Glasses have become hip accessories that just happen to help you see better.

Kids and teens can take on a new persona or express their personality through eye wear. With a simple change of frames, they can look like an arty bohemian, a musician, an intellectual or even that precocious kid from "Jerry Maguire."Wall displays at optical stores hold the in-demand ovals, retro modified cat eyes and edgy new geometric frame shapes for all ages, looks and face shapes.

Back-to-school eye wear and clothes have a lot in common, too. With both, older elementary-age school kids and teens are just as concerned with brand as they are with look, said Mark Meyer, manager of the Spectacle Shoppe in St. Paul, Minn.

Frames with designer names such as Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and Armani are snapped up. But designer names don't always mean the frames cost more, Meyer said. Many designer frames are made by the same companies that manufacture scores of other eye wear lines, such as Silhouette, Pro Design and Echo. Frame quality and prices are fairly equal, he said.

For the younger set, there is name recognition in frames by Fisher Price, Crayola, OshKosh B'Gosh, Looney Tunes and others.

Parents should let kids have lots of input when choosing glasses.

"If they don't feel like they look good in them, they won't wear or take care of them," Meyer said. "It's money down the drain."

Kids in elementary and middle school go for colorful frames - pinks, blues, confetti, purples, greens. Many of the choices mirror the adult shapes.

"They want what their older sisters and parents are wearing," said Sara Klee, a manager at Sears Optical in the Mall of America.

The scores of petite frame styles allow some youths to cross over to the adult side of optical stores.

Teens favor more edgy shapes and finishes with rectangles and octagons - a hip alternative to ovals. Most of today's frames are in antiqued or brushed silver and gold or matte finishes. The Spectacle Shoppe even has a selection of authentic vintage 1960s cat eyes and replicas of the Buddy Holly black block glasses.

Frames alone can range from $60 to $300. Generally, plastic frames are less costly than metals. At Sears Optical, 99 percent of eye wear sales are metal frames.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when buying eye wear for kids.

- Kids want to look like their big brother or sister or mom and dad. Let the child choose the frame in the price range you've determined to make sure they will wear the glasses. A qualified optician can assure a good, comfortable fit.

- Buy a frame with a flexible hinge in the temple area for durability and flexibility. Many frames geared for kids have them.

- To check for quality, do the shake test. Take the frame, shake it and note how much it rattles. Compare frames in different price ranges. Better-quality frames can equal more comfort.

- Make sure glasses have polycarbonate lenses, which are impact-resistant and have a scratch-resistant coating. They also are thinner and lighter than standard plastic lenses. Many kids' glasses include them.

- Fit face shape. Round face: square and geometric styles. Square face: oval and round styles. Make sure the middle of the eye is in the center of the lens.

- Kids can be hard on glasses. Ask about warranties covering replacement.

- Some optical stores can make custom frames for hard-to-fit kids.

- Ask about budget-friendly eye wear packages.

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service