I discovered this a few years ago when my eyeglass prescription intensified, forcing me to upgrade from occasional readers to progressive lenses potent enough for Velma from “Scooby-Doo.” During the day and on casual nights out, I was thrilled to wear my bulky tortoise Céline frames, which I thought had presence and distracted from the deepening grooves of my “smile lines,” making me look wiser and less wizened. But for dressier moments, which have always been an opportunity for me to break out my major earrings, the glasses presented a problem. Anything dangling or bold or even very shiny competed with my large frames, rendering the look too accessorized. I didn’t recognize the older-looking, busier, somehow frumpier reflection in the mirror. I barely saw my face at all.
When confronted with the choice, I generally let narcissism win and choose earrings over perfect or even passable vision. The pro: I can’t send a comprehensible text or read my phone screen, so by default I practice good technology etiquette. The con: Even the most patient date, i.e., my husband, finds it deadening to read aloud about local rock cod ceviche. So how should four-eyed women like me approach the glasses vs. earrings conundrum?
“People ask me this question all the time. It’s a thing,” said Elena Doukas, the head of design for Los Angeles eyewear line Garrett Leight. Ms. Doukas said the secret is balance, and that frames should be allowed to make their own statement without competition. “I treat it like makeup. You should pick one thing to focus on, a bold lip or a smokey eye, not both.”
In other words, unless I’m walking the Gucci runway, where unsubtle eyeglass-earrings combos express the more-is-more aesthetic of eccentric designer Alessandro Michele, I either need to downsize my frames or stick to studs.
Really? For inspiration, I looked to vision-challenged style icons: Julia Roberts combines thinner black glasses and earrings all the time, even when she isn’t reading awards-show teleprompters. Oprah does, too. Elaine Welteroth, the trendsetting former editor of Teen Vogue, has been known to wear wire frames with metallic earrings. Another Elaine, the “Seinfeld” character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, often paired danglies with wire glasses to somewhat goofier effect. Though I have a soft spot for her, her multiple-earring’d ’90s look would seem over-the-top today.
Maybe the secret to success is the hair. Both Oprah and Julia Roberts have voluminous curls, which create a backdrop for the accessories, and contribute to a generally effusive image. Scraped-back buns can provide a nice canvas, too, as in the case of Lucy Chadwick, the art gallery director who often pairs her aviators with one large sculptural earring. I have a chin-length bob, which may explain why I feel more like Dame Edna than bespectacled Meryl Streep at the Oscars when attempting the combination.
Perhaps the solution lies in earrings that, while still unobtrusive, are one step up from a banal stud. Jessie Gainsley Rivera, half of the Los Angeles-based styling duo the Team, steers clients who wear bulky, dark frames like mine toward smaller earrings, like interesting gold-bar studs or a cluster of small earrings if you have multiple piercings. For metal frame wearers, a medium-size gold hoop or Anita Ko’s wraparound diamond earrings allow for “a little splash,” she said.
Of course, one can have reasons for wanting to upstage one’s face, Gucci style. Jewelry designer Sarah Hendler said that she admires women who aren’t afraid to “pile on” more jewelry. “I think of Nora Ephron, when she talks about wearing a scarf,” said Ms. Hendler, referring to the author’s reflections on her own aging neck and her tricks for concealing it. “Beautiful earrings and glasses can be a great distraction.” Which is to say: a cluster of large accessories will make it harder to see your face, for better or for worse.
“The most important part of figuring out any style is remaining true to who you are,” said Ms. Rivera. “If you feel good, well, you feel good. If you’re not sure, keep it clean. If your outfit is fussy, don’t work the glasses and earring angle.” Or, if you’re out to dinner, forget the glasses, order whatever the waiter rattles off as the special and enjoy yourself.
SMART SETS / When Choosing Earrings to Complement Your Frames, Consider Composition and Balance, Just As You Learned in Art Class
Pair heavy tortoise with subtle bling. Glasses, $450, gucci.com; Earrings, $2,940, cartier.com
Clear frames can withstand playfulness. Glasses, $305, lowercasenyc.com; Earrings, $168, trade-mark.com
Match metallic with metallic for tone-on-tone sheen. Glasses, $145, warbyparker.com; Earrings, $175, jenniferfisherjewelry.com
An eclectic combo for the rule-flouting rebel. Miu Miu Glasses, $450, glasses.com, Earrings, $7,500, sidneygarber.com