Aug 28, 2023

Transition Lenses Have Become My Entire Personality

By Rachel Besser

Last week, a friend and I stepped out of a dark restaurant into the blinding New York afternoon sunlight. Desperate for relief from the light, she kneeled down to dig through her bag for her sunglasses. By the time she pried hers from their case, my sleek, silver-framed lenses had already transformed into brown-tinted shades.

Transition lenses darken when exposed to UV light, like sunlight, and then return to their clear state indoors or when UV light decreases. On cloudy days, they offer a light tint. The tech is smart enough to give you exactly what you need when you need it. Growing up, this style was a social crime, but the concept always intrigued me. I loved how I could have two very different looks in one accessory.

My return to transition lenses as an adult was mainly out of necessity. I couldn’t let my retinas sizzle like ants under a microscope any longer. I also still loved how this metamorphic eyewear could change my appearance in the blink of an eye.

Where sunglasses are a classic symbol of cool, glasses are like a badge of honor. They say, “I’m clever! I’m deep!” They allude to a trove of knowledge behind those eyes, even if it’s hollow inside. Catch me in dimly lit coffee shops or the dark tunnels of the subway, and I’m bookish. Ask me any trivia question, and I’ll answer it with confidence.

Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney, and Miu Miu are a few of the houses that incorporated glasses into their fall 2023 collections. There’s an enigmatic quality to these looks. For instance, Miu Miu’s circular tortoiseshell styles aimed for a purposely disheveled, “I overslept and am late for work” aesthetic, but I’ve always favored streamlined, rectangular designs. In moments of illness or haste, the goal was to appear polished and put together. My references were The Matrix trilogy and the countless 2000s Midwestern dads at my middle school basketball games who occasionally looked up from their BlackBerrys through their rectangular frames to chastise a referee. This firmly linked angular glasses in my mind with a very specific strain of power and success.

To wit, one recent runway ensemble that particularly caught my attention was Look 7 of the fall 2023 Balenciaga show. The model is simply a business shark with a sleek, middle-part bun and sharp, metal-frame glasses. I want her to tell me which AI stocks to invest in. Now picture her stepping into the light, her frames filling with the mystery of a tint. There is no stopping her.

Perhaps the most ideal embodiment of the essence of transition lenses is David Blaine, magic’s bad boy who, in the 2000s, wore oval metal-rim glasses with a whisper of tint. Whether or not they were genuine transition lenses remains unconfirmed, but such details are inconsequential. Blaine confidently graced events—including the 2001 premiere of Robert De Niro heist film The Score—in his glasses and unassuming attire: simple tees, slacks, clean-lined V-neck sweaters, and a suede jacket.

As Blaine illustrates, this style can be sexy too, but not just because of the CEO or magician fantasy it can conjure up. The play between sunglasses and regular glasses, perpetually concealing and revealing your eyes, is remarkably intimate— flirtatious even!

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I was initially drawn to the adaptable glasses because they were convenient, but they’re so much more. What was an object of embarrassment in middle school is now a confidence booster, a mysterious accessory. Even during a particularly challenging day at the office, I can step outside during my lunch break, and as the windows to my soul darken to a soothing brown, I can shed a tear under the midday sun without a hint of suspicion from anyone around. Then I trot back inside—glasses on, ponytail tight—and conquer the rest of the day.