RoomZoom’s Tips for a 20/20 Summer

The dos and don'ts of shopping for prescription sunglasses.

By Taylor Smith

I last wore sunglasses in about 2002. They were square and thin-framed and had a Burberry pattern and yes, I regret them. Since then, I’ve steered clear of any tinted lenses, not because I can’t pull them off (though that may be up for debate) but because I started wearing regular glasses that year. Contacts have never been for me and I’ve always been far too cheap to spend the money on a pair of prescription shades. Since I was small I’ve watched from the sidelines as carefree tween cliques sample Duane Reade knockoffs and my stylish friends model the latest Ray-Bans. But I’ve recently decided that it’s time to suck it up: If I’m not going to wear contacts, I need to invest in a solid pair of prescription shades and here’s why:

1. UV Protection
Just like your skin, your eyes need to be protected from seriously harmful UV rays. Excessive exposure to direct sunlight puts your peepers at risk for everything from cataracts to ocular melanoma, and this applies to people of all ages. Look for sunglasses with 100% or 400% protection from both UV-A and UV-B rays, regardless of tint color, especially as the summer solstice rapidly approaches.

2. Additional safety concerns
While contacts can be preferable for a number of reasons (especially not having to carry two pairs of glasses around), it’s worth remembering in the hot summer months that swimming in contacts is not recommended (since your contacts can trap unseen bacteria), and you’ll definitely want a pair of protective shades on the beach. An added benefit of wearing prescription lenses instead of regular sunglasses over contacts is polarization, which reduces glare: most prescription sunglass lenses are polarized, while most regular sunglass lenses are not.

3. Fashion
Beyond their function as sun guards and celebrity “disguises,” shades make a stylish addition to any outfit no matter who you are.

With these concerns in mind I hit the streets, seeking out the best bang for my buck. Here’s a quick roundup of prices at popular optical shops. Read on for an account of my own first adventure in sunglasses shopping, as documented by my iPhone:

Warby Parker:

Frames start at $95; lenses start at $80. While they don’t work directly with insurance providers, they will provide a receipt should you need one to apply for reimbursement.

LensCrafters:

LensCrafters sells designer sunglasses, so frames range from about $70-$300 depending on the brand. Lenses start at about $280. Most major vision insurance plans accepted.

Cohen’s Fashion Optical:

Cohen’s also carries name brands, so frames range from about $70-$300 depending on the brand. Lenses start at about $200. Most major vision insurance plans accepted.

SEE:

All sunglass frames are $99. Lenses start at $99, and polarization costs an additional $80. A limited amount of insurance plans accepted, depending on location.

Note: At all of these shops, lens prices may increase depending on the strength and complexity of your prescription.

Not one for name brands, I decided to do my shopping at Warby Parker, where they sell their own 400% UV-protected sunglasses at moderate prices. One of their eyewear consultants — let’s call her “Jane” — helped guide me through my quest for the perfect pair. So for those looking to invest in their own prescription sunglasses, here are my greatest hits, misses, and lessons learned.

Better Small than Sorry

Sunglass lenses tend to be fairly large. While this may seem like a good thing — bigger lenses mean more protection — it’s not across the board. Those of you with 20/20 vision can feel free to embrace the bug-eye look, but those with strong prescriptions ought to exercise a bit more caution. As Jane demonstrated to me, the stronger the prescription (i.e., the worse your eyesight), the thicker the lens edge. The center of a lens is pretty thin in general, but the edge of a lens for someone who is extremely near- or far-sighted will be quite thick.

Lens

An example of a strong prescription lens.

So, if you buy a pair of oversized lenses, the thickness at the edges will distort your peripheral vision, a phenomenon only exacerbated by the tint and extra summer sunlight. If your prescription falls within the -4 to +4 range (- meaning near-sighted, + meaning far-sighted), you don’t need to worry to much. My prescription is… complicated. I have pretty strong myopic astigmatism (in layman’s terms, I’m near-sighted and have some unorthodox curvature happening), meaning I fall quite far outside that range, and there are some other numbers thrown in just because that’s my luck of the draw. So, long story short, someone like me should look for smaller lenses so their eyes are centered in the lens and their peripheral vision remains clear.

Here’s me in the Laurel 16 medium ($95) — a pair that’s probably as big as I should go:

Laurel Sunglasses

I wasn’t sold on the frame color and material, and definitely the weird spot at which they hit my brows, but my eyes felt pretty centered, and I liked the shape. This pair’s a bit big, but is more or less safe for all but those with the most extreme prescriptions.

Jane also recommended the Percey 16 medium ($95) in the tortoise-shell for me. As you can see below, huge swing and miss:

perceysunglasses

These shades sat way too far out on my nose, because the eye-to-ear length was wrong for my face. Warby Parker glasses are unisex, but eye-to-ear length can vary, with the measurement being larger for some men.

Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Like “no white after labor day,” “no round lenses for round faces” is an aging and superfluous fashion rule. I don’t have the roundest face, but here’s me in the Gellhorn narrow ($195):

Gellhorn Sunglasses

I saw a number of rounder-faced shoppers sample this pair and look quite sharp. So don’t restrict yourself; go ahead and try something new. I liked these on myself a lot more than I thought I would. Plus the size and position of the lenses were perfect for someone with my prescription. That said, at certain angles I was getting a bit of a “two black holes in my face” vibe, and I wasn’t entirely prepared to spend $300 dollars on that…

My pick? The Downing narrow ($95):

Downing Sunglasses

At the end of the day, I like to keep it simple. These shades fit my face and go with everything, without any clunky extra trappings or branding — perfect for my slow re-entry into the world of the properly shaded.

For the other prescription-shades newbies out there, the next step is to give your prescription to a consultant and place your order. They send your specifics to the lab, and you’ll be set for summer in 7-10 business days.