Americans are individualistic…
We celebrate the distinctions of uniqueness. This theme is ever present in the pervading eyewear fashions of modern society. An industry that had a genesis in functionality is now marked as an industry of fashion. In a day where comfort and fit play second fiddle to style and hue there are many reasons why one might choose a particular frame over another. Usually the patient knows exactly how they would like their new spectacles to look even before they step foot into your optical. Now, more than ever, it seems that eyecare professionals must dissuade the ill-informed patient of an improper frame selection – even when it’s the “perfect frame.”
More so than any other factor related to frame selection, patients want to find eyewear that meets their friends, spouse’s (etc.) seal of approval. The eyewear industry is not immune to peer pressure and societal norms. Who cares about comfort and function as long as I impress my friends? This is why so many of our patients will bring along a comrade during the frame selection process. Purchasing new eyewear is a big deal, so it is never a good idea to go in alone on the frame decision. Though you can work hard and gain the respect of your patients as their trusted eyecare professional there are few things as comforting as knowing that your friend is alongside you and not allowing you to make the biggest mistake of your life (i.e. choosing the wrong pair of eyeglasses). Interestingly, one can note that the friend is usually the one to find the right frame and not the patient. This phenomenon occurs because the friend will generally “shoot down” every pair of glasses that is selected by the patient because the “friend” wants to be the one to find the perfect frame. Even so, patients are more than willing to allow these acquaintances choose their new look because there is strength in numbers and peer approval is a safe territory for many.
Even though you may find a question such as, “What frame design should a patient use with a rectangular face shape?” on the national optician certification examination, many would argue that patients do not like to limit their frame style selection based upon their God-given features. In fact I do not recommend telling patients that they have diamond shaped faces with unusually small chins and wide temples. No good can come of this. Let your patients tell you how they envision their new look, and then help them make that a reality. Yes, some face shapes such as oval do look exceptionally well in most anything, but this should not be our main focal point (pun intended). Our patient bases are caught up in pop culture and the subconscious styling’s of the world around them. They notice that the weatherman has on a substantial, black, acetate, square frame with frame-front embellishments. They have seen the newsstand where every other cover has a celebrity in vintage eyewear. Consider the fact that a vast majority of your patients are style experts (or think they are). They know what color, shape and style they are going for and only want you to assure them that when they find the perfect frame it will fit their prescription and perform its function, suspending corrective lenses approximately twelve millimeters away from their eyes.
Is there anything more maddening than finding the perfect frame for a patient – the one that looks amazing – like it was made exactly for them and to have the patient remark something like, “These are nice, but I don’t think they look good on me.”? It is a serious let down to find an absolute gem and to be told that it is not what they are looking for. This is when you need to step back and realize that eyewear is a very individual and complicated decision. The same patient that rejected your perfect frame might also think that a flannel shirt with basketball shorts is a respectable outfit. Clearly, even though you are the professional, not all patients will have the same fashion sense. They may even ridicule your frame selections as absurd. Do not allow your feelings to become offended as this is about as subjective a decision as “which is better, one or two?” Respect your patients desire to maintain their own sense of style; even when it is less than impressive.
What about the occasions where the patients give you full reign of the dispensary and say, “You are the professional. I don’t know what is in style. Find me the perfect pair.”? This can be both a fun and rewarding experience as you consider the latest and most complimentary fashions. This is where the skilled eyecare professional considers a multiplicity of factors ranging from occupation to pupillary centration and skin complexion to find the faultless pair. After all, your patients are a walking representation of your product. Improving both ones fashion and function is a satisfying practice. Having a contest to see which optician can be first to sell the ugliest frame on the board, however, is not.
What dictates frame sales at your practice? Do you have a diverse selection to accommodate a wide array of fashion gurus? While patients may have preconceived notions of what their new look should be, do not forget that you are the eyecare professional and that your primary goal is to improve the quality of their life through improved vision. This does not mean that we have to compromise on style. Our patients should be able to find the look that they want and also have their refractive needs met. Satisfying fashion, fit and functional goals during frame selection is an important part of the eyecare professional’s job.
Sometimes the hardest part of being a frame stylist is allowing our subjective opinions to take a back seat to what our patients want. This is where we must consider the individuality of the person selecting their new look. The world would be far less interesting if everyone had identical tastes. Embrace the unusual and allow patients to express themselves through their frame selection. After all, if they love it and can see great while wearing it, who are we to interrupt such a match?
– Sam Winnegrad