Spectacles as fashion accessories? What an eccentric idea…

Spectacle Frames are now claiming their rightful place as fashion items, and to make the most of any outfit you need to look at your eyewear as an accessory rather than a “necessary evil”.

Would you wear the same shoes with your best party clothes and your smartest business wear? For most people the answer is a definitive “No Way!”, so why expect the same spectacles to go with both?

Did you know that Parisian women own, on average, seven different pairs of spectacles? They change their eyewear to go with their outfits. Isn’t it time we started to do the same?

Use your spectacles as part of your overall look; don’t just plonk them on your nose as an afterthought. The wrong spectacles can make a fantastic outfit look cheap. We spend ages choosing the right jewellery, shoes and hairstyle to go with an outfit, why ruin it all with a decrepit, out-dated bland pair of spectacles?

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Plastic or metal frames?

There are two main types of materials for spectacle frames; metal and plastic. The choice is yours and the decision is generally made on style and comfort, however some metal frames contain nickel which can cause skin reactions in certain people. New nickel alloy frames usually have coatings which protect the wearer from direct contact with the nickel but these can wear off quite quickly leaving the nickel exposed, especially if you perspire heavily. If you suffer from a Nickel allergy it would be best to choose either a Plastic frame, which is unlikely to cause an allergic skin reaction, or a Titanium frame which is considered hypoallergenic. Stainless steel is also used in some frames and is less likely to cause a reaction than nickel, although they may still contain some nickel. Look for the words “nickel free” on the frame label or demonstration lenses.

If you have an active lifestyle a memory alloy frame could be for you. These frames are resistant to fatigue therefore will not kink or break easily. They have a memory so, unlike other metals, they can return to their original set shape. FlexonTM is the original memory metal frame material, supplied by Marchon, and here at Sarah Gibson Optometrist we maintain a good selection of these tough frames for both ladies and gents. If you break your frames regularly it is worth looking at this range. There are other memory metals available at lower cost but many do not come with the same two year replacement guarantee as FlexonTM frames.

Modern Plastic frames tend to be bright, chunky designs which make a bold statement.Some modern frames have metal fronts with thick patterned plastic sides. We also stock a range of more subtle classic ladies and gents plastic frames for those who prefer something a bit more discrete!
Plastic frames usually sit directly on the bridge of the nose as the nose pads are moulded as part of the frame. This distributes the weight of the frame more evenly across the nose and can be more comfortable if you have a sensitive nose, but it does mean that they cannot be adjusted. If it doesn’t fit when you try it on, it cannot be made to fit later. Plastic frames tend to sit closer to the eyes so if you have very long eyelashes or a very strong prescription make sure your eyelashes don’t touch the lenses.

Metal frames vary hugely in their design characteristics from subtle “barely there” rimless to bright acid colours with hugely ornamental sides, with all sorts in between.
Most metal frames have nose pads attached to adjustable metal arms. This makes the frames very adjustable so a good fit can be achieved on most people, but does mean that the weight of the frame is concentrated in smaller area. This adjustment is especially important if you are having bifocal or varifocal lenses as the correct fit is critical to the success of these lenses.

Always ask for advice when choosing your frames. Some frames are not really suitable for certain prescriptions and you will be advised of the most suitable type of frame when you are trying them on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what type of frame suits you best. At Sarah Gibson Optometrist our staff are trained to help you choose the best pair for your needs and will take into consideration your lifestyle, colouring, face shape and prescription when making recommendations.

Be proud of your spectacles. Make them part of who you are, not an afterthought!

Lens Materials

Spectacle lenses are available in either glass or plastic.

Glass lenses are often used for high prescriptions as they can be made thinner than plastic lenses by ordering high index materials. Glass is more scratch resistant than plastic, however glass can prove heavy to wear, and if dropped on a hard surface will shatter. Glass used to be the only option for photochromic lenses but now modern plastic versions have overtaken these lenses.

Plastic lenses are lighter and are more impact resistant than glass, making them safer to wear, however they have a tendency to scratch more easily if unprotected. These days’ plastic lenses tend to be the more popular choice; this is helped by the development of better quality lens coatings.

Lens Coatings

There are two types of lens coatings available. The first is a scratch resistant or hard coating. This can be put on plastic lenses to toughen the surface, making them less prone to scratching. Unfortunately it is not scratch proof but will prolong the life of a lens under normal use. It is especially useful on reading glasses that may be taken off and left lying around.

The second coating is an anti reflection coating. This can be applied to both glass and plastic lenses and is designed to both improve the wearer’s vision and the appearance of the spectacles. An anti reflection coating dramatically reduces the surface reflections from the spectacle lenses, which can be distracting and tiring for the wearer. By reducing this glare, more light is transmitted to the eye producing an improved clarity of vision and contrast. This coating is especially useful for people who use computers or work under artificial light, and who wear spectacles for night driving, when glare is particularly noticeable. Cosmetically anti reflection coated lenses are more appealing, as the wearers eyes become more visible behind their spectacles. They also cut out the reflections which appear as rings on the lenses, therefore making the lenses appear thinner.

The new generation of multi layer easy clean anti-reflection coatings means that along with the usual benefits, the lens surface is now smoother, attracts less dirt and is easier to clean. A hydrophobic and oliophobic top layer causes oil and water deposits to bead and form droplets upon contact with the lenses, instead of spreading out. This allows the droplets to glide away easily when cleaning, rather than being smeared around the lenses.

The smearing and difficulty in cleaning the lens has put many people off coated lenses. If you have tried them in the past but hated the way they smeared when you cleaned them, ask about the new easy clean coatings. You will be pleasantly surprised. Some of the top brand lens manufacturers refuse to supply an uncoated lens as they will not put their name to what they believe to be a second rate product!

Single Vision Lenses

Single vision lenses are designed to help the wearer either with their distance vision e.g. driving, watching television, or their close vision e.g. reading or computer use. If the wearer requires a different prescription for both these tasks, which is often the case at the age of 40+, then they can either have two, or even three separate pairs of spectacles, or for more convenience opt for bifocals or Varifocals.


Bifocal lenses allow the wearer to see distance and reading in one pair of Spectacles. They contain the distance prescription in the top half of the lens, and near vision in the bottom half. These lenses do look slightly different from single vision lenses as they contain a visible line, which separates the two prescriptions.

Varifocals (also called Multifocals or Progressive Addition Lenses)

Varifocal lenses provide the wearer with clear vision at all distances; distance, mid range (i.e. computer distance), and near in one pair of spectacles, therefore suiting a wider range of visual needs. In addition to providing a greater range of clear vision, they are cosmetically more appealing than bifocals as they do not contain any visible lines to indicate the wearer has them. Modern designs mean that getting used to a Varifocal lens is quite easy for most people. Don’t be put off by these lenses just because your friend or relatives didn’t get on with them. We are all different and some people adapt more readily than others. Lens designs are improving all the time and even people who couldn’t get used to them a few years ago can now wear the newer designs.

Aspheric Lenses

Standard lenses in a plus prescription (long sightedness) can appear very curved, making the centre of the lens thick. The stronger the prescription the worse this gets. As the prescription increases, it produces more magnification; therefore increasing the wearer’s eye size behind their lenses, and creating distortions. Aspheric lenses are flatter and thinner than conventional lens designs. They help to minimize the lens magnification, improve the appearance of the wearer’s eyes behind the spectacles, and help to cut out distortions. Aspheric lenses can be combined with high index materials for more improved cosmetic results.

High Index Lenses

If you are short sighted, your lenses will be thicker on the edges of the spectacles. If you are longsighted your lenses will be thicker in the centre. This thickness increases the stronger the prescription becomes. This is where high index lenses can help, as they are designed to improve the weight and appearance of spectacles. A high index lens is one which can be made thinner in the same power. This is due to the materials they are made from, having the ability to bend light more than the conventional lenses. The thinner the lenses become, the more lightweight they are to wear.

Photochromic Lenses

Photochromic lenses darken when activated by UV light. They are virtually clear indoors and darken on exposure to UV outdoors.

The original Photochromic lenses were Reactalight glass lenses. This particular brand name is no longer available but it has stuck as a generic term, much like we use Hoover when we mean a vacuum cleaner. The most common Photochromic lens available now is Transitions Plastic lenses. These are available from many manufacturers in many designs and are even available as thinner and lighter mid index materials. There are other Photochromic materials available; Reactions, Hoya Suntech and Kodak Sunsensors, but these generally do not react as fast as the latest generation Transitions V material.

They are excellent lenses for an outdoor lifestyle as they negate the need for additional sunglasses, but they are not suitable as driving sunglasses as they will not react particularly well behind a car windscreen. They require a certain amount of UV to activate the colour change and the car windscreen, being glass, will block the necessary UV.

There is a Photochromic lens that works differently and will work in a car. DrivewearTM lenses are a variable tint lens specially designed, as the name suggests, to react to different driving conditions. Unlike standard Photochromic lenses they have a permanent base tint which then gets darker as the sun gets brighter. They are not suitable for night driving as they do not go completely clear in the unreacted state.

Photochromic lenses are wonderful if you are outdoors a lot and can’t be bothered swapping between your clear specs and your sunglasses, but the reaction is not instantaneous. The lenses will darken in approximately 1-2 minutes but can take up to 17 minutes to go completely clear again. The speed of the reaction will depend on the actual photochromic material, the lens thickness and the temperature. It is also worth noting that all photochromic lenses will darken more if it is cold, although the latest material technology has reduced this tendency significantly compared to older versions.

How frame choice affects the lens thickness

Your choice of frame can have a significant effect on the final appearance of your spectacles. Always ask for advice on the size and type of frame that is most suited to your prescription.

If you are short sighted (minus prescription) you should try and choose a smaller frame as this will reduce the thickness and weight of your lenses. If you really want a large frame then you should consider high index lenses.

If you are long sighted (plus prescription) you should avoid very tiny frames as the edge of the lens can look thicker. If you want a very small frame then you should consider aspheric lenses or high index lens materials.