Buying Vintage Glasses Versus Purchasing Retro Frames — Questions Answered

Posted by on Feb 03, 2015

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Retro clothing enthusiasts are often challenged when buying glasses online. Vintage eyeglass frames can be expensive and fragile. Retro frames look great, but don't always have the same "creed." To answer a few questions about buying vintage frames versus new glasses with a retro style, CraftFoxes asked Larisa Ginzburg, eyewear designer at the retro-minded frame designer Vint & York.

What's the best way to shop for vintage frames? What type of markings should a buyer look for on a vintage piece of eyewear to know it's real?

Finding a great vintage frame can be as difficult as hunting for a unicorn. When you're looking for vintage glasses and want a particular brand, do a bit of research on the brand.

One of the most important things to look for is where the glasses were made. This will help you identify if you have a true vintage frame. Many were made in Europe, and often in France and Italy. Most eyewear designers didn't add serial numbers or other unique identifiers until more recently, and it would be unlikely you'd find one on a vintage frame.

If possible, the seller of vintage glasses should provide some proof that will verify their claim that the frames are vintage. If you have to have a pair of vintage glasses, I'd recommend buying from a reputable seller that specializes in vintage eyewear, but know that purchasing a verifiable, vintage pair of glasses will add up to quite an investment as these vintage glasses can start with a price tag of $400-$500.

If you're purchasing from a regular resale shop or thrift store, they may not be able to give you much background on the brand or speak to the durability of the frame. A good tip to remember is to stick to well-known brands because it's generally easier to spot a counterfeit of a popular brand than a lesser-known brand.

retro glasses
How are the vintage frame materials different from new frames?
The materials that eyeglasses are made from have changed over time; the most commonly used material today is acetate. Some vintage frames may be made from animal horn or bone, which is more durable than plastic and also won't oxidize from wear. Anyone that's worn a plastic frame knows that after a while the plastic begins to oxidize. The mixture of sweat, skin oils and heat can cause some discoloration to the material.

Also, it may be harder to find vintage plastic frames because the type of plastic used can become very brittle over time. If you do find a plastic vintage pair, treat them with utmost care, because the plastic may be fragile. When it comes to broken plastic or acetate frames, you can pretty much count on them being gone for good.
retro style glasses
How does Vint & York decide which frames it’s going to use as the inspiration for new frames?
In each collection we introduce, we try to bring something new to the table. For example, the 2015 color of the year is Marsala, so we incorporated that into our frames. The best way to stay vigilant on the trends is simply being mindful of what we see in our daily routines.
john lennon retro frames
What are some of the most iconic types of glasses retro fans want?
Round frames: One of the most iconic and classic shape is the round-frame, the "John Lennon," very fashionable among the hippies and the intellectuals of the 60s and 70s. When someone says "vintage glasses" we almost instantly think of his round frames. A round metal frame is great for someone that wants a simple, vintage look, especially in antique gold, like the Vint &York Big Timer frames.
Most people that are drawn to the round frames are looking to create a look that gives a nod to the Prohibition Era style. If you want a bolder look, a round acetate frame will give you the classic shape with a modern twist, like the Vint & York Swanky frames.
cat eye retro eyeglass frames
Cat-eye frames have a made a huge comeback in women's glasses and in several incarnations. They’ve gone in and out of style since the 1950s. Famous icon celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly all wore cat-eye frames.

Cat-eye shaped frames evoke nostalgia and are just as edgy as they ever were. The feline inspired shape adds an air of drama to any look. They're chic in black or tortoise and edgy in bold pastels. The Vint & York "Doll" frame in black is a modest cat-eye.

A tip for picking the perfect cat-eye frames is to find one that matches the contours of your eyebrows. When the top of the frame compliments your eyebrows, it really enhances the way the glasses look on your face. The eyebrows are a very expressive component of the face and shouldn't compete with the shape or size of your glasses.
browline retro glasses
The rectangular or browline shape frames are very common in vintage inspired modern eyewear and generally works well for every face shape. These frames are a staple of mid-century masculinity.

This is the shape that men tend to gravitate towards, as it compliments people with flatter eyebrows, and is an all-around frame. You can wear it with anything, to anything. This shape is "safer" and works well in a variety of colors. The Vint & York "After Hours" has the classic browline shape. The textured tortoise temples add depth. For a modern take on these vintage inspired glasses, pick up a purple tortoise shell pattern.


jackie onassis retro style sunglasses
Jackie Onassis embodied great style and she left her permanent mark on the eyewear industry with her oversized sunglasses. She was known for wearing big over-sized sunglasses and was said to even keep a bowl of sunglasses by her front door. Not only did she recognize the importance of protecting your eyes, but she made it fashionable.

The Vint & York oversized "Glitterati" frames are a nod to Jackie: big, bold, round sunglasses with metallic accents that give you the feeling that you're ducking paparazzi on your way to work. The saying "the bigger, the better" applies to this type of frame, but make sure that they still fit your face. If you can fit more than a finger-width between your temple and the arm of the frame, try finding something a little smaller.
aviator retro sunglasses
The Aviators, easily the most popular shape for sunglasses, are now making a return to the ophthalmic (clear prescription) glasses. The vintage aviator style was updated by Vint & York with added texture such as leather-wrap around the rim of the frame. Optical aviator frames are also becoming popular, with a lot of people taking their aviators from outside to inside. The Fly boy frames are a throwback to the 80's style, that big, bold look that says "Hey, I'm wearing glasses."
vintage glasses care
If a vintage pair of glasses break, is it possible to fix them?
Metal frames tend to be more forgiving in terms of repair. Most of the time, a broken metal frame can be welded, depending on the damage.

Keep in mind that most metal vintage frames will be made from precious materials, possibly real gold or silver. If your vintage metal frame gets damaged, take it to an optical store first to see if it can be repaired or welded, if it can be welded, most opticals will have a place that they use for those types of repairs if they're not able to repair it on-site.

This still may not be a long-term fix and could break again in the future, depending on what happened and what part of the frame was damaged. When it comes to damage to the eyewire, the rim or the part that holds the lens, it's a lost cause because the lens won't sit in the frame properly. You have to baby your vintage glasses, they've lived a long life and need a little extra care.

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