Dan is a budget-savvy young professional looking for quality picks at good prices.
I’ve been wearing glasses since the third grade. That meant giving up shades very early in life. Not that I would have been cool anyway. Nevertheless, my parents were not about to spend a boatload of extra money on a separate pair of prescription sunglasses (nor should they have, given how often I was breaking my regular pair). It wasn’t until a couple of years into high school I got my first pair of transition lenses that darken in sunlight. It was revelatory--I stepped outside, and my glasses transformed into shades. From then on, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with them. My review of Warby Parker’s Light responsive glasses is an attempt to dip my toes back into the pool of light-transition lenses which, as follows, was neither uplifting nor entirely disappointing.
Warby Parker’s “Felix” Light Responsive Lenses
Ever since I discovered Warby 6+ years ago, I’ve been a tremendous fan. Trying on glasses at home without a “consultant” at the eye doctor tirelessly following you around trying to convince you to be some absurdly overpriced plastic. Getting to repeat this process as much as you want until you find what you need, uploading your prescription, and getting $100 glasses in a week is just a sublime experience. So naturally after enjoying my everyday experience with my regular Felix Warby’s; I decided to pick up a pair of prescription sunglasses from them (stay with me, this backstory will figure into the rest of the review). The sunglasses, while more expensive than the regulars, were lovely--they fit well, the lenses were nicely polarized and sufficiently dark such that they were a joy to wear for hours tromping around outside and even driving for extended periods. I loved them. Of course, having to carry a second pair of glasses everywhere was a nuisance, especially if one was just running out, and on more than one occasion I had to halt our departure to run back inside and grab my sunglasses. This led to the inevitable--I lost my first pair in a hotel room, having forgotten to re-pack them while shuffling out the door to avoid late checkout. After a serious round of kicking myself, I used leftover insurance dollars to eventually pick up another pair (this is how much I liked them). These were accidentally left in my car that I traded in and are probably still in a used car lot somewhere in Kansas
Safe to say, after basically lighting several hundred dollars on fire with carelessness, I decided that I couldn’t be trusted with a second pair of glasses to carry around. Instead, I looked in that old friend--transition lenses from Warby. They are UV ray-blocking and scratch-resistant, and like all other Warby glasses, have an anti-glare protective coating that supposedly reduces eye strain.
I decided to buy the same kind of frames, the Felix” that I already had in the transitions (see above). The cost is roughly the same as a pair of sunglasses from Warby. This is the massive upside to transition lenses—you essentially have two pairs of glasses for the price of one(-ish). And you are dramatically less likely to lose either since the pair that you need on your face all of the time to get around is the same pair that you use outside. And of course, there is Warby’s general comfort and quality (I still have a pair of glasses going on five-years that are sturdy) and Warby’s excellent customer service with free adjustments and no-hassle scratched lens replacements (within the first year). I’ve had to use both services and have always been pleased. The other alleged upside is that Warby claims they filter more blue light than regular glasses. My job has me facing a computer screen 8 hours a day and I have rarely had eye strain to the degree that it produces headaches, though I’m not prepared to hand that outcome entirely over to Warby.
But I digress. Returning to the light-sensitive lenses themself--there are two main positives of transition lenses: saving on the cost and hassle of two pairs of glasses. Hold that in mind while we cover the less great points.
There are a number of them, mostly small hiccups that do start to add up.
For starters, there’s the look. No matter what Tim Gunn says (--link) (his commentary sold me on it), transition are a little dorky for a couple reasons--for starters, the actual “transition” itself is necessarily clunky, as you go from normal glasses to darkening shades before reaching a decent tint of darkness that resembles shades. There’s just a nerdy quality to it (which is totally fine) but for those hoping to pull off effortless cool with sunglasses, this is not it. And of course, the first few moments from indoors to bright sunlight will have you straining, while stepping into a building will have you either waiting for the lenses to transition back or taking furtive steps until they do. Again, looking less than fancy doing either.
This brings us to the next pitfall. They don’t get as dark as I’d like. While they darken enough to reduce glare and make bright light much more tolerable, they just aren’t as dark as a pair of shades. From a fashion point of view, anyone looking at my face within speaking distance can fairly readily see the whites of my eyes, which I think undercuts the aesthetic. While it’s fun to have a pair of glasses that look good as both glasses and shades, Warby’s certainly do one better than the other.
All aesthetics aside, the actual sensitivity of the change from light to dark is primarily governed by the amount of UV light. This is great indoors because many modern windows have UV blockers that will keep your lenses from going dark (though not entirely) in a very bright room. It’s a problem in the car because most windshields and windows possess similar qualities and as such hamper (or in my case, completely deaden) the transition from happening at all. This effectively reduces them to just an ordinary pair of glasses, or slightly tinted ones, while driving, and at any rate, don’t help the driving experience whatsoever. The same goes for a motorcycle helmet with a visor.
So, the tough question: are Warby’s light-sensitive lenses worth it? For me, despite all of their shortcomings, the answer has consistently been yes. I’m less concerned about looking unassailably cool than shelling out another $200 each year when I inevitably lose my prescription sunglasses. I hate carrying extra things around, especially when they don’t fit in a pocket. But make no mistake, I wish I could enjoy Warby’s transition lenses more. They seemed a bit half-baked for a company that has done a fantastic job breaking up an obscenely overpriced market. If you’re willing to make room in your style for something that doesn’t quite nail the landing but serves its purpose well enough, then Warby’s light-sensitive lenses just might be for you.