What eyewear means in the twenty first century

VSP Real World Solution Series

Eyewear in all its various forms is increasing in popularity—and the ways in which people can get it are evolving too.

In the ’20s, Teddy Roosevelt popularized the pince-nez style he wore in office. In the ’50s, there were the thick frames of Buddy Holly, and Malcolm X’s famed horn-rimmed glasses in the early ’60s. Jackie Onassis popularized emphatic sunglasses, and fictional characters such as Steve Urkel and Napoleon Dynamite brought back nerdy aviators.

Of course, corrective eyewear is more than a fashion statement: In most cases, it’s a medical necessity. More than 150 million Americans—almost half of the nation’s population—wear some form of corrective eyewear, and eyeglasses are represented in every generation, from Gen Z to baby boomers. And just as eyewear trends evolve over the years, so too do the priorities and shopping habits of generations.

That can make it difficult to account for everyone in vision insurance plans and in optometrists’ offices. With the wide variety of eye disorders to be addressed—near and far sightedness, astigmatism, glaucoma—customers need to keep their focus on what their medical needs are when they choose their eyewear. Patients need to choose the variety that is most appropriate for their specific vision challenges with the advice of their eye doctor.

That includes millennials, who have more diverse lifestyle and spending habits than any preceding generation. Marketing experts and sociologists alike agree that millennials value their individuality highly, placing a premium on personal style. When it comes to choosing eyeglasses, nearly half of millennials rank appearance as the most important factor.

For Gen Xers, cost trumps all, given that, according to the Pew Research Center, “47 percent of Gen Xers have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child,” with 15 percent providing financial support to both a parent and a child. That also means they are likely responsible for the eyewear of everyone in the family, each of whom likely has different needs.

In contrast, baby boomers are, “generally speaking, optimistic about their finances and a bit more free-spending than the seniors of the silent generation,” according to Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends. In other words, boomers are comfortable with considerations other than cost, and have the financial flexibility to opt for frames that are stylish and reflective of their personality.

“With eyewear becoming more and more popular, there’s such a wide variety of frame styles available now that makes it easy for people of all generations and style preferences to find frames that they love,” says Marina Golub, optician and frame stylist at Visions Optometry.

Those generational differences in priorities and trends, in combination with a range of possible medical conditions, mean that everyone from vision-care providers to insurance companies is evolving to meet different needs. That often means meeting them online, since every generation is getting accustomed to making purchases digitally.

Sites like VSP’s online eyewear store, Eyeconic, are now part of the online shopping trend. In addition to matching needs across these generational divides, they help enable members to use their eyewear benefits. For example, Eyeconic helps consumers connect with VSP eye doctors near them, if a patient still needs to get their prescription checked before buying a new pair of glasses.

In the end, everyone—from the millennials to the boomers, from the online shoppers to the in-store browsers—is going to need the right kind of coverage: options that address unique financial, medical, lifestyle, and style-based needs rather than a one-size-fits-all solution mandated by their insurance plans.

VSP’s EasyOptions is an example of a coverage alternative that gives families the ability to choose the kind of upgrade and eyewear they want when they visit their doctor. Not only that—each family member gets to pick their own upgrade, since the plan allows for flexibility even within the family unit. A plan for people of every generation and medical profile, it lets companies offer the variety of choices employees and their families need, making vision coverage work with patients’ lives rather than dictate how they live.

As is the case with anything we put on our bodies, eyewear is now a fashion consideration: It can complete a look, or be the centerpiece of an outfit. Because of that, and because of shifting medical needs, different generations take different approaches to shopping and choosing their eyewear. Effective vision care coverage, as well as providers, will be able to embrace and account for that diversity as demand for eyewear continues to grow.

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