Sunday, December 19, 2010

nerds of earth, I have your answer

It's been years since I've worn contact lenses regularly. I work some long hours, and I started noticing around the first year of my anesthesia residency that my eyes would get pretty tired and dry by the end of the day in contacts--it started feeling like that moment in your life that you switch from heels to flats, but, you know, on your eyeballs. (I'll give you a moment to process that imagery.) Also, with respect to my particular role in the workplace, there's something that I like to call "the splash factor"--all I have to do is look at my lenses at the end of the day and at all the projectile particulate that has accumulated there to make me glad that I always have a windshield in front of my eyes.

But you know, nice glasses can be expensive. My mom is an ophthalmologist, so for many of my formative years of glasses-wearing I relied on the insider connection with the optometrist to get a good deal on frames. However, in adulthood, I've had to get a few new pairs of frames (mostly related to my glasses getting smushed by someone's butt or cruelly twisted by my offspring--oddly, now that I never take my glasses off, my frames are much more protected) and every time I go to LensCrafters or what have you, I am floored by how much a pair of frames cost. A pair of designer frames (which, of course, are the only kinds that the big chains peddle) can cost anywhere between $150 to $300, and I'm not even talking about the ones with a blingity-bling Chanel medallion hanging off the sides.

At most chain optical stores, this also does not include the price of the lenses themselves, which--if you are a high myope like me and require a high-index refraction pair of lenses to lessen the Coke bottle effect--can jack up the price a couple hundred dollars more. Couple that with the fact that most people who wear glasses like to have a spare pair lying around for emergencies (see above: butt squashing, toddler torquing, etc.) and that's many, many hundreds of dollars for glasses.

Then I found this site called

First of all, there are plenty of sites out there that offer cheap (albeit not brand-name) frames, some even for less than $39.00. However, is the place that I ordered my glasses from about a year ago, so it's the only one that I can speak to from personal experience. (Let me just explain in case this is in question that I am not sponsored by this or any company, nor do I generate any revenue or goodwill whether you click that link or not. I just really think that this is a hidden secret that people need to know about, because the last pair of glasses I got prior to discovering this genre of website cost more than six times the amount I spent on my web-bought frames, and now I am burning with self-righteous indignation against the brand-name glasses frame industry.)

The thing with glasses (which most of you who wear glasses understand) is that there is a highly specific fit, and not every frame fits every face. I know this as much as anyone--I have kind of a low nasal bridge (as many Asians do) and a roundish face, and on average I have to try on something like twenty pairs of glasses before I find a pair that feels right for me. So that's a problem with ordering glasses online--you can't try them on first. It's like buying shoes online. How particular are you about the fit of your shoes? If you are very persnickety, perhaps this is not the solution for you.

However, if you have a general sense of what kind of glasses look decent on you (I knew I wanted dark plastic frames with an ovalesque or rectangular shape), let me tell you a secret. The secret is in the numbers.

52-16-140 mm
128 mm
25 mm

Glasses come with measurements, did you know that? They do. Look, take off your glasses, and look on the inside surface of the stems. There should be three numbers. Those are the top three numbers listed above. The first one (in this case, 52mm) corresponds to the width of each individual lens bracket (or to be more precise: eye hole). The middle number (16mm) corresponds to the width of the nasal bridge piece. And the last number (140mm) corresponds to the length of the stem, which is the stick piece that goes over your ear. 128mm in this case is the width of the whole pair of glasses, and 25mm is the height of the lens frame (basically how librarian-reading-glasses-narrow or Carrie-Donovan-wide your peeping window is going to be top to bottom). If you can't try on the glasses before you buy them, these are the figures you need to know.

(I personally have kind of high cheeks so I know I can't get too wide of a measurement on the latter--I had a pair of rounded tortoise-shell glasses once that, due to the height of the frame, rested directly on my cheeks, and the constant feeling of having something on my face drove me, by small and insistent increments, completely insane. So insane that I eventually shelved those frames altogether and just swapped out the lenses into an old frame that I had lying around.)

So what do you do? Provided you already have a pair of glasses that fit OK and are not too different from the new pair that you want to get (for example, I'm not sure how it works with wire frames with the nose pads and the conversion to plastic frames), look at the numbers on the inside of your current glasses, and use those to extrapolate for the pair of new glasses you want to buy. THE NUMBERS ARE IMPORTANT. Trust me on this. No matter how adorable a pair of glasses looks online, if the numbers are not right, DO NOT BUY THEM, THEY WILL NOT FIT. This was of particular concern to me regarding the measurement for the nasal bridge; as a low-nasal-bridged individual, I knew that I needed a pair of glasses 16mm or narrower so that they would not slide down my face. If I went to Pearl Vision (or whatever) and tried on a pair of glasses, I would usually employ a test wherein I would put on the glasses and violently shake my head back and forth to see if the glasses would fall off. Since I cannot try on glasses online, I just go by the numbers. For the most part, if the nasal bridge part fits and the frames are not too wide for your head (example, if your current glasses are 128mm wide, do not buy glasses that are 134mm wide, even if they are super hot black with green trim OMG NERD CHIC!! Again, they will not fit). Believe me on this. I have spent way too much time trying on glasses to steer you wrong.

The glasses above are the ones I got a year ago, by the way. They are sturdy and well-made (not like the reading glasses you get next to the cash register at Walgreens or anything) and even with the upgraded package that offers a high-index refraction lens (you know, so the glass is thinner and not as heavy) it still came out to less than $80. For a pair of good glasses, that's a very, very fair price. (If you don't have a very strong presecription and don't need the high index refraction lenses, it's actually less than $50, which is yet another way in which people with better vision win. That and not needing glasses at all.) I got two pairs last winter--an heir and a spare, as it were--after my old pair of glasses from med school finally bit the dust (and yes, there was a period of time before the new glasses arrived that I was indeed wearing glasses haphazardly patched with some electrical tape, and also, briefly, some surgical suture) and I have been extremely pleased with them ever since. I even just ordered a pair of prescription sunglasses for driving, an extravagance that I'd never allowed myself, because really, who's going to pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of prescription sunglasses?

Not me. And hopefully, now, not you either.

(This post is not sponsored in any way. It's just ME sharing the good stuff with YOU. Now go forth and see clearly!)


  1. Thanks for the information!

  2. Steff9:23 PM

    As a 3rd year med student, I realized I couldn't wear my contacts for 24hrs straight yet I hated my glasses in the OR. Solution = LASIK 4th yr of med school. Spendy and scary yes. Even needed PRK on one eye last year (5yrs after original procedure) to bring me back to 20:20. Still totally, 100% worth it.
    Couldn't your optho hubby hook you up with an excellent MD?

  3. I dunno, I kind of like wearing glasses. And there's the splash protection factor as I mentioned.

    I have considered about LASIK or PKR but in the end I just wuss out, mostly because I don't have any real drive to get it done. Anyway, even if I get LASIK I'll eventually get presbyopia like everyone over 50 anyway and it'll be back to glasses for me regardless.

  4. Anonymous10:13 PM

    Try out next! Everyone I know thinks I work for them - all of the residents and med students at my hospital have become obsessed. Their price goes as low as $6 for the frames - which means that even if the "numbers" are not quite right, it's still so cheap that it doesn't matter. My current favorite pair ended up costing $25 total - including shelling out an extra $5 for the anti-reflective coating, and the $5 for shipping.

  5. Anonymous10:50 PM

    I was going to suggest too! Cheap enough to play around with fun colors and shapes, but still have a "good" pair for when you need to look respectable. :)


  6. Um, THANK YOU. My husband and I were talking about this issue recently. I wore really scratched up, broken glasses for ages while I was a grad student because with my horrible eyesight, even at the cheapest place my glasses/lenses would cost at least $400. I can't wear contacts for long periods of time (doctors' orders...), so glasses are a must. Anyway, husband and I both splurged on new glasses in April, but we want spares. I think we have found the solution. Thank you!!!

  7. No numbers inside of my stems :(

  8. Anonymous11:48 PM

    Yes! I've been buying my glasses from Goggles4U for a few years now, and can't believe I ever paid so much for glasses before I knew better.

    Even better, now I keep an extra pair of glasses at home, at the car, and in my office.. All those years of fear of breaking/losing my glasses and having to stumble around bumping into things is gone..

  9. Anonymous11:51 PM

    geena: Sometimes the numbers on the inside of the glasses wear off after awhile.. but never fear, you can just measure them.. all the online glasses sites have a diagram that will tell you what to measure to get each number.

  10. Thank you for the website! I've been wearing corrective lenses since I was 10 but have been mostly wearing contacts the last few years. I am in desperate need of new glasses but I can't find a pair that I like (i.e. similar to my current pair) I think this website has just want I'm looking for!

  11. Wellesley200612:04 AM

    Wow! I am floored. I was just considering replacing my glasses from 2006 (I wear contacts mostly) but was scared off by the prices I received from the local vision stores, around $500. I considered giving up altogether until I saw your post. Thanks for the great advice!

  12. geena, you can go to any store and try on glasses and when you find one you like, write the numbers down.

    i had been using America's Best Contacts and Eyeglasses ( for a long time, because it's so much cheaper than Pearl or whathaveyou. They have a lot of brick&mortar stores, and you get two complete pairs of eyeglasses and a free exam for $70...providing you go with the cheapest frames and lenses. But for my friends with kids in glasses (one has 3 in glasses) that is a huge deal! They have lots of styles, and some of the cheapos are actually attractive. Of course I've ended up upgrading and getting designer frames and ultra thin lenses with reflective coating and anti-scratch stuff...but still the total bill was about $ opposed to the $900 that it would have cost me at a retail store (which is what my dh was spending every couple years before i got him PRK this year).

    I have never gotten more compliments on *any* pair of glasses as I do on my current pair. They are SO comfortable & pretty. I'm in love with them. Not a week goes by that someone doesn't say something about them. Total strangers as well as people who haven't seen me in a while will stop me to compliment them. They're my all-time favorite pair I've ever owned. Well worth it! ♥

    PS: Merry Christmas Dr. Michelle!

    But next time I need to shop, I'll be checking out your site above, because that totally rocks!

  13. i totally feel you on the asian-low-nasal-bridge problem. it would always take forever for me to find frames that fit the width of my face but didn't constantly slide down my nose.
    i just looked at my glasses and apparently i'm a 16 mm nose too!

  14. This is awesome! Thank you!

  15. My cousin works for a non-profit vision place (in ATL actually!) and she told me how ridiculously low the whole sale cost of frames and lenses were. Retail markups for glasses really is absurd.

    I guess the most important thing is getting a REALLY good prescription, preferably from a provider without their own in-house optician/frame fitting service cause those ones always want to get you to use their own opticians...

    I got some pairs from goggles4u. They were good as my gazillion dollar pair I've been wearing for 3 years. Too cheap and poor to go get another 'real' pair, and the only optician in town that I LOVE the frame selections of turned out to be a bit of frauds. I caught them filing fradulent insurance claims and reported them to my vision insurance provider. Muhahaha!!! And to my surprise, my vision insurance refunded me some of the cost, actually double the cost. Donno wether that was b/c I might have helped them audit the money hungry optician. >:)

  16. another excellent website is
    i haven't personally purchased from them, but next time i purchase glasses i just might, because they have some timeless styles.

  17. Had LASIK done about 14 years ago - it was an almost miraculous experience for me to wake up the next day & not have to grope for my glasses just to see what time it was! No regrets, although now in my mid-40's, I am needing reading glasses & a bit of astigmatism has set in so need driving glasses.
    But the spectacles-free 14 years has been wonderful...

    Thanks for the tip on the website! Living in China, I can get really cheap glasses, but good to know about this site for when we eventually move back State side.

  18. Anonymous8:48 AM

    I get my glasses at Costco.

  19. Anonymous11:58 AM

    I've used 39 Dollar Glasses as well and I just LOVED them!

    I got my glasses in 4 days and they were just perfect. I am going to use them for my kids glasses as well.

  20. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Oh me god! I'm in love with the idea of this site. Don't pay $300 for a pair of glasses? Yes, please! You are my hero for telling me about this site. :P

  21. Anonymous8:57 PM

    This is where I learned about 39dollar, and about how to buy glasses online: They also have a forum full of helpful online buying experts.

    One of the REALLY cool things about 39dollar is that they will relens frames you already own. Got some wicked expensive designer frames with an old Rx? Relens 'em!

  22. Anonymous8:22 AM

    Can Joe get you a deal since he is an optho doc?

  23. Anonymous4:40 PM

    It seems it is difficult to search for a pair of glasses that matches your "numbers". Am i Missing something?

  24. now if only I could read those numbers without my glasses on...

  25. Heather3:18 PM

    I also use Zenni Opticals. Lets me coordinate my glasses to what I'm wearing. Hah! I've told so many people about them; it lets poor med students and residents actually get new glasses, not to mention my entire family. For that price, one can order several--and it's flat shipping of I think $4.95 on as many pairs as you want. So, I'll hook up with someone else and order a bunch of pairs together. Simply fabulous.

    (I also have major issues with contacts. And, frankly, even though it's 2010, it sure doesn't hurt to have glasses on, esp as a female who still gets carded. Gives patients some sense of comfort in one's nerdiness/knowledge.)

  26. Anonymous10:08 PM

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  27. Anonymous3:33 AM

    I've purchased from (seconding the comment from above) and I LOVE them. Fast, very affordable and quite stylish. Plus, they donate a pair of frames to someone in need for every pair you purchase! I do not have enough good things to say about them.

  28. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I've ordered from two or three places, and in my opinion the best opticians are at zenni. I found out about online discount frames when a big box chain took so long getting me into my appointment that I had picked out my designer frames, winced at the price, and found them half price online on my iPhone all before my appointment ever happened. Now that I have my pupillary distance, I'm never paying retail again.

  29. Anonymous1:37 AM

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  30. This is so timely! I just last month was introduced to the wonder that is Zenni Optical. I have never in my life had more than one pair of glasses, and I usually only fork over the $300 for a new pair when the old ones can no longer be patched together with baling twine/tape/superglue/wing/prayer. I have a question, though: When I ordered from Zenni (4 pairs! SEVENTY SEVEN DOLLARS TOTAL INCLUDING SHIPPING OMG SWOON!!) I didn't get the high index refraction lenses, because I wanted to maximize the cheapie effect. But the glasses I got seem a little...I don't know what the word is, but the sweet spot without warped vision is very small. Meaning, I have to look straight ahead out the middle. Does high-index material lessen that effect? Or does it only make the lenses thinner? Because with my prescription, it's not like I'm trying to fool anyone. Plastic is light enough that I don't care if they are kind of thick. But would the high-index make the edge distortion less noticeable?

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