What A Drag It Is Choosing New Glasses…

Written By Mary Harboe

As she helps her sister choose some new specs, journalist patient Mary Harboe considers the trials and tribulations of shopping for glasses, and finds herself lucky to be finally spec-free…

As a delighted London Vision Clinic patient who – in a weak, sibling-bonding moment – offered to help her sister choose new frames, I was recently struck by what a drag it is selecting new glasses.

mary harboe

The selection process can be akin to negotiating a very expensive minefield littered with costly mistakes and fashion blunders at every turn. To reach the other side of this laborious shopping experience unscathed and with a pair of specs that match your personal style and suit your facial features, one must approach the entire operation with almost military precision.

It is also essential not to rely only on the optician’s staff (however helpful) or go solo and trust the mirror. For this purchase you will need the support and advice of a very good friend (this can be the test of true friendship), partner (again this can stretch the patience of even the most loved-up couple), or better still a sibling or child. I would also recommend the use of a smart phone to take photos of yourself wearing the frames that make the cut in each shop, several cooling-off-period coffee breaks to consider the short listed selection so far, and a chilled glass (or two)  of Sauvignon Blanc once the final choice has been made.

I would suggest, however – no matter how strong the urge – to resist hitting the chilled wine until after the new frames have been bought. A rash, drink-fuelled decision, could result in an expensive mistake. Remember these “accessories” are like no other. While the handbag with the diamante encrusted skull that we couldn’t resist on holiday may well languish at the back of the wardrobe until it makes it to the charity shop, these glasses are an essential bit of kit for daily life. We are going to put them on our face where they will be seen by everybody all the time.

As someone who lives by the scouting motto of “be prepared”, before the big shopping day dawned I had attempted to do my research.  The results of my homework – in this case perusing countless fashion magazines and websites – were not actually very helpful.

While I learned that glasses are clearly big business – with every designer worth his or her salt having their own collection – there’s not an awful lot even they can do with eye fashion, given the limitations of the position of the eyes, nose and ears. And – when they run out of the wearable (as opposed to the frankly absurd) ideas – they look back at previous trends and recycle past styles.

For a giggle, my sister sportingly tries on some extreme styles. Posters decorating the three shops we have short-listed for our search,show glamorous grey haired, air-brushed models looking fabulous in their new, bold statement specs. The same frames, however, do absolutely nothing for my sister – who, I should add, is a very attractive professional woman, just the other side of sixty.

I perfectly understand that while my sister is searching for a new look, it cannot be too wild or extreme. She wants something stylish but with a slight modern twist. Unlike big-personality celebrity spec-wearers, like Jenny Eclair, it’s important that they don’t stand out too much; but they also shouldn’t disappear into rimless obscurity either. It’s a tricky call.


After trying on scores of pairs – so difficult is this chore, we have given up looking at price tags – only three pairs have made the “possible” cut. We rule out one because, although the shape is perfect, the metal shade does not suit. Eventually we return to the first shop and select the very first pair she tried on – a plastic grey tone frame which cleverly appears to pick up the colour she’s wearing. There is also a small designer logo on the arm adding several unwanted digits to the final made-up price. My sister then waits for her new specs with a mixture of excitement and dread, as she considers – despite my reassurances to the contrary – the niggling, remaining concerns about whether she has made the right choice…

Since Dr Dan corrected my presbyopia several years ago, I have had countless moments of gratitude. However, following this shopping experience, traipsing round three well-known optical outlets with my sister, I don’t think I have ever felt so thrilled  (and yes, I have to admit it, even a little bit smug) that – thanks to laser eye surgery – I don’t need glasses any more. And (assuming we ever get out of this spate of terrible weather!) the only new specs I’ll be needing this year are a pair of funky sunglasses…!