MIAMI - The latest eyeglass frames aren't just for seeing. With bold colors, futuristic frames and sparkling embellishments, they are meant to be seen.
About 145 million Americans were eyeglass wearers last year, according to industry analysts Jobson VisionWatch.
If they're shopping for new frames this year, they'll see a lot of two major trends that emerged from a recent eyewear convention in Italy, says Lisa Gear, director of frame buying for LensCrafters.
So-called "geek chic" is still in, with strong frames in bright colors, classic tortoiseshell and animal prints. This includes thicker frames that echo the Wayfarer sunglasses Tom Cruise sported decades ago in "Risky Business."
"Picture that with a clear optical lens," Gear says. "That strong look, though, with women goes into a cat-eye glasses."
The big frames also serve a practical purpose. The larger sizes can accommodate new progressive lenses that eliminate the line that splits traditional bifocal lenses.
"The frame has to be deep enough, so we look for those frames, but ones that are fashionable," Gear says.
The thickness and embellishments stretch also down the glasses' side pieces - called "temples."
Crystals point in an arrow down the sides of pink- and orange-tinged Prada frames. At Dior, sparkling flowers underline the logo on the temples. Gucci added a bow at the hinge or Swarovski crystals that contrast with gold, black or violet temples.
An ornate crystal hinge puts a little space between the lenses and thick green temples of a pair of Bulgari glasses. Burberry stamped a plaid pattern over some of its tortoiseshell temples.
The oversized temples modernize eyeglass frames and offer designers' a bigger canvas for logos, says Timm Parker, vice president of product development and design at eyewear manufacturer Safilo.
He recommends looking for thinner temples if unobstructed peripheral vision is a concern.
While many designers' ads focus on the biggest and boldest frames, their collections do include smaller options for those looking for a more subtle accessory.
"The bestsellers are still much more calm," such as a Gucci frame with narrower, rounded rectangles and a webbed pattern stamped over temples that taper off toward the ear, says Parker
Many designers play with similar shapes.
"Soft rectangles, it's a pretty much universally flattering shape," Parker says.
As frames get bigger, they also are being designed with lighter materials to keep them from sliding off smaller noses, said Miami-based eyewear designer Edward Beiner, who attended the design convention in Italy.
"For the past 10 years or so, eyeglasses were so small, people with wider faces had trouble," he says. "Now everybody gets a chance."
That's a chance to get a luxe look without spending a lot of money, not just a chance to see.
"It's one of the least expensive entry products into the accessory products. Bags can cost thousands," Beiner says. "It's the first thing somebody sees when they look at you. It protects your eyes, it protects your skin. The pluses are endless."
At the other end of the spectrum from the bold looks are futuristic frames made from flat metals such as titanium.
"These are not the round, wire frames. It's almost a plastic kind of look, very flat on the front and very thin," Gear says.
Downtown Miami salon owner Raquel Watters probably has at least one of every trend in her eyewear collection. She changes her specs to match her clothes, as she would with jewelry.
Her glasses are her style trademark, and she keeps a pair by her bed to put on first thing in the morning. She also has more than 40 pairs stashed at her RikRak Salon, in her car, various purses, a special "glasses drawer" in her house and even in her husband's car.
"To me, glasses are an accessory you've got to have as you would have a purse or your shoes," she said recently, while wearing a thick, cream-colored pair of square frames by Fendi.
Like many of the six or seven pairs of glasses she buys a year, these frames were originally sunglasses that Watters had fitted with clear prescription lenses. Other frames currently rotating through her wardrobe include thick Jackie Onassis-style tortoiseshells, black square "evening wear glasses" with crystal embellishments around the hinges, and a clear plastic pair that resemble safety goggles until they're softened by her dark blond bangs.
"I've tried the wire frames but they make me look older," says Watters, 54. "These (thicker frames) make me look more youthful."
Of course, a dresser full of glasses or a trendy look isn't for everyone.
Glasses styles can come and go rather quickly, especially in a tight economy where shoppers aren't splurging on accessories, says Candace Corlett, president of the marketing consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail.
"We have a stronger trend to simplify our lives," Corlett says. "Adding corrective glasses frames is another thing to keep track of."