Best affordable-eyewear sites
A spate of purveyors peddling frames for a fraction of their normal cost have cropped up online; we break down your options.
Fri Jul 6 2012
Photograph: David Curleigh
BonLook Bonnie and Clyde turquoise sunglasses, $99, at bonlook.com
BonLook J’Adore tortoise glasses, $99, at bonlook.com
Collins Bridge Duval sunglasses with brown lenses, $98, at collinsbridge.com
Collins Bridge Sagamore mod red glasses, $98, at collinsbridge.com
Eyebobs Delaid Bifocal reading glasses, $75, at eyebobs.com
Eyebobs Hot Box Polarized boxy sunglasses, $99, at eyebobs.com
Eyefly Krakovska glasses in Matte Plum, $99, at eyefly.com
Eyefly The Haight sunglasses in matte brown, $99, at eyefly.com
Elizabeth and James Bel Air heart-shaped sunglasses in Rose, $200, at monocleorder.com
Photograph: Frank Margueron
Waiting for the Sun La Une sunglasses, $185, at monocleorder.com
Photograph: MIchelle James
Tortoise & Blonde Nottingham glasses in Brown Sugar, $97, at tortoiseandblonde.com
Photograph: MIchelle James
Tortoise & Blonde Quincy sunglasses in Fade to Grey, $97, at tortoiseandblonde.com
Warby Parker Holt glasses in Blue Slate Fade, $95, at warbyparker.com
Warby Parker x Suno Crawford contemporary aviator sunglasses in Roses, $175, at warbyparker.com
Photograph: David Curleigh
BonLook Bonnie and Clyde turquoise sunglasses, $99, at bonlook.com
About the site: Montreal pals Sophie Boulanger and Melanie Daigle pooled their knowledge (Boulanger worked in marketing at L’Oréal and Christian Dior Couture in Paris; Daigle in business productivity and investments) to launch BonLook in June 2010. Their streamlined site sells 30 styles of European-inspired, mostly unisex acetate prescription specs and sunglasses, with new designs released monthly. BonLook isn’t just a style-minded company—it’s also socially responsible: One percent of sales benefits Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program (hki.org), which provides vision screenings and glasses to economically disadvantaged kids in New York. The company also minimizes its carbon footprint by using green shipping via UPS’s carbon-neutral program.
How it works: Search the site by frame shape, color and size, then test-drive your selection using BonLook’s Virtual Try On application: Click try on on a product page, then upload a headshot or take one with your webcam, and the glasses will hover over your eyes. Be prepared to enter your prescription information during checkout (you can also e-mail or fax it over if you can’t decipher your doc’s handwriting). Shipping is free on orders more than $99, otherwise it’s $8. If you’re not happy with your purchase, you can return it within 30 days for a full refund.
Best suited for: The hip, arty crowd—many of the geek-chic frames wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Mad Men.
Price: Glasses $99, sunglasses $119 (ultra-thin lenses, typically required for stronger prescriptions, $30 extra)
Collins Bridge (collinsbridge.com)
About the site: Considering siblings Mark, Scott and Rachel Edelsberg grew up with parents in the optical industry, it was only natural that they would bring the family business into the 21st century. Together, they founded Collins Bridge—named for a historic overpass near its Miami headquarters—this past April. The company produces more than 30 fashion-forward frames, available as both glasses and sunnies in a myriad of hues. Each pair is made with antireflective, antiscratch polycarbonate lenses that can be ordered with or without a prescription. A new batch of five to ten styles will be released this fall.
How it works: If you’re not comfortable trying on frames—searchable by color, width and shape—virtually, Collins Bridge will send you up to five pairs of your choice for five days of free sampling (this doesn’t include sunglasses, but specs use the same frames). When returning your trial glasses, throw in an old pair for donation to South American families through partner charity Vision Health International (visionhealth.org). Shipping is free, and returns are accepted for a full refund within 30 days.
Best suited for: Young, creative professionals with a penchant for thick rims and retro shapes in mostly neutral hues
Price: Glasses and nonprescription sunglasses $98, prescription sunglasses $168
About the site: A quest for high-quality, stylish yet affordable reading glasses prompted former children’s-wear retailer Julie Allinson to create Eyebobs in April 2001. The Minneapolis company sells more than 125 styles of quirky bifocals, reading glasses and sunglasses for men and women, releasing new designs every spring and fall. Frames constructed from sturdy Italian plastics help set Eyebobs specs apart from their drugstore counterparts, while flexible hinges allow them to stay put on your face.
How it works: Although the e-tailer doesn’t offer any virtual or mail-order try-on options, you can find select styles at more than 25 stores throughout New York, including Pildes Optical (2193 Broadway between 77th and 78th Sts, 212-877-2980) and Blacker & Kooby Stationers (1204 Madison Ave at 88th St, 212-369-8308). Since all frames come with reading lenses, those seeking stronger prescriptions will need to take their purchase to an optician. Eyebobs offers other ways to soup up your specs through its accessories page, featuring leather neck chains ($25–$45), colorful carrying cases ($3–$12) and cleaning kits ($8, includes cleaning solution, polishing cloth and a screwdriver). Returns are accepted within 30 days and shipping is $7–$9.
Best suited for: The sassy over-40 set looking for cheeky readers, from pastel square frames to comical cat-eyes
Price: Reading glasses, bifocals and sun-readers $75 each (with bamboo accents $85–$110); sunglasses sans magnification $99 (with bamboo accents $110)
About the site: Based in New York’s Fashion District, Eyefly was created in June 2011 as a collaboration between online discount designer retailer Bluefly (bluefly.com) and A+D Labs, an eyewear manufacturer. The site carries 57 styles of sleek glasses and seven types of mostly aviator and square-framed sunnies, each named after a well-known road (Mulholland Drive, Bourbon Street) or urban area (the Haight, Union Square). Unlike its competitors, Eyefly doesn’t offer specs as sunglasses and vice versa, although it churns out new models twice a year, providing ample variety in both categories.
How it works: In addition to refining your search by color, frame width and material (metal or plastic), Eyefly organizes its stock by style: contemporary or classic. Test out the timeless looks using the site’s Virtual Try-On tool by either uploading your photo or snapping a picture with your webcam. If you’re still unsure how the frames will work with your wardrobe, click on the Lookbooks tab, which features eyewear paired with shoes and accessories from Bluefly, plus editorial-style images of bespectacled industry tastemakers (stylist Dani Stahl, Paper magazine’s Mickey Boardman) shot by fashion photographer Tommy Ton. Since the e-tailer caters to style mavens, you have the option of ordering prescription-free pairs with the same antireflective, antiscratch lenses that bona fide four-eyes get. Shipping and returns are free, but we especially love that you can arrange to have Eyefly contact your doctor directly for your information, rather than try to decipher your prescription at checkout.
Best suited for: Polished academics seeking subtly stylish flair to complement their looks
Price: Prescription glasses and sunglasses $99 (high-index lenses $30 extra)
The Monocle Order (monocleorder.com)
About the site: New Yorkers Alex van Klaveren and Zoe Nightingale met during a wild night out at the Hotel on Rivington in September 2010. Less than a year later, the fast friends launched this members-only sunglasses site for eyewear aficionados like themselves, carrying an ever-changing array of hard-to-find designer frames from Elizabeth and James, Paul Frank and Karen Walker.
How it works: Purchase one pair of sunglasses at full price and you’ll get a steel lifetime membership card in the mail, giving you access to shades in exclusive colorways at 50 percent off (limited-edition and vintage styles aren’t included, and you can buy up to 12 discounted pairs per year). The free membership also gets you invites to exclusive Monocle Order events in NYC, such as a recent rooftop soiree and trunk show at the Hotel Williamsburg. Answer a few multiple-choice questions through the site’s Style Engine, which curates a selection of frames to suit your tastes, then Skype with a stylist for further help finding the right frames for your face. More tactile shoppers will be happy to hear that you can sample the goods in person by visiting Monocle Order’s appointment-only showroom (221 W 17th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves, fourth floor; 646-723-4665) or borrowing as many pairs as you’d like for up to a week through the take-home trial option. Shipping is complimentary on your first order—after that, it’s $5–$8. Once you buy a pair, you’ll have a week to return it for a full refund.
Best suited for: Fashion-crazed urbanites who see sunglasses as contemporary works of art Price: Nonprescription sunglasses $100–$350
Tortoise & Blonde (tortoiseandblonde.com)
About the site: Father-son duo Evan and Dr. Stephen Weisfeld founded this New Jersey e-commerce site in May 2011, combining Evan’s business background (he has a B.A. in supply-chain and information systems from Penn State) with Steven’s 30-plus years as an optometrist. Tortoise & Blonde releases two vintage-inspired lines each year, totaling around 25 scratch-resistant, antireflective prescription glasses and sunglasses for both sexes. In addition to a shared love for eyewear, the Weisfelds are also big indie-music supporters, donating frames and eye exams to up-and-coming musicians, sponsoring buses to SXSW and featuring bands on their website.
How it works: All of Tortoise & Blonde’s styles are available in several hues as both specs and sunnies. After filtering selections by gender, color and texture (matte or shiny), use the site’s virtual mirror to test frames online, or have up to five pairs sent to your home for a ten-day trial. The company will temporarily hold $150 on your credit card and ultimately charge you $1, which goes to Eye Care 4 Kids (eyecare4kids.org), a charity that provides optical care to children from low-income families in Utah. Shipping is gratis for orders above $97—the cost of most glasses on the site—and returns are free within 30 days, except on pairs ordered after using the at-home try-on service.
Best suited for: Stylish twenty- and thirtysomethings going for a chic, retro look
Price: Glasses $77–$177, sunglasses $77–$207
Warby Parker (warbyparker.com)
About the site: Named after two Jack Kerouac characters, Warby Parker was created in February 2010 by Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, Jeffrey Raider and David Gilboa—four business school buddies fed up with artificially overpriced eyewear and the handful of large companies profiting from it. The site sells 50 classic-meets-modern styles for men and women, made with polycarbonate lenses. Four seasonal collections are released each year, along with a sprinkling of limited-edition designer collaborations (past partnerships include Suno, Steven Alan and the Standard Hotels). For every pair sold, Warby Parker donates a new pair to VisionSpring (visionspring.org), a nonprofit that trains low-income women to sell affordable glasses in their communities.
How it works: Sort frames by color, shape and width, then test selections out using the site’s virtual tool. You can also get five styles sent to your home for five days, or try them on in person at the Williamsburg location of Bird (203 Grand St between Bedford and Driggs Aves, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-388-1655), which carries the full range. Shipping is complimentary and you have 30 days to return your glasses, no questions asked. Should you accidentally scratch your lenses within a year, Warby Parker will replace them for free.
Price: Eyeglasses and nonprescription sunglasses $95 (high-index lenses on glasses $30 extra), prescription sunglasses $150
Best suited for: Art-director types and the nerdy yet adventurous