Vintage eyeglass frames dating from the 1800s (or even earlier) to the 1980s allow wearers to recreate the wire-rimmed look of a turn-of-the-century scholar or the cat's-eye style of a 1950s fashionista. As Joann F. Schnell points out in "The Vintage Advantage," the business of vintage eyeglasses is booming. Available from thrift stores, optometrist shops, antique malls and online brokers, vintage frames can in most cases be fitted with modern prescription lenses for a distinctive, retro look.
Check plastic frames for cracks or clouding, which indicate that the plastic is too aged and vulnerable to withstand the fitting of new lenses. If you've chosen wire frames, look for bent temple pieces or nose pieces. Examine the inside of the nose piece and the temple pieces for matching manufacturer's names or logos. If they don't match, your glasses may have been repaired at some time, using different pieces that could compromise the fit.
Ask your optometrist to fit custom lenses to your vintage frames. If he can't do that, obtain a copy of your current prescription. Determine whether your prescription requires a specialised, high-index or progressive lens, since these types of lenses may not fit the smaller frames of vintage eyeglasses.
Contact local optometry shops, some of which may even carry their own stock of vintage frames. Ask whether the shop will fit lenses to products not sold there, and whether additional fees will be charged for custom-cutting the lenses. The website of Allyn Scura Eyewear, which carries more than 50,000 vintage and antique frames, provides a state-by-state listing of opticians and optometrists in the United States who offer this service. Or, send your prescription and frames to an online optometry shop dealing in vintage eyeglasses. The Optometrist's Attic, an online shop dedicated to vintage glasses, provides custom lens fitting as well as repair. Eyeglasses.com, another online eyeglass service, not only sells vintage frames but also provides replacement lenses with a current prescription, and Eyeglass Boy, a large online vintage frame dealer, promises custom lenses in about a week.
Good condition or unworn vintage frames are the best choices for custom lens replacement. Custom sunglasses lenses can also be fitted to vintage frames. Consider replacing original lenses in vintage sunglasses with modern ones for better UV protection. Most vintage eyeglasses are smaller than their modern counterparts. For best quality wire frames, look for "GF" ("Gold-filled") or "14K" inside the nose piece or temple pieces.
Large-chain eyewear shops may not be willing to fit lenses to frames they don't sell. Added fees may be charged for custom cutting to fit vintage frames. High-index, progressive or other specialised lenses may not fit smaller vintage frames. Well-worn, plastic or base-metal frames may not withstand the lens replacement process.