Sometimes eyeglasses feel like face billboards — visible-from-a-distance advertisements of poor eyesight. But a pair of glasses also...

Share story

Sometimes eyeglasses feel like face billboards — visible-from-a-distance advertisements of poor eyesight.

But a pair of glasses also can be appreciated as the ultimate personal accessory. They’re as stylish as any shoes, more practical than fancy cuff links and command more attention than any “it” bag because they are so in your face. Or, rather, on it.

Huge conglomerates including LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut and Target have the biggest share of the eyewear market because they also produce designer eyewear such as Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Armani.

But some of the most innovative eyewear out there is done by independent companies.

Ann Sacks sold the tile company that still bears her surname, and she was looking for other business opportunities when she noted that reading glasses were limited to cheap drugstore versions and expensive prescription styles from eye doctors.

Sacks figured that customers of high-end accessories such as bags, belts and shoes would buy stylish eyewear if fashion stores carried it. Frames from Amy Sacks Eyewear and Accessories, named for her daughter, start at about $80 and come in colors such as cherry, amber, avocado and tangerine. Many customers buy a wardrobe of eyewear.

“Why not spend some on an accessory that’s on your face on a daily basis?” says Angela Hood, the company’s marketing director.

Or imagine bamboo frames.

“There’s nothing else like this out there,” Hood says. “It’s hard to do that in this world.”

But novelty alone isn’t enough to sell product. The natural beauty tends to capture customers’ attention. Bamboo grain looks like wood but doesn’t swell and shrink. It’s a grass that grows quickly and spreads without the need to replant, so it is considered eco-friendly, a selling point in almost every industry. And it’s durable — stronger than oak — which means the wearer can look edgy and be sensible at the same time, a rare combination in fashion and life.

Amy Sacks offers several shapes starting at about $150. Demand is high; a few styles were recently on back order.

Reynolds Optical, established in 1910, carries many designer and rare brands, but when a stylish customer couldn’t find the high-concept glasses she imagined, owner Gary Piehl created them.

His INhouse and Aero lines have been spotted on Hollywood celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston. Aero has distinctive steel temple bars — often called arms or ear pieces — with small plane logos stamped on the inside. Some frames have the classic look of tortoise shell and horn but are synthetic imitations.

Piehl worked for Oliver Peoples and Los Angeles Eyewear, where he “fell in love with the business.” He wanted his own store, so he moved to Portland, Ore., to buy Reynolds in 1993.

“It was a mom-and-pop shop,” Piehl says. “They had me apprentice with them for a month before they would even agree to sell it to me.”

He notes that he looks like the founding father, whose portrait hangs in the shop. It’s not immediately obvious to some visitors, but then, they need glasses.

Finding your look

Many people in the eyewear business insist there is no surefire formula to finding the most flattering frames. It’s a matter of trying on several shapes with an open mind and an honest eye.

“The longer you are in the business,” says Piehl, “the more you realize that those rules are not set in stone.”

That said, Sunglass Hut, part of one of the largest eyewear conglomerates, offers an interesting online service. It includes multiple-choice questions to determine whether your personality is more attuned to classic, artsy or adventurous frame styles that include Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. (Almost all designer eyewear is created by the big eyewear companies to reflect the apparel designers’ signature style.)

To best determine whether your face is round, oval, square or heart shaped, you download your portrait on the site, find a similar face shape from the available models’ portraits, then click to find flattering frames. even lets you put virtual glasses by Diesel, Calvin Klein and others on your portrait, post it to Facebook and let your friends vote for the best look.

Beauty is in the eyewear of the beholder, but, generally, you want to avoid frames that echo your face shape: A square face with square frames can look too boxy; a round face with round glasses looks a bit owlish. But other things come into play. Skin, hair, eye and even clothes colors affect which frames will look best. Classic browns and blacks go with almost anything. But confident, creative types can make a wild apple green or aqua blue their signature look.

It comes down to personal preference. One small-boned person could rock a pair of giant round glasses, while another might feel like a living Poindexter. And a third might decide he looks like the cartoon brainiac — and love it!

Eyeglass shopping tips

The following tips are courtesy of Reynolds Optical:

Instead of trying to duplicate what you own, shop with an open mind.

When it comes to eyewear, Piehl believes in “love at first sight” and often encourages customers to trust their first reactions.

If you want a spouse or significant other to weigh in on your choice, bring them as you go through the selection process so they aren’t voting after the fact.

Eyewear is not a self-service industry, Piehl says. Take advantage of trained staff.

Generally, you want your eyebrows to show above your eyeglasses. Dark sunglasses are the exception because they completely cover the eyebrows.

Buy more than one pair. Many people have their practical, everyday glasses and an edgier pair to sport when the mood strikes.