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First Impressions

How Glasses Really Change the Way People See You

Research reveals how others view your eyewear.

Key points

  • Eyeglasses do not necessarily make people look older.
  • Contemporary eyewear is selected for both fashion and function.
  • Viewers attribute different characteristics to men and women wearing glasses.

From Ray-Bans to Hollywood chic, shades are cool. So are clear lenses, which often make a silent but sensational statement with the rims. Whether tinted or clear, prescription lens or “attitude only,” spectacles are image makers. But how do you look in your favorite glasses? Research provides some interesting observations.

See and Be Seen: Eyeglasses and Age

As I have written about previously,[i] shades can both keep you cool and make you look cool. But older adults wonder, do they make them look younger? Nicolas M. Brunet and Jonathan Sharp tackled this question in a study examining how glasses impact perception of age.[ii]

They began by noting the absence of formal studies determining how wearing glasses impacts the perception of age except for a survey by the London Vision Clinic discovering that, apparently, people over 45 years old appear to be five or more years older than their true age when wearing eyeglasses.

Brunet and Sharp researched this issue, examining the effect of both eyeglasses and sunglasses on the perception of age while controlling for both age and interpersonal differences. After digitally manipulating photographs of 50 young adult faces, creating young and old age conditions and three conditions of eyewear: no glasses, eyeglasses, and sunglasses, they had participants estimate the age of the faces displayed. They found that contrary to what they recognize as generally accepted beliefs, eyeglasses did not necessarily make people look older, and sunglasses did not always make people appear to be younger. Instead, the results of their research suggested that the impact of wearing glasses on age perception was rather small.

Eye Accessories as a Sight and Sign of the Times

In an era where glasses are worn both for function and fashion, Tammy Kinley et al. (2019) [iii] investigated impression formation of millennials wearing eyeglasses. Using 569 participants to examinine perceptions of students wearing eyeglasses or hearing aids, the researchers found some interesting results, such as that both males and females without glasses were rated more positively, but the type of glasses worn also matters. Kinley et al. state that, in general, the male target they used was viewed as more reliable with glasses but more provocative, fashionable, and good-looking without. The female target, on the other hand, was viewed as more jovial and reliable in dark frames, but better looking and more provocative without glasses. Kinley et al. note that these results are consistent with prior research as well as the stereotype of people who wear glasses being viewed as more intelligent and dependable in terms of reliability, although not necessarily desirability.

Kinley et al. also note that because glasses have become stylish and have attained status as fashion accessories, wearing them is no longer viewed negatively as a disability, but as “functional and trendy.” They recognize that people use non-prescription glasses simply to be fashionable, that many people think they look smarter in glasses and wear them to appear more businesslike and professional.

Apparently, glasses can enhance both attractiveness and perceived age—which are related concepts. So, whether you wear shades at the beach or readers in the boardroom, reach for a pair that flatters your face, provides protection from the rays, and raises your level of comfort and confidence.

Facebook image: dekazigzag/Shutterstock



[ii] Brunet, Nicolas M., and Jonathan Sharp. 2020. “Do Glasses Modulate Age Perception?” I-Perception 11 (4). doi:10.1177/2041669520953457.

[iii] Kinley, Tammy, Jessica Strübel, and Amyn Amlani. 2019. “Impression Formation of Male and Female Millennial Students Wearing Eye Glasses or Hearing Aids.” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 43 (3): 357–79. doi:10.1007/s10919-019-00296-0.

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