AGING IS NOT “for sissies,” as the shrewd actress Bette Davis once observed. For many, the first inkling that their carefully cultivated, youthful mien will not last forever is the need for reading glasses.
Cue kicking and screaming.
“Your eyes’ changing is the first hint of your mortality,” said April Johnson, the creative director of the New York City-based readers brand Look Optic. “You go through this year of denial—your phone gets further and further away when you’re reading it. And it gets embarrassing when you have to turn the cell’s flashlight on in restaurants to read the menu.”
Such changes signal you’re ready for reading glasses. The reason people avoid them, of course, is that they are decidedly not cool; they are for the elderly who buy them in triplicate at Wal-Mart. But with the aging of Gen X, born between the early-1960s and early-1980s, and the earliest-born millennials, who directly follow Gen X, the readers market was ready for a shake-up.
New companies such as Look Optic, California-based MEeyye (pronounced “my-eye”), and the Book Club, based in Sydney, Australia, offer nonprescription readers that are chic and well-made. In many cases, pairs can be easily ordered from (and returned to) the brands’ websites, a practice pioneered by eyeglass maker Warby Parker. These spiffy specs are also sold in museum shops and independent bookstores. With prices in the $70 range, they’re costlier than drugstore brands but considerably less pricey than prescription lenses in designer frames.
‘Your eyes’ changing is the first hint of your mortality.’
They’re also attuned to fashion trends: Look Optic, for example, releases two limited-edition colors each season—currently, champagne and army—a strategy straight out of the high-end fashion playbook. The brand focuses on travel needs as well, offering sunglasses for poolside reading, and stocking its readers in hotel shops and at stores within transportation hubs such as New York City’s Grand Central Station.
Maggie Allingham, the designer and co-founder of the Book Club, adopts a similarly stylish approach: “We’re designing for a customer who accepts glasses as a fashion accessory, so we try to have fun with the design,” she said. “It’s different from an older customer who just pulls them out simply for function.”
This is not the first time a practical product has been transformed by trend awareness. Marshal Cohen of the NPD Group, which researches consumer shopping patterns, likens the evolution of readers to that of rain boots. Rain boots, he said, were once unexciting, made of “clear plastic with a crossover elastic fastener like your grandmother wore.” Then, in the early 2000s, Hunter rain boots, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II, became a fashion player, followed rapidly by a widespread trickle-down effect that redefined the rubber-boot market. “It’s not even a question that the same thing will happen with readers,” he added.
Abetting the evolution of readers from nerdy glasses to chic spectacles is the growing concern with the disruptive effects of the blue light emitted by electronic screens on sleep patterns. Mindful of the attention millennials pay to wellness, both Look Optic and the Paris-based Izipizi make lenses that filter out blue light. These are offered in both magnifying and plain glass, suitable for both those who need vision correction and those who don’t.
But one market for relatively inexpensive, style-conscious eyeglass frames may be a group without any health concerns at all. In October, Look Optic opened a pop-up shop in Culver City, Calif., that attracted a lot of young people unplagued by eyesight problems who wanted non-magnifying glasses, simply because they liked the look. And at their age, they obviously weren’t panicking that wearing a pair of readers might make them look geriatric.
So if you have been holding this at arm’s length to read, it’s high time to order some readers. After all, it’s what all the kids are doing.
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