Corrective lenses are worn by about half of this country's population, but for folks who participate in sports, eyeglasses or contact lenses can be additional opponents. Contacts, for all their liberating virtues, impose a certain slavery: They demand immediate attention whenever they trap dirt, dry out or fall out, and many people's eyes simply cannot tolerate them. That leaves those who can't wear contacts at the mercy of eyeglasses, an in-your-face presence that can slip, slide, pinch, rub, bend, break or, in the heat of certain activities, become menacing projectiles. To keep their glasses securely in place, athletes have tried all sorts of things—black elastic, pink neoprene, tape, string, rubber bands—and most have suffered headaches and mockery for their trouble. Yet until a few years ago, little improvement had been made on the basic eyeglass-frame concept, which dates back nearly 250 years. The temple spectacles that Edward Scarlett devised around 1750 are more or less the same as those available today, with obvious changes in the component materials.
Now comes Suspension Eyewear, an invention that takes the conventional eyeglass frame and, in a blink, tosses it out the window. The design was first conceived in the late 1960s by Don Reese, an optical lab technician in Reno. Reese had been in the optical trade for 15 years before anyone in his family needed glasses. Then his wife, Ida, failed the eye test for her driver's license; she needed corrective lenses. But, like many new eyeglass wearers, Ida was unhappy with the look, feel and fit of her frames. So Don set about creating something better.
It took until 1978 before he eventually settled on the design, for which he was granted a patent in 1980. Basically, it's four strands of monofilament fishing line, two little pieces of plastic that look like question marks, corrective lenses and a standard bridge piece. Revolutionary? Well, different. They certainly don't look like regular spectacles. In fact, they don't look like much at all. Better yet, they don't feel like much, either.
"The nicest thing I can say about them is that most of the time I forget they're there," says cyclist Pete Penseyres, who wore his Suspension Eyewear 22 hours a day for more than eight days during his 1986 record-breaking Race Across America, a nonstop, coast-to-coast endurance race. "When people start staring at me, then I remember."
Suspension Eyewear lenses are made of plastic, so they have some of the functional, if not aesthetic, attributes of safety glasses. And because there is no conventional frame, the lenses can be cut into almost any size or shape. Squares, stars, bat wings—you name it. What hold them in place on your head are two lengths of six-pound-test monofilament line—the same stuff you use to land a trout—attached to the outer edge of each lens and then connected to cold-formed plastic earpieces: the question marks. Each pair is custom-fitted by shaping the earpieces to the back of the ear and adjusting the length of the fishing line.
"The result of this configuration is that the lenses stay on comfortably while a human face goes through all of its human-ness—laughing, chewing, sneezing, grimacing and so on," says Reese, whose company is now based in Fountain Valley, Calif. "The design can be accommodated to any size head, and once in place, the lenses stay put. That means you can go about your business without worrying about your glasses' sliding down your nose.
That also makes Suspension Eyewear ideal for most athletics, though Reese does not recommend it for contact sports—"There are glasses specially made for that," he says.
Ken Dayley, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, wears his Suspension specs for almost everything except pitching. He switches to contacts when he's on the mound, because he needs to wipe the sweat from his eyes often, and pulling the filament eyewear on and off repeatedly is, he admits, "kind of a hassle."
"But," Dayley adds, "if I were playing, say, third base, where I didn't have the constant violent motion that flings sweat in my eyes, I would wear them. They are the lightest, most comfortable things you can have. They make anything else seem obsolete."
Well, not quite. Some eye specialists think the Suspension design is too delicate. Says Dr. Alan Berman, an optometrist and codirector of the Institute for Sports Vision in Ridgefield, Conn., "I personally don't recommend it, because it's too fragile, and it doesn't offer great protection."
Still, the odd-looking specs have enough advantages to make them an appealing option for the active set. Suspension Eyewear can be ordered via most opticians; the cost is about the same as for regular high-quality glasses.