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Glass Distinctions: Which Eyewear Frames Suit Your Personal Style?

Glass Distinctions: Which Eyewear Frames Suit Your Personal Style?

You don’t want the same boring frames. But how much of a style risk can you live with every single day?

The glasses he wore as Clark Kent were as potent a style trademark as his “S” logo and spit curl. Maybe even more so; with that single accessory, a simple pair of specs, he could signify that he’d assumed the identity of his earthbound alter-ego and everything that went with it—intelligence, humility, gentle Midwestern manners. His Superman persona, on the other hand, required spandex and what appears to be copious hair gel—both of questionable taste.

Eyewear can define who you are and who you want to be perhaps more than anything else a man owns. “You could have a great pair of shoes or a great suit, but people are first connecting with your face, so finding the right pair of glasses is crucial,” said designer Garrett Leight, who has followed in the footsteps of his father Larry Leight, founder of 28-year-old Oliver Peoples, by creating his own eponymous eyewear company which specializes in frames inspired by classics from the literary and film worlds.

For me, finding the perfect pair of glasses is about being comfortable with risk-taking. When I moved to New York at the age of twenty-two with zero feathers, no cap, and the innocuous, thin metal frames I’d worn since grade school, I knew I needed a change to make an impression. After trying on dozens of options, I went with thick, acetate Alain Mikli frames; their subtle black, white and gray coloring lit up when the sun hit just right.

Compliments poured in. I felt confident enough to pull off more stylish clothes. I got my first job. I found the girl who became my wife. Was it the glasses? I think so. (More on that later.)

I may be an extreme Cinderella story, dubious evidence of the power of stylish eyewear, but just look at our sartorial history. Le Corbusier was a brilliant architect, but would he be as recognizable without his glasses? Cary Grant and Michael Caine were style icons, but they’re ranked higher in the pantheon because they glamorized glasses back when most of the four-eyed population looked like nerds from central casting. And turn on the television these days after any NBA or NFL game. Athletes, the opposite of nerds in the schoolyard sense, are now wearing eyewear for the postgame peacocking sessions.

In other words, everyone wants to be Clark Kent these days instead of Superman. Quite literally. The chunky, horn-rimmed frames the Daily Planet reporter sported—seen only on hipsters a decade ago—are now far more popular and mainstream than, say, the conservative rimless, metal frames favored by Donald Rumsfeld or Edward Snowden.

LENS FACTORS

How daring to go? How much to spend? Consult our matrix

Though acetate frames are ubiquitous, you’ll find enough variety to make a wide range of statements. Black rectangles signal sternness, seriousness. Tortoise shell is friendlier with a touch of the literary and/or preppy. Anything colorful reads playful and outgoing; people who wear them are a self-selecting group. Oversize frames like those worn by David Hockney should also be reserved for the truly confident—you’ll know when you’re ready.

But there are calculated risks a man can take without being “that guy with the glasses.” Mr. Leight suggested a crystal (translucent plastic) frame. “People think it’s a bigger risk than it is,” he said. “But I think even a brown crystal or a pink crystal is a good way to be a little bolder. It’s just different enough, and if it’s the right shape it could be a great look.”

Already have frames that you like? It’s easy to pivot. “Men can push the envelope with a bit of color,” says Neil Blumenthal, co-CEO ofeyewear company Warby Parker. “If you’ve normally worn black, maybe try dark navy. If you like tortoise, try a warmer brown. Or maybe there’s an interesting combo. The cool thing with subtle color is that sometimes others might not notice it, but if you step into the light they’ll be able to see it. It’s a surprise.”

Risky to Safe: Men’s Glasses

Our selection of risky to safe glasses.

<strong>The ‘Yes, Hue Can’</strong> | Classic with a high-risk twist? For the confident guy, the well-priced Miltzen merges a ’40s-era style with a variety of can’t-miss-them colors, including emerald green, sapphire blue and this gutsy red. Make one your signature. Miltzen Acetate Eyeglasses, <em>$250, moscot.com</em>
<strong>The Covert Dandy</strong> | A subtle, but dashing side-stripe and keyhole bridge lend a measured dose of personality to this boredom-busting style. Paul Smith Devonshire Spectacles, <em>$270, Oliver Peoples, 212-585-3433</em>
<strong>The Fly Boy</strong> | Wire is currently a less expected choice than the dominant plastic horn-rims, but an ultra-classic aviator style is a well-calculated risk. Ray-Ban Customized Aviator Eyeglasses, <em>$150, LensCrafters, 212-302-4882</em>
<strong>The Roundly Retro</strong> | Though vintage-inspired, the round-wire style isn’t as common on younger men—it’s a riskier move for them. Older gents can pull it off without blinking an eye. Wilson Opticals, <em>$310, garrettleight.com</em>
<strong>The Sly Daredevil </strong>| On first glance, you might overlook this style’s baroque artistry. The brand uses a proprietary process to embed a traditional tortoiseshell frame within a more daring clear silhouette. A fresh, but not clownish, break from horn-rimmed hegemony. Blake Kuwahara Corbu Eyeglasses, <em>$599, Studio Optix, 212-765-4444</em>
<strong>The Genuine Article</strong> | Horn-rimmed frames were originally made of actual horn, not the plastics widely used to imitate it. Though this pair is quite classic—and beautifully rendered—the horn’s natural white streaks do attract attention. Buffalo Horn Flynn Frames, <em>$1,895, Morgenthal Frederics, 212-966-0099</em>
<strong>The Eye-Con</strong> | Venerable eyewear maker Persol created this style in 1955, and unlike fully plastic horn-rimmed frames, it feels more overtly retro. In short, not quite as safe. Persol Cellor Eyeglasses, <em>$310, Ilori, 212-226-8276</em>
<strong>The Color Gambler</strong> | The deep square shape won’t raise any eyebrows, but the warm, amber-crystal plastic is just enough to separate you from the pack. AndrewAndrew Eyeglasses, <em>$129, targetoptical.com</em>
<strong>The Bargain Basic </strong>| Warby Parker has made its name on safe, vintage-inflected styles at excellent prices. These will suit a wide range of wearers, even with subtle streaks of icy blue in the chocolate frame. Theo Eyeglasses, <em>$95, warbyparker.com</em>
<strong>The ‘Yes, Hue Can’</strong> | Classic with a high-risk twist? For the confident guy, the well-priced Miltzen merges a ’40s-era style with a variety of can’t-miss-them colors, including emerald green, sapphire blue and this gutsy red. Make one your signature. Miltzen Acetate Eyeglasses, <em>$250, moscot.com</em>

Also, there’s no rule that you only have to own one pair. Some eyewear enthusiasts rotate a few. Mr. Blumenthal will wear colorful frames during the day, when he’s more casually dressed, but if he needs to put on a suit or a tuxedo in the evening, he’ll switch to muted spectacles.

And there’s always metal for those who want to break away from the horn-rimmed pack. “The metal aviator style, a very ’70s menswear aesthetic, could be good for those who want a different option [that’s] still classic,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman.

After consulting our matrix, which plots 13 frames on the safe-to-risky and affordable-to-high-end scales, you may find your ideal pair. Or not. But keep looking; refuse to resign yourself to something middling. “Having a bad pair of glasses can negatively affect you,” said Mr. Leight. “You’re better off not wearing any.”

This is true. Years ago, I showed my wife pictures of me in my old wire frames. “Hmm,” she said. “I don’t think I would have dated you then.”

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