27 December 2020

In Which One Gets Glasses in England


American buying eyeglasses in England

It wasn't in the plan to get glasses so soon after my moving here. I had had my current pair for almost 5 years, and they were just fine. I think I might have jinxed myself though when Mr. B and I wandered into our local Leighton's in Haywards Heath to ask if they could tighten my sliding acrylic frames. It's like my gut knew I better be introduced.

A few weeks later, I committed the cardinal sin of precocious-cat-and-prescription-glasses ownership and left them atop my nightstand one night. The next morning, my glasses were found on the floor and had been bumped in the perfect storm kind of way to leave a deep enough scratch that created a perma-fuzzy dot in my direct line of vision.

I returned to the high street with my scratched glasses in hand and asked the Leighton's staff if they were fixable. They were not, of course. While it was great that they could pull my prescription from the lenses themselves and fit them to my current frames, I hadn't had an eye exam in forever and couldn't do without my glasses since I had no spare pair. So in the name of integrating into British optical culture and staying on top of my eye health, I thought it prudent to get an update. Thankfully being considered an essential service in COVID times, booking a standard eye examination wasn't too difficult at the price of £40. 

Experience buying prescription glasses at Leighton's Opticians in England

When my eye test appointment rolled around, it was all very straight forward, but I found it far more thorough of an exam than I ever had in the States. There was the standard eye exam equipment, eye chart on the wall, air puff right in the eye machine of dread, retinal photographs, but also old school methods like a reading test booklet and plastic spectacles with lens slots to determine your prescription (re: in total Luna Lovegood style). 

Beyond amusing this American and holding up the vintage booklet for a photo because I loved it, my optometrist was wonderfully kind even when she had to break the news that I have a permanent pterygium growing on my left eye caused by my previous sunny UV-rich life in Virginia. 

We both had to laugh because that’s likely not ever going to be the case again here in rainy cold England! However, I do have to wear sunglasses any time I’m outdoors so the pterygium doesn’t have a chance of growing. Surgery is the only way to remove it, and I'd like to keep sharp pointy objects away from my face, thank you.

Eye exam at Leighton's Opticians in Haywards Heath England

The Basics of British Opticians

All UK optician shops offer eye tests for glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses, so you can get whatever you need in one place. All cities and towns will have at least one optician option whereas village dwellers might have to travel into their nearest town for an appointment.

Buying glasses operate much like in America: there are very few available discounts (though I did get a £50 refer-a-friend discount at Leighton's because it’s Mr. B’s optician, too!), same prescription format, and similar product offerings. Frames feel more European to me here, but they also have the classic familiar styles. While not the case with all British optician shops, one store layout difference I found at Leighton's is that the eyeglasses are not categorized by gender. I loved this. You just go to the design you like without thinking of the subconscious obligation to only consider female-marketed styles.

If you wear contact lenses, most opticians also offer a direct mail "subscription" type of program where you get your contacts delivered on a frequent basis. 

Unlike American eyeglass shops, British opticians offer hearing services in addition to eye care. You can get a hearing exam, ear wax removal service, and hearing aids. As someone who has had ear issues her whole life (aka hearing aids are definitely in my geriatric future), it's kind of cool that I don't have to make an appointment at an specialized ENT doctor if the need comes up. I would have options!

Experience buying prescription glasses at Leighton's Opticians in England

Where to Get Prescription Eyeglasses in Great Britain

There are options galore for getting eyewear, and it's all a very familiar process to any American who has had to get glasses before on the other side of the pond. Whether you want online or in-person, you'll find a bit of everything. When choosing an optician, customer service, easy ordering, and frame diversity were priority for me. Brand name designers weren't personally important to me, but like American optical stores, each shop has their own contracts with various brands, so if you are looking for a particular style or brand, it's best to do your research. Glasses are about the same price if not more than the U.S. and varies widely depending on your prescription strength needs and brand name of your frames. 

• Specsavers - Free NHS-funded eye tests are available here for qualified persons. The NHS may also help cover a portion of the cost of glasses or contact lenses.
• Boots Opticians - To avoid confusion, these are separate brick-and-mortar locations from the main Boots Pharmacy locations. They tend to be close-ish together on the high street or general shopping area though. 
• Leightons - If you go here for your eye exam, ask them about their recommend-a-friend program and tell them "Chelsea LaVere" referred you! You will get £50 off your first services and products like I did by being referred by my Mr. B (and double bonus I would get a gift card thank you!).
• Glasses Direct (online only) - You need to get an eye exam and prescription at your preferred local optician and then order from this company. They do have a "try at home" feature for finding your perfect frames.
• David Clulow Opticians - If you like the luxury name brands like Prada and Cartier, then this shop might be your choice.
• Vision Express - Free NHS-funded eye exams are also available here for qualified persons.

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