I’ve always wanted glasses. As a kid, I was so keen on the idea that my mum worried I would fake my eye tests, just to get my hands on an extra accessory. I’d never pass up an opportunity to try on other people’s and, every summer, I buy and lose at least three new pairs of sunglasses as a matter of course. Then, last year, I noticed that people on the other side of the street suddenly had blurry faces and that I couldn’t read the train departure board from more than a few feet away – my time had come.
I took myself to the optician (Specsavers – I’m nothing if not a sucker for an ad slogan), slightly nervous about my declining vision, but mainly just excited to pick out my brand new face. Two weeks and three hour-long trying-on sessions later, my brand new face hadn’t emerged, but my old face was refusing to play ball. Why did every frame turn my brows into a mono slug? Why did the specs that looked so chic and elegant on the models look like lab goggles on me? Do I just have a big, wide moon-head?
I’d tried every pair I thought I’d like – including the £30 NHS granny specs, which, it turns out, I am at least eight years too old to pull off ironically – and most of the ones I didn’t. I felt awkward in everything. As a reformed vintage addict, I have a deep inner pull towards 1950s cat eyes, yet, in the fluro glare of the opticians, anything too sharply winged looked a bit rockabilly via Camden Market. I quite fancied myself in huge, geeky frames, but they were equally too "HELLO, I AM DOING A LOOK".
By session three, the staff had started giving each other looks and calling supervisors over for support. What I seemed to want, I patiently explained, is a pair that made a distinct style statement, but also blended quite anonymously into my face and adapted to work with a whole range of wardrobe personalities. What I seemed to want didn’t exist.
Why did the specs that looked so chic and elegant on the models look like lab goggles on me? Do I just have a big, wide moon-head?
Given that around 69 per cent of people in the UK wear glasses at least some of the time (and more women than men), it’s amazing that face furniture isn’t a style mission we hear about more often – like the eternal hunt for the perfect jeans or haircut. Maybe the speccy-come-latelys like me find it harder because we’ve had longer to grow used to our faces without them? Or, maybe, people have always talked about their glasses, but in my 20/20 days I was too shortsighted to notice.
“The weird thing with glasses is they’re a medical device that is also somehow supposed to be stylish,” muses my mum, who has been searching for her perfect pair ever since her arms "got too short" to hold stuff at the requisite distance. “You have to find the compromise between what you need on a practical level, what you like aesthetically, what actually suits your face and then what’s in fashion,” she says.
Glasses fashion seems to move at roughly the same pace as jeans, shifting between big and small, rectangular and round, in gentle 10- to 15-year cycles, with other sub-trends, like Clubmaster and metal brow bars, bubbling up in between. Choosing a pair to wear for a few hours a day really shouldn’t be that hard and, yet, as someone prone to dressing almost in costume (“This is my air stewardess with a touch of Bonnie Parker look!” “Today, I am a Russian princess in exile who has been forced to work in a dive bar!”), I find it almost impossible to choose just one new face. I go off outfits quicker than milk on a windowsill – maybe I’m just too fickle to commit to a single accessory for the foreseeable future?
“Imagine you had to pick one hat to wear on your head EVERY DAY for the next two years,” I try to explain to my boyfriend. “Or a coat! Imagine if you could only have one coat, to wear every day, no matter what your outfit was.”
“I do only have one coat,” he answers. This is true. He may not be my audience.
After three trips and endless WhatsApp consultations with patient friends, I eventually gave in and chose the best of the bunch – a pair of almond-shaped tortoiseshell frames from Tommy Hilfiger that seemed to flatter my face. They’re a safe choice. They’re fine. I don’t wear them.
But I need to wear the bloody glasses, though. Faces are still blurry, train boards still unreadable. And so, this year, the search has started again and, this time, I won’t commit for anything less than love.
My beautifully bespectacled Pool colleague, Zoë, has opened my eyes to free home trials – independent designers like Cubitts and Kite make stylish, affordable specs and will send four frames for you to try on in your own time, without eager staff standing at your elbow, brandishing a pair with "fun" stripy arms. Likewise, Glasses Direct, despite the unsexy name, turns out to have lots of covetable styles in plenty of colourways and at good prices – as low as £25 and with many on a BOGOF deal, which takes away the pressure to choose just one new face.
I’ve ordered a bundle from all three and I’m hopeful. I have prospects. I’ve realised lighter frames work better on my pale colouring, so I’m abandoning black and dark brown in favour of amber and tawny tortoiseshell.
Metal bars across the nose prevent the monobrow issue, and I’ve learnt that, while my face shape might classically demand ovals, my inner trend slave wants bold, round bins. And, if they don’t look vaguely hip, then I won’t wear them, because I really am that shallow.
But, above all, I’m relieved to find I don’t have to be Squinting Woman for ever – I need to be patient and do the admin first, but there’s definitely a pair (or five) out there that will make me feel like myself.
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