In the same way that it was once unfathomable to shop for shoes or clothes in any other way than in person, the same revolution has quietly been taking place when it comes to buying eyeglasses.
Once a lengthy, drawn-out process that would involve squinting at an eye test chart followed by trying on the couple dozen frames under stark lighting, before collecting your new glasses up to a week later - but often more.
Optician visits as a child were loathsome. I never felt comfortable enough to try on styles properly, instead hastily choosing a pair in a price bracket pre-determined by my parents. I wound up resembling Deirdre Barlow; a less than ideal look for a nine year-old girl growing up in Wembley.
Is it any wonder I switched to contact lenses as soon as I could? These days I wear them all day, but switch to specs in the evenings and at the weekend to give my eyes a break.
My eyesight has long settled – most opticians agree it starts stabilising by around age 21 – so I haven’t shopped for a new pair of glasses for yonks. However, the ones I have are scratched and scruffy, very much on their last legs. Time for a replacement.
Thankfully, glasses have become so much cooler since I first started wearing them, with celebrities capitalising on the silver lining of poor vision with statement frames. Think comic genius Alan Carr, acting heavyweights like Bill Nighy and Gary Oldman, and royals such as the Duke of Cambridge and HRH the Queen. Even Becks has been papped in glasses. Some folk wear them even though they don’t need to, a trend that would have left my schoolgirl-self bewildered. These days, specs equals style.
On the digital high street, you can find a new wave of e-opticians and eyewear brands showcasing stylish frames at competitive prices. Without the overheads of a bricks-and-mortar store, Internet retailers can pass on the savings to customers without compromising on quality. Many are using AI to let you try the frames on virtually to make sure they’re perfect.
There’s no need to feel blindsided by the choice out there; I’ve scouted the nicest looking specs below, as well as companies offering the finest customer service and best UK delivery options.
From strong bookish frames to curved styles in block colour shades, here are the best places to buy glasses online.
Best for: “the modern spectacle wearer”
Average prices: spectacles start at £125.
The look: Handmade designs from aviator frames to oval silhouettes, there’s probably a Cubitts store or stockist near you. There’s 10 in central London as well as a workshop in Brighton. Choose from 55 spectacle frame designs, many of which come in sunglasses counterparts. The selection is gender-neutral and there’s also the option of choosing small, regular and large sizes as well as varying colour choices for each frame.
The process: Add transition or blue light filters to your chosen frames as well as your prescription, then hit the check out. You can opt for home delivery or to collect your new specs from a Cubbits store – that’s it. One of the most streamlined processes around.
Trial run: A Try At Home service is offered by Cubitts; four pairs to experiment with for five days, sent free of charge. To return simply drop them off at one of 2000 stores around the country. If you want a quicker look at your glasses without the faff of waiting for delivery, try Cubitts’ Speculator service. The augmented reality technology lets you try on their specs without leaving your computer or device. However it only works on iOS devices using the Safari browser – sorry to disappoint, Android and Chrome users.
Shipping, delivery and returns: delivery is offered free worldwide.
Special features: As Cubitts has so many physical stores, one of their standout offers is £25 for an eye test as long as you buy one of their frames - it's £40 otherwise.
Best for: the fashion-focused
Average price: £95 for one pair of spectacles.
The look: With a slick website that looks like a boutique shopfront, you see straight away that style is a big focus at Bloobloom. All frames, which come in various shades, are part of the in-house collection and share a bold yet elegant aesthetic that you’ll feel instantly drawn to. They're divided into gender-specific sections, but could just as easily be unisex and a clear infographic breaks down the price so you can see how it compares to high street prices.
Prescription glasses comes with anti-scratch, anti-reflective and superhydrophobic (water-repellent) coatings on the lens. They are also 100 per cent UV protected. There's no extra charge for thin lenses, a relief to anyone with a particularly strong prescription.
The process: Bloobloom will need a prescription that's no less than two years old - and contact lenses won't do as they sit on your eyeball so your numbers could vary. They also need your pupillary distance (PD), the distance between your pupils. This is so they can make sure both lenses sit centrally on your eyes. You can get all this from an optometrist following an eye test. Both single-vision and varifocal prescriptions are accepted.
Try before you buy?: Yes. The brand offer a home try-on service where you can test-drive five frames for free. Just select your desired frames and click the ‘Free Trial’ button in the bottom right corner of the screen. Once you've chosen, fill in your delivery and billing info (for a returnable deposit) and they will be in your hands in 48 hours. Send them back in the pre-paid box within five days. Home Try On doesn't extend to sunglasses.
Shipping, delivery and returns: UK postage costs, including for the free trial, are covered by Bloobloom. Shipping charges may apply to selected countries.Not happy? Return or exchange within 30 days, no questions asked.
Anything special to note?: Bloobloom runs charity initiative ‘Pair for a Pair’, in which it donates a pair of specs to someone in a developing nation for every sale it makes. Right now they’re working with local distributors in Rwanda, but have plans to move on to other African countries and southeast Asia.
When you consider 2.5bn of the world’s population don’t have access to proper eyecare (which affects education, jobs and poverty levels), initiatives like this make all the difference.
Best for: part-time spectacle wearers
Average price: glasses start from less than £30 a pair for both men’s and women’s styles
The look: The high street chemist has a sizeable selection of spectacles that would suit a range of tastes. Pick from thick, bold designs to metallic half-rimmed frames, plus plenty more besides. Shop by gender, style, material or frame shape.
Alongside their in-house selection, Superdrug Glasses Online also offer a range of brands including Cavalli, Diesel, Guess, Gant, Helly Hansen, Hackett and Marciano so if it’s a designer look you’re going for, there’s plenty of choice here.
Prescription and non-prescription sunglasses are offered on the site, as well as reglazing services for spectacles you already own, and options to buy daily disposable contact lenses from a wide range of brands.
The process: There’s a huge range of filters to narrow down your selection, from frame style, colour and material to finer details like nose bridge width and the length of the arms either side of the lenses, so you can really whittle down your choices – helpful when there are close to 500 styles to choose from in the women’s section alone.
Once you have your desired selection, inspect them further in 360 view, as well as how they sit on a woman’s face or a man’s with pre-loaded images on the site. Here’s where you’ll also find a virtual mirror, where you can either load a static image of yourself of switch to video mode (if you have a webcam) to see how the specs look in real time.
If your selected frames tick all the boxes, you’ll move through to pages that pinpoint your use (single vision, reading, computer use, varifocals, etc) before choosing your lens package. From Bronze to top-end Platinum, each package comes with varying features with prices climbing to match, topping out at a maximum of £80 on top of the cost of your frames. Then enter your prescription or send a photo or scan of it later in an email and get your bank cards ready for check out.
Prefer PayPal? Superdrug Glasses Online accepts this too. And if you’re a Superdrug health and beauty card holder, you can add your number here and spend points too.
Trial run: You can’t try before you buy, I’m afraid. But with the Virtual Mirror, you can cut down the chances of you returning your frames once they’re delivered. Try video mode for the true test on how each design will look on you.
Shipping, delivery and returns: It will take up to a week to receive your custom-made glasses (free for orders over £30) but the beauty of Superdrug is that you can also pick them up yourself from any of the 800 physical stores around the country – so no need to worry about missing the postie.
Superdrug prides itself on complete customer satisfaction and to that end, offers 14 day returns or exchanges.
Special features: All prescription glasses come with scratch resistant coating on the glass, as well as a hard case and cleaning cloth to keep them properly stored and looking spick and span.
Best for: designer brands all under one digital roof
Average price: at the top end, you’re looking at £752 for a pair of Bvlgari branded specs.
The look: For those with the cash to splash on a branded pair of prescription specs, head to SmartBuyGlasses. While the name may not scream luxury, it’s offering certainly does; think designs from the likes of Armani to Zac Posen to window shop. Scroll through the options, narrowing your search through the filters on the left-hand side (by gender, brand and special features) allowing you to go as bouji as you like.
They definitely have star quality – the styles offered by SmartBuyGlasses has been spotted on the likes of Ryan Gosling, David Beckham and even Kim K West.
The process: Once you’ve found the specs of your dreams, click ‘Buy’ and you’ll be taken through to pages asking the type of lenses you need (distance, progressive, reading or non-prescription), after which you can upload or manually enter your prescription. Don’t worry if you don’t have them to hand – you can always email them later. While basic lenses are free, there are extra costs for having your lenses thinned or adding extra coatings like anti-scratch and UV400. Finally you can choose extras for transition lenses, polarizations, mirror effect or digital blocks.
If you go for all the bells and whistles, costs will add up - but consider them a valuable investment if you’re someone who wears specs all the time.
Trial run: Like many other online retailers, SmartBuyGlasses has harnessed the power of technology with Virtual Try-On. You can record a five-second video and use a bank or membership card to help work out measurements.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Shipping and handling charges are on the company. In extreme cases, glasses can take up to a fortnight for delivery so factor this in if you need them in a hurry. You can make returns within 100 days – the most generous return policy of any company on our list - and all products comes with an exclusive 24-month warranty too.
Special features: SmartBuyGlasses work with a social initiative Unite for Sight, a non-profit organisation that aims to eliminate preventable blindness across the globe. They also work with the Eden Reforestation Project and Orbis International, another non-profit helping preventable blindness is developing nations and rural China.
Best for: clean design and transparent prices
Average prices: from £44 - £440.
The look: Armani, D&G, Kate Spade and Prada: these are just some of the eyewear names you’ll find at Mister Spex alongside cheaper frames from the in-house collection.
Based in Berlin, this is a retailer that combines high quality design with the latest trends, boasting more than 150 brand names. It’s been going across Europe since 2007 and has a selection of physical stores scattered across the north part of the Continent.
The process: Unless you know exactly the type of glasses you want, it’s wise to use Mister Spex’s try-on services. Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll need to input all your info – from lens type to prescription numbers, pupillary distance and tint finishes – all on one form before completing your payment.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Get your money back within 30 days from the date of receipt on any products at Mister Spex – even prescription glasses.
Best for: elegant eyewear for the discerning millennial
Average prices: From £30 to a couple of hundred.
The look: Another online department store offering myriad designers, Fashion Eyewear offers frames from heritage British labels like Mulberry alongside surprising names like Nike and Polaroid (who knew either offered prescription lenses?)
The process: Choose your frames in the colour that speaks most to your heart, then add in prescription and tint and lens coating preferences before hitting buy. It couldn’t be simpler.
Trial run: Surprisingly no trial run options are offered, but their returns and exchanges policy makes it easy to swap for something more your speed, should you need it.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Free delivery on orders over £180 in the UK. If you need to return any glasses you’ll have to bear the cost yourself.
Best for: the all-rounder
Average price: £20 - £120
The look: From basic to boutique, you’ll unveil a world of spectacles at Glasses Direct. The site is easy to navigate with sections clearly marked and filters to narrow down the huge selection.
Prescription glasses are available with single vision, bifocals, varifocals, blue reflect and as sunglasses. Extra costs apply for blue light coating and transitions lenses.
The process: You’ll need a two years or younger prescription so if it’s been a while since your last eye test, get one booked in pronto. Opticians are legally obliged to give you your prescription without you buying anything in store, so don’t feel awkward about asking for a copy.
Trial run: Choose four from the 400+ frames online collection and have them sent to your address for free. Return everything within seven days using the pre-paid postage label and original letterbox-sized box.
If you like a pair, you still need to send them back and order online so they can be delivered with your prescription. You can order a Home Trial as many times as you like, but you must return a box before the next is sent off.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Spend more than £85 to qualify for free UK delivery. Orders are normally sent within 7 days of the order via Royal Mail. Exchange or return for a refund within 30 days of the original dispatch date.
Special features: As one of the biggest eyewear brands online, Glasses Direct offer a range of promotions and discounts. For instance, at the moment there’s half price on selected frames with a second pair free, and you can get two for one on glasses priced £49 and over. If you’re brand new, you’re eligible for a welcome offer.
Best for: style hunters on a budget
Average prices: from £98 including prescription lenses.
The look: Made in just over the North Sea in Amsterdam, Ace & Tate is all about cool effortlessly stylish eyewear. They offer sunglasses and accessories too, but the glasses are where they really shine. Alongside trad shapes like oval and square there’s an odd octagon frame thrown in (named Elton, natch), offering something a bit more standout than other offerings in this list.
There are stores all over Western Europe and three in London alone (no doubt you’ve seen one of their ampersand emblazoned totes on a fellow commuter) so if you work or live near one, it’s worth popping in to handle the frames for yourself or get your eyes checked by a professional optician for free (more info below).
The process: Choose from the pop-up menu if you need Single Vision, Multifocal, Screen only or non-prescription glasses, then pick add-ons like a blue light filter or a cleaning kit (which comes with an all-natural cleaning fluid that you can refill for free in any Ace + Tate store). Other add-ons include The Box, a four-shelf mini glass wardrobe designed to organise and display your specs collection. Fill in prescription details once you’ve completed shipping and billing info.
Trial run: Ace + Tate offer a virtual try-on service – just make sure your web cam is open and you can start trying on their range of stylish specs online. If you’d rather the real deal, an at-home option is also available: four frames to be returned in five days with return packaging and labels provided. As well as frames, the home try-on package comes with a pupillary distance ruler so you can measure accurately at home. Everything comes packed in a box crafted from 80 per cent recycled materials.
If you need feedback that’s more unbiased than your mum’s, hashtag your selfies with #aceandtatehometryon on Instagram and the experts will give you their professional opinion.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Ace + Tate promises to have your new glasses in your hands within 10 days, max. Delivery and returns are free for UK and Irish residents as well as selected other European countries and the USA, but paid returns may apply to certain other countries – check the full list here. Returns within 30 days
Special features: Ace + Tate is one of the few opticians out there to offer free eye tests, no questions asked. The store offers same day glasses too, but it’s only available on select stores and an in-person service only.
Best for: anyone fretting over blue light exposure
Average prices: from £48 for clear glasses to £165 for a pair with prescription lenses.
The look: Specialist eyewear for anyone working with computers and digital screens for a frequent, prolonged period – office workers, raise your hands. Ambr Eyewear fills a gap in the market for stylish blue light protection glasses and even those with 20/20 vision can wear them to protect their peepers from computer-related health issues such as eye-strain, headaches and sleep problems.
They look and feel just like normal glasses and can be fitted with your prescription if you’re a specs wearer.
Wildly popular amongst tech professionals, Ambr offers frames with clear-lensed blue light filter lenses, Ambr Ultra filter (which will help you sleep better thanks to the stronger protection, but might make you look a bit like Bono – hey, swings and roundabouts), transition glasses which change colour depending on if your indoors or outside, and UVA and UVB protected sunglasses.
Worried about your little ones’ eye health? There are options for children aged 5 – 13 years old on their site too.
The process: First select your frame shape – all are unisex and the collection is refreshingly concise with just 12 styles to choose from in the Screen category. They’re popular rounded or square shapes and each come in different colours so you’re sure to find a fit for you.
Once chosen, select your lens type (no prescription, ready readers or prescription - single vision, bifocal or progressive). Every frame is designed to fit most head shapes so there’s no need for measuring tapes and if you don’t have your prescription to hand you can still put the order through – an Ambr associate will email you afterwards for the info.
Trial run: No home trials but as a tech-minded start-up, the brand does offer a virtual mirror that allows you to try the glasses – well, sort of. Upload a picture of your face, pick an Ambr style from the drop down menu and your selection will then be placed over your eyes so you can see what you look like en specs.It may not be an exact art, but I was impressed at how the glasses changed position over my face when I uploaded different pictures, the arms of the frame tucking into my hair and even adding ceiling light reflections on the lens to make the mirror as realistic as possible. If you can’t try them on for yourself, this is the next best thing.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Based in Dublin, Ambr Eyewear offers free delivery and returns across the world.
Best for: Boys and girls with eye-catching style
Average prices: around £220 for top end specs
The look: MONC has a capsule collection of eight template styles that you can make yours by picking various patterns and colours. The frames are named after some of the world’s most innovative and creative design districts - think Gracia and Södermalm. London is represented by a retro-looking pair called London Fields. All glasses appear to be unisex and come with the cost of standard single vision lenses built in to the price. Prescription and non-prescription sunglasses are included in MONC's offering.
The process: Once you’ve chosen your favourite frames designed by the team in Notting Hill, add your prescription and if you want blue filter added. You can even have your leather case personalised with your initials, a nice treat for yourself or a friend if you’re planning to give these as a gift.
Payment options include Google Pay or Amazon Pay. Your order will be sent to a small Italian village where skilled craftspeople will make the spectacles precisely to your specifications.
Trial run: Home try-ons are offered (but on a deposit basis of up to £1 each) with up to four pairs of lens-free glasses yours to try within five days. MONC will even cover the cost of return postage for you.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Returns are accepted within 30 days of the original dispatch date and must be sent back in their original condition with all accessories.
Special features: MONC is big on sustainability and #DesignForChange. The company uses sustainable materials across its product offering, from phthalate-free bio-acetate frame structures, Italian-made glass lenses instead of plastic and cleaning cloths made from Cupro, a cotton waste material that’s totally recyclable. With an eye also on carbon footprint, MONC also tries to source all suppliers from the UK.
Best for: Gallic chic at wallet-friendly prices
Average prices: €99
The look: This cool independent eyewear brand is based in France, arguably the home of timeless style. Feted by the likes of Vogue and GQ, men’s and women’s collections are eye-catchingly fashionable at won’t-believe-your-eyes prices. Mind you, while anti-scratch coating comes free of charge, you’ll have to pay extra for anti-glare and dirt repellent finishes. More fees are incurred if you’re looking for thinner glass and blue light filtering.
The process: Find the frames that tickle your fancy and select your preferences from the menu at the side of the page. You’ll need your prescription to hand including figures for your pupilliary distance (PD) so make sure you’ve got everything to hand before checking out. Your glasses will be made in Jimmy Fairly’s Parisian workshop before they’re packed and sent with free delivery. PayPal, Visa and Mastercard accepted.
Trial run: Because the brand prides itself on lower costs and cutting out the middleman, it doesn't offer home trials or virtual try ons.
Shipping, delivery and returns: Shipping is largely to European countries only – see the full list here. Delivery is estimated to take around a week from the time you complete payment. Returns should be made 30 days from the original payment but contact the brand’s customer service first.
Special features: For each pair purchased, Jimmy Fairly gives a pair to a person in need with the help of its partner associations. Find out more on their Instagram highlight button, Buy One Give One.