Eyewear, which used to be called "glasses," is a hot accessory, and four-eyed followers of fashion won't be disappointed with this season's selection.
The Vision Council of America says 98 million American adults wear some form of prescription eyewear, much of it bearing the same designer labels as their clothes.But they aren't the only ones focusing on the latest styles, mostly borrowed from bygone eras. Untold others, with 20-20 vision, seek placebo lenses strictly for looks. And tinted lenses are promoted for year-round protection from the sun's rays. According to the Sunglass Association of America, 225 million pairs of non-prescription sunglasses were sold last year.
"Their popularity can be attributed to the new emphasis on proper eye protection," says Sharon Stone, marketing manager of Serengeti Eyewear, the sunglass division of Corning Optics. "Consumers want frames and lenses that are particularly suited for changing weather conditions and various activities."
Revival styles in eyewear range from cat eyes that give a nod to the heyday of Hollywood glamour to saucer-size frames recalling Jackie Kennedy of the 1960s to little round wire-rims that would have made granny and John Lennon proud. Colors range from subtle antique metal tones to screaming brights.
With so much available, retailers are touting a wardrobe of eyewear.
"People accessorize their outfits, change their shoes, belts, whatever - why not change their glasses?" suggests Richard Baum, owner of The Eye Man in New York, an optical store with more than 5,000 frames.
"I have 40 to 50 pairs of shoes," says Ilene Lees, "but face it, do people look at my feet first? No. They look straight at eye level."
"So," says Lees, products manager for Rainbow Optics, which makes Anne Klein and Anne Klein II eyewear, "the accessory on your face is all the more important. Your eyewear should be consistent with everything else you're wearing."
Many of today's top eyewear designs are small and round, and Robin Bugbee predicts they'll stay that way for a while.
"Envision eyeglasses that your great-grandmother wore, but updated for the '90s," says Bugbee, marketing vice president for Viva International Group, a frame company with more than $50 million annual wholesale sales.
At the turn of the century, he says, eyeglasses were smaller because it was difficult to make large lenses. "But now they're small for stylistic reasons." Also, Bugbee says, with smaller lenses fewer wrinkles are magnified around the eye.
The Beau Monde collection from Savvy Eyewear is based on styles found in an old eyewear catalog. The collection, around $200 to $300, features antique brass, copper, tortoise and yellow-gold matte frames.
In Los Angeles, where sunglasses are a fashion staple, Oliver Peoples, which makes as well as sells eyewear, has some vintage looks in delicate metal and faux tortoise shell. Peoples also features some authentic vintage pieces, which include classic, gold-filled frames and clip-on sunglasses with filigree and detailed etchings.
Oliver Peoples, the man behind the quirky nomenclature, was an itinerant purveyor of spectacles during the 1920s and '30s. He left behind a legacy of antiquarian fortunes: a cache of vintage eyewear in its original packaging. The originals are selling in Los Angeles for $145 to $210, with clip-ons an additional $70. Knockoffs are a best seller at The Eye Man.
Oliver Peoples has cat's eye sunglasses in tortoise plastic, around $140, reminiscent of Hollywood of the '50s and '60s with its glamour icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. They're available at The Eye Man in New York and L.A. Eyeworks in Los Angeles.
Norman Salik, vice president of promotions, says 60 percent of Bausch & Lomb's sales are based on the 1950s and '60s . The company makes Ray-Bans and DKNY and Donna Karan eyewear, among others. But L.A. Eyeworks says the '60s look there is already coming to a head.
"It pretty much peaked last year, along with bell bottoms," says Ruth Handel, publicist for the company.