'm not thinking of?

Apologies for the length and number of questions but this is only my 3rd pair of glasses in 20 years so I want to make sure I get it right as I don't buy too often.
posted by dobbs to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not an opthamologist, but I've worn glasses for twenty-some years. From my experience (and, of course, ymmv): anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings are definitely worth it, especially if you plan to keep these for six or seven years.

Check out, if only to look at a very large selection of frames, viewed through a pretty good search engine.
posted by box at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

In Ottawa, here, but very familiar with T.O..

There are two kinds of eye exams: the human kind and the machine kind. The machines are becoming far more common. Machine pro: very fast, a matter of seconds. Machine con: tired eyes can throw the machine off (I had access to one and tried it three times). Eye exams run $50 or $60 but look around for deals. We get good offers through flyers but if you had some I'm guessing you'd have mentioned them. They often include an eye exam and some eyeglass packages.

Time of day? No, just don't have tired eyes. Give yourself at least an hour after waking, and don't do it at the end of a long day.

Glass vs. plastic. Glass are far more resistant to scratching than plastic. Plastic is a lot lighter, but that may or may not make a difference depending on the lenses you want. Big honkin lenses (or really thick ones) will weigh a lot in glass, but if your prescription is mild and you like smaller lenses, like I do, then glass lenses weigh very little also.

Be aware that anti-glare coating makes every smudge on your lenses visible from across a well-lit room. My sister first warned me of this and she was right. So it's a tradeoff. Smudges practically glow. But then I've not been without anti-glare so perhaps that would be much worse.

Sounds like you need to do more wandering/browsing, if you intend to buy in person. I would never go to one shop and buy, not eyeglasses. They all have packages, and it's easy enough to find out what they are. Why not hit five? They'll all have different styles, too. Doesn't mean trying them all on. Go in, ask about their deals, and they'll say something like "exam and frames from set A for $150; exam and frames from set B $250" and then you glance at the A list to see how ugly they are, compare to B, then find out about options (lens coatings). Unfortunately, many packages include contacts, which you may or may not want.
posted by dreamsign at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2005

Oliver Peoples has some really nice frames.
posted by iconomy at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2005

a) It's evil that Ontario has stopped paying for eye exams, it's a medically necessary procedure. (Says the former Ontarioan who has worn glasses since age 8, prescription changing yearly to age 25, and cannot read or even walk around without them). They are condemning poor people (like me) to poor vision, evil bastards. (And yes, I know it's the Liberals that have done it.)

I can't answer all of your questions, but I'll just give a bit of advice/insight from the last few times I bought glasses (which was in Toronto).

I don't think there is any difference for optomitrists - the exam is very standard, and you just want to know your prescription. Do check that the optomitrist is willing to give you your prescription to take elsewhere, because some try to force you to buy glasses from them. If you have any chance of eye complications (a disease or condition, etc), try to see an opthamologist instead - also, that may be covered. I don't think it matters when you get your eyes checked - I have just gone when I had the appointment.

Glasses shops: You do get what you pay for in terms of service and competence, but only to a certain point. I bought a very expensive pair of glasses (for me - $500, half of it for lenses) from a somewhat fancy place, but they let me get glass lenses that were too heavy for the frames, which promptly broke in 6 months of regular wear. They fixed them once, the frames broke again, the same way after another 4 months, and they left me high and dry. I only found out later why the frames had broken when talking to the people in another fancy eyeglasses shop, who may have been yet more expensive (didn't buy there), but were very competent. Moral of the story - don't buy from the shop in Mt Sinai hospital, they suck; do buy from the shop on Bloor east of Royal York (sorry, forgetting names).

That said, my latest pair came from Hakim, the bargain basement of eyeglasses in Toronto (aside from Honest Eds - yes, they do sell them), and have lasted for 3 years through some pretty rough treatment - I camp in them, swim in them, sleep on them. $400 for two pairs, most of which was the cost of the lenses.

I too prefer glass over plastic - they don't scratch as easily (a big concern for me). That said, make sure the frames you get are designed to handle the weight. The frameless or titanium armed are not designed to handle the weight, especially if you have a strong prescription as I do. This is a good test on the competency of your optomitrist - if they start to warn you away from certain frames based on your lenses choice, and can explain why, they are good. If they just want you to get the most expensive/fashionable - get out of there.

Pros and cons? Plastic is lighter, glass is heavier. Glass doesn't scratch as easily. If you like the weight, and don't mind forgoing the fashionable really lightweight frames, then glass really is best. (It is hard to explain to new glasses wearers or some shops why you prefer the weight, but I certainly do).

As for coatings - it's hard to say. They never existed when I was a kid, and we were all just fine (whole family in glasses). But the shops will push them, and explain how you can't live without them (they make money off them). The anti-glare can make you look better in pictures (I just take mine off), the scratch resistent is good for plastic lenses. That said, I think the anti-glare coating itself tends to scratch easily. It's all crazy. The only thing I would think to do would be to research the coatings on your own, decide what's important to you, and don't give into the sell. You may not need anti-scratch with glass lenses.

Frames? - get what you like, get what feels good, get what fits your facal type. Some frames just cannot be work by some people - the eyes will be in the wrong place. My mother in law was sold a pair that do not fit her face at all - the eyes are too low for hers. Try to find a place that will fit you well, understands the engineering of the frames and not just the style, will fix them and do adjustments - this Rabb place sounds good.
posted by jb at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2005

Oh - I can tell you that smudges do not show without anti-glare coating.

One solution to the really high prescription, really thick lenses problem (I have myopia of -9 and -11), which also gets rid of the unattractive facial distortion is to go with really small frames. Just big enough for your eyes. Without paying for expensive extra thin lenses, I have lenses that are only 1/2 cm thick - less than when I was a kid, and big frames were fashionable.
posted by jb at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2005

When I was searching for new frames, I fell in love with ProDesign's titanium beauties. Get the anti-glare coating for sure; it allows others to see your eyes clearly.
posted by fionab at 11:09 AM on August 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.

Some details: my prescription is very mild. I really only need them for night/distance.

My last pair of glasses (which I've lost) were about 9 years old and had never broken. They were from LA Eyeworks and I believe they were about $400 (without the lenses), which is about the price of all the frames I've found in the past week that I like ($300-$420). For that money I expect them to last a hell of a long time and I have no doubt the lost ones would have been kicking a lot longer. I'd go on a rampage if my glasses broke in 6 mos. :)

dreamsign, should I avoid the machine tests altogether? The last time I had them tested it was about a 30 min process ("worse, better, the same?" etc).

None of the stores I've looked at have "package deals" so to speak. They all give me business cards of optometrists for tests and don't have one on-site. I've never browsed at those Hakim/Lenscrafters-like places simply because I always dislike the glasses they have in the window. I suppose it doesn't hurt to pop into one though.

One of the things I like about my last two pairs of glasses is that I never met anyone with the same frames though I got plenty of compliments on them. I'm not much of a fashion hound in general but for some reason glasses seem more important (probably because they're such a prominent part of your 'wardrobe'). The cheapie-type places frames mostly seem just very plain.

Also, on iconomy's link there are sizes and such given... how does one find out their own size? Do I just find a pair of frames I like and then ask the seller the size? Those numbers seem very... precise/specific.
posted by dobbs at 11:09 AM on August 7, 2005

You ought to take a look at A friend and I both bought from them and both of us love the glasses. I paid $100 American for blended trifocals, and they are the best glasses I have ever owned.
posted by phewbertie at 11:24 AM on August 7, 2005

This isn't what you asked, and is perhaps too obvious, but if you like the frames you have now, have you considered just getting new lenses? My shop cheerfully reuses frames.
posted by QIbHom at 12:08 PM on August 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks phewbertie, will check it out.

QIbHom, I lost them.
posted by dobbs at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2005

These questions might also be of some help.
posted by keijo at 12:16 PM on August 7, 2005

From my experience (and, of course, ymmv): anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings are definitely worth it, especially if you plan to keep these for six or seven years.

I disagree. If you do lots of outdoorsy stuff or you're rough and tumble with your glasses, these coatings can peel unevenly, really messing with your line of vision. I had my last set of lenses for less than two years before I had to replace them because of peeling coatings.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:20 PM on August 7, 2005

Ah, sorry, dobbs. I often forget the obvious, so was just projecting horribly.
posted by QIbHom at 12:41 PM on August 7, 2005 served me extremely well when I recently bought glasses. Their price for the same frames was 30% cheaper than everywhere else I looked. My advice? Find the frames you like in real life; try them on, make sure they're comfortable, durable, etc...and then proceed to purchase them here.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:45 PM on August 7, 2005

Tons of good advice - my 2 cents, as someone bespectacled from age 5:

The exam itself is standard, the difference is finding someone who takes time to really nail the prescription. Sometimes lower cost places rush you through, and you feel pressured to say "one" looked better than "two", even if you're not sure and really could benefit from going back and forth a bunch of times.

I was pressured into getting anti-scratch/anti-flare coatings once. I was back within 6 months having them removed. Don't do it.
posted by jalexei at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2005

"...the human kind and the machine kind..."

No. There are some machines that can determine what prescription you need in order to attain 20/20 vision, but only an optometrist can perform a full optical exam. The optical exam includes some other procedures (the "puff test" for instance) to determine overall ocular health. Optometrists are often the first line of defense for things such as diabetes. Don't skimp if you are only going to do this every few years -- spend a few extra bucks for a comprehensive eye exam.
posted by davidmsc at 2:52 PM on August 7, 2005

A great place to buy glasses in Toronto is Specs & Specs on Queen just west of the City TV building. I got a pair of glasses there (with all the coatings) and lost them in a lake one summer. They washed up on shore a year later, without a scratch (this is a true story). I wore those glasses for two years after they returned, and only got new ones because I felt like a change. They also have an optometrist in an office upstairs, I got a walk-in appointment with him with no problem.
I also know someone who bought glasses at Optic Zone, on Jarvis, south of King. The owner spent nearly an hour helping my friend pick the right frames, and also had a specific type of lens (Nikon high-index lenses) which most other stores don't carry.
posted by nprigoda at 5:10 PM on August 7, 2005

Also, coatings on inexpensive lenses may peel, or scratch, but if you get high quality (and unfortunately, high price) lenses, the coatings are very durable. Make sure you get lenses with coatings that have favourable reviews.
posted by nprigoda at 5:17 PM on August 7, 2005

I've never heard of a machine exam and wouldn't trust one. But here in Australia the optometrists tests are still free. I have plastic lenses with anti-scratch and anti-glare, and have not ever had a problem (several years of daily wear). One other thing - UV coating is good. Cataracts are in part due to UV exposure, so why not get free full-time protection?

All of the spectacle shopps here in Melbourne seem to be cut-throat, and one of them is always having a 50% sale at some time. So that's how I choose my shop.
posted by wilful at 5:54 PM on August 7, 2005

i find that the quality of the shop comes from both the selection of frames and the expertise of the staff. a good optician will be able to pick out frames that go well with your face and can really help you pick out good ones. i was initially skeptical of the ones that my optician picked out but i decided to go for em and i get compliments nearly every day.

anyhoo, definitely try em on your face before you buy.
posted by radioamy at 6:17 PM on August 7, 2005

Lots of good advice here. Looks like I've been lucky with the coatings (got mine in Malaysia, so no idea how different they might be).

only an optometrist can perform a full optical exam

Well this is true, but this is not the first pair of glasses for our poster. If you need a complete eye exam, natch, get one. If you just need a replacement pair of glasses, then that isn't necessary.

Since this is an important purchase, I would do the optometrist if you have time, if only because I noticed variation in the machine's output (and my worse eye is 20/20, and it did detect the difference on a good reading -- like you, I only need glasses for night and extended reading). I wouldn't skimp on time (or money, except that more money doesn't guarantee a good purchase).

Unfortunately, my spouse seems to have finally tossed out the flyers she kept pressing me to read. I didn't (of course) and so can only guess, but the last time I looked around, I was looking at something like $400 for a pair with full coatings and contacts thrown in. About half that for a pair with no coats and no contacts.

And Ontario is not the only one. B.C. did this shortly before I left, and of course *no one* covered it then, because the student/work plans hand't "adjusted" to the vacuum left by the provincial plan. It's all nonsense. But then, the idea of paying premiums for health care was pretty shocking to me when I moved out there, too. What happened to universal health care?
posted by dreamsign at 12:30 AM on August 8, 2005

My 2 cents: Don't skimp on the lenses if you're getting glass. Glass lenses are more expensive, but they can be higher quality than any plastic if you're willing to pay for it. Zeiss lenses are very good and they have a coating that turns reflections green and also blocks 100% UV, which I recommend.

My optometrist always did the machine and the hand test with me, and they always agreed on my fairly mildly myopic eyes.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:00 AM on August 8, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to all who answered. Got my eyes checked ($92).

Bought glasses at Spectacle ($Don't ask).

Overall, very painless. I opted for the anti-scratch coating as I had to get plastic lenses (glass to heavy for the frames I wanted). Coating is guaranteed for 2 years.
posted by dobbs at 5:03 PM on August 10, 2005

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