With around three-quarters of the UK adult population wearing corrective eyewear, the market for spectacles and contact lenses is vast. The optical chain Specsavers, which has a big presence on our high streets and extensive marketing, is the favourite choice for many. But does it really offer what it promises – ‘stylish frames at good prices’? Beverley D’Silva headed to Specsavers Chiswick to find out.
I visited my local branch of Specsavers, at the leafier end of Chiswick High Road, and was greeted warmly by the store’s Retail Director, Irfan Akhtar. Irfan gave me a brief outline of the tests I would need to undergo, to check my glasses prescription and eye health.
Prior to the full eye test, I was given a pre-test by an optical assistant, Kamila Solecka. I was told to rest my chin onto diagnostic equipment called a tonometer, which gently blew a puff of air onto the surface of each eye – to measure their internal pressure, and to help assess one’s risk of developing glaucoma. Kamila did an autorefraction test to see how long- or short-sighted I am, and used another instrument to take a photograph of the back of my eye, using digital retinal photography; this would help monitor any changes in my eye health in future. I then met the optometrist, Annand Soneji. He used a retinoscope to make precise measurements of my vision, then fitted some test frames on me and slotted different lenses into the frame, first on the right eye, then the left. As he did this I had to read the letters on test charts that were projected onto the wall. Annand then used an ophthalmoscope to examine the retina at the back of my eye, and to check the health of the optic nerve and blood vessels. A slit lamp, or powerful microscope, was used to examine the front surface of my eyes, checking for abnormalities on the cornea, iris and lens. Lastly a visual field check was done, to assess how well my eyes can detect light flashes in my peripheral vision, another way to pick up on glaucoma or other vision issues.
After the eye test, I was told that my prescription hadn’t changed from my existing glasses – as they had been prescribed 10 years previously, I was very pleased to know my sight had not deteriorated. Annand said I did have the beginnings of a cataract, and while no treatment was necessary, they would look for any changes to this at my next eye test in a year’s time. ‘I do recommend wearing sunglasses to reduce sun damage to the eye and any contribution to the cataract,’ he said. As someone who hates medical examinations, of any kind, I am happy to report that the Specsavers’ team made the eye tests a painless and, dare I say it, even pleasurable experience.
My unreserved praise, however, goes to Retail Director Irfan, who helped so much in the last bit of the process: selecting the frames. In this I’ve made awful mistakes in the past – once having chosen a pair called ‘Maverick’, which I realise now must have been designed for motorbike riding males. (They looked so hideous on I only wore them once before they were consigned to a darkened drawer). Maybe choosing spec frames is one of the hardest style choices because we don’t often do it – like wedding dresses, which also require so much trying on and input from others. Certainly, it seems like a fine art – and that’s how Irfan approached it;like an artist, he took note of my face shape (square-ish) and head width – I was unaware that there are tiny numbers inside frames, like a secret code, that indicates head measurement. Then we browsed the displays: I was really pleased to discover the wide array of designer frames they stock – Kylie Minogue, Cath Kidston, Boss, Balmain, Tommy Hilfiger, Nicole Farhi, Karen Millen, and Superdry among them . Its late st frames are by musician Will.i.Am (10 frames for men, four for women). We quickly narrowed down the thousands of options to around 10 frames that were definite runners. After that it was a matter of aesthetics, taste and trying on, until I finally found a pair I felt were just right for me. And if you don’t have someone like Irfan to help you, the company has just introduced Frame Styler – a 3D 360-degree face-scanning tool that gives insights into what frames suit you.
While I was only interested in spectacles, they do of course also offer a full service for contact lens wearers. As well as sight testing, they offer free hearing tests by Specsavers audiologists – apparently for those over 40, it’s important to have your hearing tested regularly.
In less than a week I was the happy owner of my sparkling new spectacles; the frames, with a soft sable-coloured exterior and violet interior, are by Superdry, the British company inspired by Japanese design. Taking the optometrist’s advice to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from sun damage, I also ordered a gorgeous pair of tortoiseshell frames, again by Superdry. Both are stylish, comfortable and light, and I feel very satisfied with the whole experience – and the result.