AS SUPERMAN PROVED, eyewear can be transformative. The glasses he wore as Clark Kent were as potent a style trademark as his “S” logo and spit curl. Maybe even more so; with that single accessory, a simple pair of specs, he could signify that he’d assumed the identity of his earthbound alter-ego and everything that went with it—intelligence, humility, gentle Midwestern manners. His Superman persona, on the other hand, required spandex and what appears to be copious hair gel—both of questionable taste.
Eyewear can define who you are and who you want to be perhaps more than anything else a man owns. “You could have a great pair of shoes or a great suit, but people are first connecting with your face, so finding the right pair of glasses is crucial.
Le Corbusier was a brilliant architect, but would he be as recognizable without his glasses? Cary Grant and Michael Caine were style icons, but they’re ranked higher in the pantheon because they glamorized glasses back when most of the four-eyed population looked like nerds from central casting. And turn on the television these days after any NBA or NFL game. Athletes, the opposite of nerds in the schoolyard sense, are now wearing eyewear for the postgame peacocking sessions.
In other words, everyone wants to be Clark Kent these days instead of Superman. Quite literally. The chunky, horn-rimmed frames the Daily Planet reporter sported—seen only on hipsters a decade ago—are now far more popular and mainstream than, say, the conservative rimless, metal frames favored by Donald Rumsfeld or Edward Snowden.
Though acetate frames are ubiquitous, you’ll find enough variety to make a wide range of statements. Black rectangles signal sternness, seriousness. Tortoise shell is friendlier with a touch of the literary and/or preppy. Anything colorful reads playful and outgoing; people who wear them are a self-selecting group. Oversize frames like those worn by David Hockney should also be reserved for the truly confident—you’ll know when you’re ready.
But there are calculated risks a man can take without being “that guy with the glasses.” Mr. Leight suggested a crystal (translucent plastic) frame. “People think it’s a bigger risk than it is,” he said. “But I think even a brown crystal or a pink crystal is a good way to be a little bolder. It’s just different enough, and if it’s the right shape it could be a great look.”
Already have frames that you like? It’s easy to pivot. “Men can push the envelope with a bit of color,” says Neil Blumenthal, co-CEO of eyewear company Warby Parker. “If you’ve normally worn black, maybe try dark navy. If you like tortoise, try a warmer brown. Or maybe there’s an interesting combo. The cool thing with subtle color is that sometimes others might not notice it, but if you step into the light they’ll be able to see it. It’s a surprise.”
Also, there’s no rule that you only have to own one pair. Some eyewear enthusiasts rotate a few. Mr. Blumenthal will wear colorful frames during the day, when he’s more casually dressed, but if he needs to put on a suit or a tuxedo in the evening, he’ll switch to muted spectacles.
And there’s always metal for those who want to break away from the horn-rimmed pack. “The metal aviator style, a very ’70s menswear aesthetic, could be good for those who want a different option [that’s] still classic,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman.