Tell me what I need to know about buying eyeglasses for the first time
March 16, 2015 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Tell me what I need to know about buying eyeglasses for the first time so I ask the right questions and don't buy things I don't need. Cost is not really a factor, though; I'd rather do this right and not skimp (and regret it later). Bonus if you can recommend a specific place to go in Milwaukee. I do not want to order online.

I just don't want to get talked into a lot of stuff that doesn't really do anything (e.g. special lens coatings) BUT I don't mind paying for things that are worth the extra cost.

- I'm 40 so this is almost certainly just normal aging
- I'm on the computer a LOT and I've had to keep enlarging the font size
- I'm also squinting at menus
- Driving is a bit more difficult
- I don't play sports
- I'm good about not dropping or losing things

Again, I do not want to buy these online.
posted by desjardins to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
YMMV, but I find that the Crizal non-glare coating really helps me with reducing the glare from the computer screen, car headlights at night, etc. If there is any light whatsoever reflecting in or off my lenses, I get a migraine. Photos also turn out better- my eyes are actually visible, and not hidden by reflecting pools of light.

It's also "baked" into the lens itself - so no worries about it scratching, flaking off.
posted by invisible ink at 1:47 PM on March 16, 2015

The one thing I didn't appreciate when I went to get my first pair of glasses was that if I need a prescription to drive, I have to account for driving during the day. That is, get a second pair of prescription sunglasses or a clip for your regular pair.

I have had the same pair of glasses for about 16 years so I cannot help on any new technology in glass construction.

(I do concur that the best way to get your first pair is in store.)
posted by 724A at 1:48 PM on March 16, 2015

Are you going to get an eye exam? If you're set on doing this in person, you could just ask five people around you where they got their glasses, and if they'd go there again. Then just go get an eye exam, pick a frame you like (this is the part where you get ripped off, usually), and take their basic glasses+anti glare package, I guess.

I went to one of my local places because my friend's husband worked there, and then continued going there even after he was long gone, because inertia is a powerful force. You're not going to get crazy ripped off on coatings etc. The frame cost is much more relevant, I think.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2015

I work in the optical industry, so keep that part in mind. But the anti-glare coating is REALLY NICE for working in my overhead-fluorescent lighting cubicle in front of my glare-y monitors. It is also nice when driving in the dark on wet roads with overhead street lights (but not perfect). And, living in the humid midwest makes for the hydrophobic coating nice, too. (My glasses don't steam up when coming in or out in the cold, or when I'm exercising hard.) There are definitely low, mid and high-range offerings for both of these lens coatings.

I've had glasses since elementary school, so they are more an unconscious required part of my outfit than for other people. I got the Transitions lenses because of this. Multiple pairs of glasses (sunglasses and not-sunglasses) just seems too fiddly for me.

That being said, our (now retired) salesman prefers his cheap-y readers that you can buy in the aisles at a drug store. He mostly uses them for reading on his computer for emails or reading the menus, whereas he doesn't need glasses otherwise.
posted by jillithd at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have auto-darkening glasses that I use for skiing. They do NOT darken when I'm driving, no matter how sunny it is, and they take forever to lighten up again. The sunglasses I use for driving have very wide temples which blocks my peripheral vision. Irritating. Check that before you buy.

If your prescription calls for astigmatism correction, you're going to feel shorter until you get used to it.

Agree on anti-glare coatings. My first pair of glasses made every lamp, street light, etc. show up several times in my vision.
posted by mkb at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

If both driving and reading menus / computers is problematic than look into progressive lenses. You will hate them for the first day and you'll be convinced they got your prescription wrong but after a day or two you will be perfectly happy with them.

In my opinion, anti-glare is worth it. I also splurge for those titanium frames that you can wrap around your finger, stomp on, set on fire, and they'll pop right back into shape.

I attempted to buy glasses on-line once and even though they were maybe 1/5 the cost I was never happy with the results. So now maybe every five years I splurge for new frames, getting new lenses every couple of years as I need them.
posted by bondcliff at 1:54 PM on March 16, 2015

Make sure you pick frames that fit your face well (a good optician will help you do this) and the optician adjusts them to fine-tune the fit before you take them home. If your ears are at different heights or something and they don't adjust your glasses accordingly, wearing them will be super annoying.
posted by clavicle at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2015

Ask about continuously variable lenses. Mention specifically computer use and driving as issues. They take a bit of getting used to, but they're really really nice when you are used to them. Don't accept bifocals unless you like having a line across the centre of your vision.

Get independently adjustable nosepads. Frames with noserests that are just flat spots with no adjustment can be hellish.

I'm really rough on glasses. No pair of frames has lasted for me until I got titanium ones. Expensive, but so worth it. they don't corrode either, which brass, especially, is prone to.
posted by bonehead at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2015

Anti-glare is worth it. They might offer thinner lenses, depending on your prescription. Also worth it. I've never been offered a hydrophobic coating but I would jump like anything on it if it were available.

I don't like the auto-darkening, it doesn't respond fast enough or get dark enough for me.

Absolutely go somewhere in person, and if you can, find a place that isn't part of a chain -- they'll do things like keep bending your glasses until they no longer make you want to puke because the lenses are in slightly different locations than they used to be. In other news, it takes a few days for them to feel normal -- I've had the same prescription for 10 years and it took me several days of being very careful how I moved my head to get used to my new ones.
posted by jeather at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2015

Yes, non-glare coating is worth it. Also ultralight lenses. Any of the optical chains will fix mistakes for no charge. It sounds like your prescription is pretty straightforward so you can probably get them in an hour. It's best to try on frames to find a flattering comfortable one, so I agree mail order is not good idea. I also prefer plastic frames instead of the ones with the little nosepieces which I find uncomfortable.

Have worn glasses for forever so know not to skimp. It's your face we're talking about after all.
posted by lazydog at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone above about anti-glare coating and thin lenses being totally worth it.

Another suggestion: don't feel obligated to buy your frames and lenses from the same place where you get your eye exam. You CAN walk out with just a prescription and then go shopping at other glasses stores if you don't see anything you like. I would scour Yelp for high-rated glasses shops and check out their selection if you are looking for something really stylish.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am farsighted and I have a pretty low prescription so I mostly only use glasses for reading. I have one pair of nice-ish Ray-Ban reading glasses that an optician friend gave me as a gift, that I keep at the office.

The rest of the time: I buy the Costco three-packs and leave them in various places around the house and in my to-go bags. They're ridiculously inexpensive (about $5 each) but not especially cheap-looking and quite durable. (I regularly just slide one into my pocket if I'm going out to a restaurant or bar so I can whip them out to look at the menu--they've never broken.) If you're at all lazy like me, it's nice to always have a spare pair at hand and not have to go hunting for them.
posted by psoas at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2015

For shopping online: once you have tried on a lot of pairs and have bought a pair from a company and know what things you like and don't like, and know what size of glasses looks good and what shapes and what colours and materials, sure, buy a spare set online.

But buying your first set in a store is absolutely worth the price you pay for the customer service.
posted by jeather at 2:07 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've had more than one ophthalmologist tell me that for normal aging-related presbyopia (difficulty with up-close vision like reading) the drugstore reading glasses are a totally reasonable place to start. So you may want to spend $10 or so on a pair and try them out. If those work for you, you have the added benefit of being able to buy 3-4 pairs and just stash them in places where you're likely to do reading and not have to carry them around with you all the time.

I, on the other hand, have pretty bad nearsightedness and spending the money for the thinnest, lightest glasses I can find saves me (literal) headaches from the weight. I think I also have anti-glare coating, it's been a few years since I bought new glasses. I am personally a big fan of polarized sunglasses for driving.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 2:11 PM on March 16, 2015

Get anti-glare. Spend on a high-index lens if your prescription is high. (Though these are thinner, they can actually be on the slightly heavy side compared to some plastics. Not really an issue unless you have rosacea like I do [high prescription + heavy lenses = busted capillaries across nose bridge requiring treatment :( ].)

2nd avoiding chains, they just sort of don't care, really. I learned the best frame proportions to suit my face from an optician at an independent shop.

2nd getting one really beautiful pair of frames, and a decent back-up pair. They're framing your face and eyes, they should look and feel lovely. I personally think it's best to stick with neutral colours; kooky ones are... well, glasses already distort the lines of your face, not sure why people want to make things even wackier.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've worn glasses since elementary school. Mine are for distance, but I wear them when reading/using the computer too, because arm's length is far enough for me to need them.

Anti-glare is awesome. For me, since I tend to be pretty un-gentle with my things, scratch-resistant lenses were also worth it. Glasses do increase light sensitivity for me, but I lost and then broke two consecutive pairs of clip-on sunglasses, so now I just buy small-frame glasses and wear a pair of sports sunglasses right over them. It feels a little odd, but it's much cheaper for me personally.

Even if you're good at not breaking things, I would recommend buying a really cheap set of plastic frames as a spare.

At least with your first set, buy them in a store. Getting the fit just right is important; you can ask them to move the nose pieces around as many times as you want - and do keep doing that until they feel okay. And do get a pair that has adjustable nosepads. They're so, so much more comfortable than the alternative.
posted by Urban Winter at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2015

Are you definitely in "need prescription glasses" territory? I hit that can't-read-close-up-any-more age last year, and the result of my exam was that I should get either bifocals/varifocals or reading glasses.

I went with the readers, and I'm quite liking them as "starter" glasses: I never had glasses before and I'd be worried about losing or breaking or scratching or otherwise abusing an expensive pair of prescription glasses. My readers on the other hand are dirt cheap ($20 for a 3-pack from Costco) and so far have been a good low-risk introduction into the glasses-wearing lifestyle. (Always know where they are; don't leave them in unfamilar places because you won't remember where you put them; don't leave them lying on the patterned bedsheet because they become invisible and you will sit on them; oh god they need cleaning again; go easy around the noseclip when you clean them because *ping* oops; and so on.)

Costco! Costco optometrists are independent contractors; the one at our store is good. I haven't bought prescription glasses from them yet, but probably will when the time comes. (Partner does. She may correct me, but my impression was that Costco optical was significantly cheaper and less naggingly up-selly than high-street opticians, had decent service, but a more limited and more conservative selection of frames.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've gone to Optix on Downer for years and years and they are just lovely. Bonus: They're right next door to Breadsmith, so you can grab a delicious artisan loaf for dinner after your eye appointment.

They will offer (read: try to upsell) you the much-aforementioned anti-glare coating and you should definitely buy it -- the first year it was available there, I refused to shell out for it because it was like $40 or $50 extra, and I rued the damn day until I could pick up my new lens prescription the next year. Anti-glare coating: Worth it.

Oh, and if you have a mind to do so, ask your eye doctor or the receptionist to write down your pupillary distance (PD) and prescription -- so once you have your desired form and fit figured out, you can buy your next pair (prescription sunglasses, bifocals, reading glasses, whatever) at a much more affordable price from Zenni, Warby Parker, etc. I only use 'regular' glasses so I just buy them from Optix, but if I needed more than the one pair per year that's covered by my insurance, I would go the PD-->online ordering route for sure.
posted by divined by radio at 2:20 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also: I just use old glasses for this, but you might want to get a totally crappy plastic pair to sleep in, so you can feel free to ruin them when you roll around, drop them on the floor, etc.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2015

Make sure your glasses aren't too tight; I've struggled for years unnecessarily with glasses that literally wore a grove in the side of my skull.

Get the anti-glare, anti-scratch treatment and always go for light weight plastic rather than glass ones.

If possible, get two pairs just as insurance against loss or breakage, especially if you're going for reading glasses only. That way you could e.g. leave one pair at home, one at work and you won't end up forgetting them either.

Take your time buying glasses when you go for them and take somebody you trust with you. One of the annoyances buying glasses is not able to see properly when you're trying them on, so it's always good to have a second opinion.

Don't go for too fashionable a pair, unless you know you're going to buy new ones in a year or so. Just get a decent pair that fits your face.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:31 PM on March 16, 2015

As divined by radio says above, be sure to get a copy of your full eye prescription from your eye doctor. Don't feel pressured to buy frames at the same place you get your eye exam. The eye doctor's office does not necessarily have the best selection, best quality, best price, or the person best able to help pick the right frames for you.

Go for high quality frames and an optician that takes the time to size them properly for you. It's work the extra money, in my opinion. Poor quality or poorly-fitted frames can leave you with sore ears or nose over time. Good quality well-fitted frames will feel quite invisible. (Think cheap shoes that pinch vs. your most comfortable walking shoes).

A good optician will also be able to select frames that suit your head and face. If it's just a sales person handing you random frames telling you you look great, walk out. You need feedback about what looks bad too!
posted by Kabanos at 2:41 PM on March 16, 2015

Also: I just use old glasses for this, but you might want to get a totally crappy plastic pair to sleep in, so you can feel free to ruin them when you roll around, drop them on the floor, etc."

Do people sleep in with their glasses on? Have I been doing this wrong?

If you are going to sleep with glasses on get some that won't poke you in the eye and won't dig into your nose.
posted by 724A at 3:12 PM on March 16, 2015

A few random choices I've regretted over the years:
- buying sexy but "too face-hugging" glasses that got really hot & sweaty. Okay, they were sunglasses, but might happen with normal ones? Maybe.
- buying superlight titanium ones with bendy arms. They're a pain to store (you obviously can't "fold" them), also I couldn't really wear a hood with them cuz the arms stuck out so wide. They just sucked.
- tiny lenses mean you only have a fairly small field of sharp vision
It also sounds like you wouldn't be wearing yours all the time yet (maybe?), so I'd also check if they're portable / easily fit into a non-huge case.

(I've never known anyone who slept with their glasses on, and I've shared bedrooms with a lot of people with glasses.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:31 PM on March 16, 2015

Some very near-sighted people read themselves to sleep with their glasses on because removing them would disrupt an already fragile sleep induction process. (Granted, this might be a small population - can't be just me, though, really? I've wrecked & scratched & bent dozens of pairs of glasses by sleeping in them, having done it for 30+ years, so I thought it might be relevant.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2015

With luck, the person at the store should have good suggestions about which frames will work for you. There's a bewildering range of choices so be ready for it to take some time to choose. Ideally, bring a stylish friend to help evaluate how frames look on you. Another option is to take photos of yourself in your top three choices, get friends to look at them, and come back the next day to make your final choice. Take your time picking frames and (IMO) be willing to spend a bit more to get ones you really like. Nice frames can be really expensive, but if you're wearing them every day, you'll notice the difference between frames that are just okay and ones you feel really good about.

Sizing: Different frames come in different sizes -- sizes of the lens frames, and the distance between the lens frames (width of your nose), and the distance all the way across (ie width of your head). So there will be some frames that you just can't get in your measurements. Some brands/types are good for people with small heads, or medium heads and close-together eyes, etc. If you go to a good shop they should be able to point you to the ones that are most likely to work for your measurements; this will narrow down your search considerably.

The arms (long bits that go over your ears) come in different lengths and can be shortened (keeps the glasses from sliding down your nose). If they're too short you'll get a headache. Adjustment is crucial, be sure the person takes their time with it, and if you start getting headaches, come back in and get them to change it.

Day after: The first day or two it can be a little weird especially when going down stairs or other actions that require you to look down. Take it easy and don't be freaked out, this should pass in the first couple days. If it doesn't, go back. (I once had an eyeglasses place put lenses with the wrong prescription in my glasses.) Go back and they should double check everything about them for free.

Care: Don't sleep in them, because it can bend the frames over time; don't leave them in a hot car because it can wreck the coatings.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2015

and some people hate waking up unable to see anything.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:52 PM on March 16, 2015

Thinking about it, probably some frames are better able to take being slept in than others. The drawback of sleeping in them is it puts forces on parts that aren't designed to take the forces that way, so if you got ones that were more resilient it might be less of a problem? If you want to sleep in them, maybe ask the salesperson about this aspect.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:00 PM on March 16, 2015

One thing to remember later on is that if you need them adjusted, any optical shop will do this for you free of charge. It's just industry standard. Don't be shy about going to the place that's closest to wherever you are when you need it done. And glasses need to be adjusted a few times a year.
posted by radioamy at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2015

Although they can look trendier I find solid plastic frames much less pleasant to wear than flexible titanium frames, but I get the titanium frames with hinges not the super-bendy ones that ClarissaWAM warns against. Flexon is the make I've found most comfortable.
posted by anadem at 5:09 PM on March 16, 2015

Get lens coating to cut out glare and make sure your lenses are scratch resistant. Also, make sure they are comfortable. If they feel a little tight on the sides of your head, it won't seem like a big deal at first, but wearing them 24/7 won't be fun. Make sure they aren't too tight, but also don't instantly slide down your nose too.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:17 PM on March 16, 2015

Outside of all the coatings, etc., different frames cost vastly different amounts of money and don't always have prices clearly marked. My optometrist has one rack where they keep the frames that are covered by medicaid, etc. Pay attention while you're shopping; don't bother trying on $300 frames if you, like me, just don't care that much.
posted by metasarah at 8:06 PM on March 16, 2015

I am not in Milwaukee, but I had a very good experience a bit back with Costco for eye exams/glasses, better than I've had with other chains or with my last experience with a standalone optometrist's office, especially on price. My current pair from Zenni online were cheaper, but they were the most affordable of anywhere else I've been for things that actually looked decent. Their frame selection wasn't the best, but it wasn't bad.
posted by Sequence at 8:33 PM on March 16, 2015

Whatever you do, plan to spend time getting used to them, especially if you are given progressive lenses. Eyes and brains need time to adjust and perceive the changed vision. Ask your eye doctor when you should be wearing them, and for at least the first week or two make sure to be in situations where you are wearing them as much as possible.

Additionally, your eye glasses need to sit in the correct position in front of your eyes to work properly. It is not that uncommon to accidentally "bend" your eye glasses (they were dropped, the dog sat on them, etc). If so, they may no longer work properly; your vision feels "off." With good quality frames, the optician can easily re-adjust them to put them back into "place". Be sure the eye glasses can be adjusted free of charge for at least 2 years after purchasing them.
posted by apennington at 5:59 AM on March 17, 2015

I had written a long response yesterday that I lost when my iPad froze, so here's a briefer version:

I'be worn glasses regularly from age 5, but switched to contacts a few years ago. Basically, I agree with those who say don't skimp on frames, that basically become a part of your face while you are wearing them. I've had the best luck finding frames that I love and helpful salespeople, who were very good at selecting frames that would look good on me, when I've bought my glasses at boutiquey optician shops than places like LensCrafters or what's available at my ophthalmologist's office. Once you have a good idea of what styles/brands suit you, you may branch out and find cheaper alternatives for subsequent pairs. And if you take good care of them and don't choose frames that will look dated in a few years, you can keep the same frames for awhile and change the lenses as necessary.

If you get progressives as I had to a few years ago, after reading about them and hearing how they can be a difficult transition for some, I went ahead and opted for Zeiss lenses. Maybe it's totally unconnected, but I had absolutely no difficulty getting used to them. The problem--and reason that I switched to contacts--progressive lenses are expensive. I went from paying about $100-125 for my lenses to around $450! The money that I used to spend on getting nice frames, now was eaten up by my lenses. A year of contacts is less expensive for me than just the lenses sans frames. I've also had a rough stint in the last few years, so that played a role in my decision. I wear drugstore readers when I don't wear my contacts, which gave me a headache at first, but I think that's due to the fact that I have one eye that is nearsighted, while the other farsighted.

I'll mention one more thing about wearing glasses since you live in a cold climate of which you might not be aware. When you transition from the cold into a heated environment, your glasses may fog up momentarily rendering you unable to see. Same thing can happen in the rain. Just take them off for a second or wipe them with one of the lens cleaning clothes.
posted by kaybdc at 9:54 AM on March 17, 2015

Thanks y'all! I ordered my glasses a couple of weeks ago and picked them up today. The salesperson was really impressed at how much I "knew" and I feel really confident that I got the right thing. The doctor told me that I don't need bifocals/progressives yet but I will in a couple of years.
posted by desjardins at 9:06 PM on April 21, 2015

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