I've just got my new pair of glasses yesterday and I'm very pleased with them. Working in optical retail has given me some very definite ideas on what glasses people should buy and why they should buy them.
Price- Glasses are expensive; there is no way around this. If you have vision insurance, you will be better off, but you can still expect to pay around a hundred dollars. Also where you buy your glasses will have a large impact on price. Typically a store with an on-site lab will be more expensive because on-site labs are harder to maintain than having one lab in the country that fills all the orders.
Your RX can also affect the price. Generally speaking, the higher the prescription the more expensive the lenses. At straight retail a single vision lens probably costs somewhere around $89.00, and this is only standard plastic. Add that to your frame cost, which may be anywhere from $75.00 to $375.00 depending on the frame material and the company that makes the frame. Ouch. Fortunately most stores offer sales that can reduce the price of frames and lenses. There will be 50% off sales, $98 dollars for a complete pair sales (a U.S. Vision favorite) and the like. These sales usual have a list of lens options that are covered under the sale: standard plastic, lined bifocals are covered but not polycarbonate no-line bifocal. If the sale is good enough you may find yourself holding a pair of glasses that cost $130.00 instead of $275.00. Some options you can add will boost the price up even more and if you have an extremely high prescription or need prism correction, or have any number of other problems with your eyes, you may find yourself paying around $400.00 dollars. Not fun, but you need the glasses. Shop around compare prices and prepare to take a hit to the wallet.
That said there are many different options your glasses can have:
Polycarbonate Lenses- Polycarbonate is a light weight, thin, plastic material that is scratch and impact resistant. That's not to say that it is scratch or impact proof, if you take a knife and deliberately scratch it, you're shit out of luck, but if a lens made of polycarb falls on the ground it is less likely to come away looking like it was eaten by a belt sander. Polycarbonate is just one material lenses can be made out of. It is my preferred material of choice because I have a high RX and traditional plastic (CR 39) would make me look like I'm wearing coke bottle lenses. It isn't necessary to have polycarb if your prescription is low, but I would recommend it anyway because it is superior to regular plastic in every way imaginable. Polycarb lenses are sometimes referred to as feather weights or ultra-lights. Polycarb will probably be around sixty extra dollars (depending on where you go) but is worth the extra price.
Transition Lenses - These lenses turn dark when exposed to ultraviolet rays. I like these because they offer UV protection and they eliminate the need for two pairs of glasses (sunglass and clear glass). I live in a state that is very bright. Some days it seems like the sun is landing on the earth. In other states sunglasses may not be necessary, but here they are practically a requirement. The benefit of sunglasses and transition lenses is that they protect your eyes from UV rays which can strain the eyes, help form cataracts, and speed up serious visual problems like macular degeneration. Some people can't adjust properly to transitions, so these lenses are not for everyone. I'm just saying that these are the superior choice for those who are tired of changing glasses every time they step in or out. The older transitions used to get a permanent tint after awhile, this was mainly a problem for glass and polycarb lenses (in glass, transitions are called photo-gray), this isn't really a problem now. Transition lenses are more expensive than a RX sunglass, which is something to consider.
Anti-Reflective Coating- Anti-Reflective coating is sometimes called anti-glare and it does about what you'd expect. A good AR coat will vastly improve your night driving as well as cutting down unwanted glare and reflections. AR is a must if you are getting transition lenses in polycarbonate.
AR coating isn't without its problems however. Older glasses with AR coats attracted dust like nothing else, that problem has been mostly resolved but AR still has a tendency to get finger prints one them that stand out like a lion in a petting zoo. AR on standard plastic scratches easily as well. The question is do the benefits outweigh the cons. I have AR coating on my glasses but I also have polycarb transitions. AR coating is also about $60.00 dollars more.
Bifocals- There are three styles of bifocal: Executive, Strait Top (Lined), and Progressive no-lines. Most stores don't carry the Executive bifocal anymore. The Strait Top is your standard lined bifocal, with a little half moon "bubble" on the lower portion of the lenses. Progressive no-lines have an invisible reading area occupying the lower half of the lenses.
Now being only twenty, I don't wear bifocals, but I've dealt with enough people that do in the course of my job and I have a few ideas on which style is better. People like no-line bifocals because they feel that wearing bifocals makes them look old. This may be true and I have played games with myself when checking in eyeglasses to see if I can guess how old a person is based on frame, RX, and lens type, often I'm pretty close. Lined bifocals may make a person look old, we could argue that, but I believe they are better. They can fit into a smaller frame than a Progressive, they are easier to adjust, and they are less expensive. Progressives aren't bad lenses and if you do a lot of work on a computer they are much better then lined bifocals, but the price of trying to look young is way more then I feel the lenses are worth. If you are hell-bent on buying Progressive no-lines, get Verilux or SolaMax comprible brands. These will fit into smaller frames and will give you a larger reading area.
Sunglasses- If you don't like transitions and you want to buy sunglasses there are a few more things to consider. The first is Tinted vs. Polarized. Polarized is the better sunglass, but it costs a lot more. Polarized lenses block more glare, fishermen wearing polarized lenses can actually see through the surface glare on the water. For skiers and snowboarders I would recommend nothing else. Polarized lenses only come in gray, however. Tinted sunglasses will come in more colors (even more if you get standard plastic, polycarb has some limits on a few colors), but I recommend only gray or brown. Colors like yellow and blue will make everything look extremely bright and that is not a trait I look for in sunglasses. Gray is a neutral color and will not distort other colors. Brown is good, but it shifts colors toward red.
Frame- The frame is probably what most people will spend the most time considering before they buy glasses. Most frames in optical retail will be designer frames and like designer clothes these frames will be hideously overpriced. Frames come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. I can't recommend any specifically because everybody has a different shaped face, but I can say that if you have a square head, you'll probably want round frames, and if you have a round head, you'll probably want square frames. There are exceptions to this and hair color, eye shape, eye color, skin complexion, and any other number of things can effect how the glasses look on you.
There are three styles of frame and they are: drill mount rimless, semi-rimless, and full rim. What you want to wear is entirely up to you, but each of these frames will give a slightly different effect.
Rimless glasses will blend into your face. If you don't like having glasses and don't want to see them then these are the frames for you. If you are a guy who likes wearing power suits, they will make you look like you're rich and affluent. Rimless glasses were popular in the 30s but by 1960 the style was pretty much nonexistent. Rimless glasses are making a big come back however. The only problem with them is that they don't last as long with people who are rough on glasses and that they are very expensive.
Semi-rimless glasses will make the wearer look professional. I highly recommend this style to anyone who works behind a desk. Narrow faced women look great in semi-rimless cat-eye shaped glasses and can very easily pull off the "naughty librarian". Semi-rimless glasses stand out on the face and are not for people who want their glasses to blend in.
Full rim are the traditional wire frame glasses and can either blend into the face or stand out depending on the color. I like full rim better, because it feels sturdier (not that it is any studier, this is purely psychosomatic on my part), and looks better on my face. They also tend to be cheaper.
The material in your frame is made of can be plastic or metal, and really which ever is up to you, but I dislike plastic for some very specific reasons. No-line bifocals don't work very well in them because there is no ability to adjust them vertically. Plastic frames are a pain in the ass to adjust in general, and the lenses can be hard to get in and out and they can become loose in hot temperatures. Some people do look better in plastic than metal but these are usually young girls and women from age sixteen to twenty-five. They are good for the emo-look, but I've never much liked the emo-look. Some people may have metal allergies, but titanium and stainless steel frames are a better alternative to plastic. Titanium has the added benefit of being able to bend and not break. You can sleep with them on and they would probably be fine.
Warranty- This is a must. If the store you are buying glasses from offers you a warranty, buy it. You may think that you can get by without one, but shit happens and how would you like to fork over another three hundred bucks because you didn't want to pay the twenty or so dollars at the time of purchase? Bad fucking move.
That's about all. There are other options like buying sunglass with flash coats on them and aspheric lenses or Continumium lenses (like progressive no-lines, but designed for specifically for computer use) but for the most part they are extraneous. Most of us don't live in Southern California and flash coats will most likely never be encountered and normal progressive lenses are just fine for computer use.
All that being said, the glasses I'm currently wearing have:
Single vision Polycarbonate
Tortoise shell colored full rim frame
(Note: The facts described above are United States applicable. Prices may change due to state tax (for example in New Mexico warranties are non-taxable, and I’m not sure if they are elsewhere). If you live in another country the prices are likely to be radically different.)
(Update 2010: Executive bifocals are what Old Ben Franklin invented. They are simply two different lenses cut in half and then stuck together.)
U.S. Vision Technical Guide. I suspect that this resource is individually sent to U.S.V. stores, as it does not have a copyright notice anywhere on it.