Andrea Jovine Sunglasses Aviators

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A Clear Improvement / More fashionable reading glasses are turning up at boutiques and department stores

  • OUT OF SIGHT: Unisex collapsible readers by Minifold with cases, $70 each, at Mio, San Francisco Chronicle Photo by Lea Suzuki OUT OF SIGHT: Unisex collapsible readers by Minifold with cases, $70 each, at Mio, San Francisco Chronicle Photo by Lea Suzuki

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Image 1 of 8 OUT OF SIGHT: Unisex collapsible readers by Minifold with cases, $70 each, at Mio, San Francisco Chronicle Photo by Lea Suzuki OUT OF SIGHT: Unisex collapsible readers by Minifold with cases, $70 each, at Mio, San Francisco Chronicle Photo by Lea Suzuki A Clear Improvement / More fashionable reading glasses are turning up at boutiques and department stores 1 / 8 Back to Gallery

It starts with squinting at menus and continues until the wine list/book/magazine is held as far away from the face as possible. This can go on for years. After that, an aging Baby Boomer’s path toward reading glasses goes something like this:

But there is a step between the drugstore and the eye doctor, as more and more fashionable “readers” can be found at boutiques and department stores.

In the past couple of years there has been a huge upswing in the number of manufacturers making good-looking readers, says optician Carol Norbeck, a spokeswoman for the Vision Council of America in Washington, D.C. “It used to be there were just the cheap ones, but this niche is really being addressed now,” she says. Readers — including the drugstore variety — were a $332 million industry in 1998.

Some facts before fashion: Between the ages of 45 and 55, the eyes lose their ability to switch quickly between far and near. Most people will seek some sort of magnification from 1.0 to 2.5. “From the start, you need to get your eyes examined to check for conditions such as glaucoma, but we know that most people don’t,” Norbeck says.

Most people buy cheap magnifying lenses. They can’t harm your eyes, she says, but they can lead to headaches and other discomfort if the magnification is either too strong or too weak. “If you need anything above a 2.0, a 2.5 at the outside, chances are you have a condition for which you should get professional help.”

The critical difference between drugstore readers and prescription glasses is in the quality of the lenses, which are ground and polished. “It’s the difference between looking through a window that is slightly wavy and one that is free of aberration,” Norbeck says.

Whichever you choose, readers are getting better looking all the time. “Boomers are accustomed to fashion in whatever they do; pens, watches, cars, but they didn’t have much of a fashion choice in terms of readers,” says Jack Abelson, director of the new reading glasses division at Nak Corp., a menswear company in Minnesota.

In addition to clear lenses, Nak makes a sunglasses reader. “That’s the new wrinkle in this market,” Abelson says. “But what’s really changed in the last few years is where readers are being sold.”

Macy’s carries readers from Liz Claiborne and Andrea Jovine. Neiman Marcus sells readers in both the men’s and women’s accessories department. More and more boutiques are starting to carry them, such as Mio in San Francisco, Calla in Menlo Park and Bosanova and Laura Kirian in Berkeley. Most cost less than $50.

But there is still stiff competition from the drugstore. Boutique owners say readers are not flying out the door. “There are women who really look for these more fashionable brands, and the other crowd that is happy getting them at Walgreens,” says Miyo Ota, owner of Mio boutique.

The Glen Ellen Village Market in Sonoma tried selling readers for a while but without much success, says co-owner Dale Downing. “We thought they’d go over big, but it turned out my brother, Don Shone, and I probably used them the most.”

Perhaps the trend will never take off. If nothing else, at least the chains, or leashes, are getting more fashionable.

Audrey Daniel’s pretty beaded leashes can double as jewelry. “I include a little S-hook on the ends, so they can be converted,” says the Oakland accessories designer, who sells her chains to many Bay Area boutiques, including Designer’s Club in San Francisco, Earthly Goods in Berkeley and the Collection in Cupertino. They sell for $32 to $60, depending on the materials.

Daniel uses freshwater pearls, turquoise stones and Czech beads in her designs. “My idea is to go beyond a basic chain and make them colorful and fun — not old ladyish.”

Andrea jovine aviator sunglasses

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