Specs Appeal: P3, The Most Properly Preppy Eyeglasses

Fans of the Ivy League Look have an endless array of things to obsess about now that the heyday is far behind us. Over the past few years online there have been endless discussions about the proper collar roll, proper width of a trouser cuff, the proper direction of stripes on a rep tie, et cetera.

However, nothing seems to be more elusive that getting exactly the right frames for eyeglasses. Glasses are more important than almost any other purchase. You can easily change your tie, but once glasses are purchased, the decision is somewhat permanent.

In looking for classic WASPy/preppy eyewear for many years, several things became apparent. First off, most standard retail opticians have little if anything to fill the bill. When you see frames by Brooks Brothers or Ralph Lauren, the glasses seem like they may have promise, but on closer inspection fall short. These are merely clothing retailers who have licensed their name.

The real deal is a frame style known as the P3, an optician’s term that goes back at least a century. The style is sometimes referred to as tortoiseshell glasses, from the material they were originally made from.

The Lafont Balthazar quite close to what many are looking for. The lens is a bit smaller, and therefore more traditional, that most imitations. The colors offered are unquestionably WASPy and “trad.” The weight of the frames is just heavy enough.

Another source is Ben Silver, which has an entire page devoted to the P3, made by firms such as Anglo American, Francois Pinton and Harry Lary.

There’s also AR Trapp Opticians in New York, which does a large amount of mail order in the hard-to-find frames. They carry a large number of P3 glasses all with minor variations; the price range is $195-$350.

According to David Wilder, who works at the New York J. Press store, the ne plus ultra of P3s was made by the now defunct May Optical company. Wilder is a P3 collector who has about 25 different variations on the shape.

Once you’ve found the frames, you can get the lenses from your local optician, who is generally pleased to have your lens business and will fit frames you’ve purchased elsewhere.

And if you don’t need prescription eyewear but like the P3 shape, you can always have sunglasses made. — BILL STEPHENSON

88 Comments on "Specs Appeal: P3, The Most Properly Preppy Eyeglasses"

  1. My father and grandfather both wore the Moscot Miltzen, which has been worn by some of the best and brightest in trad wear. It will always look like the perfect tortoise-shell P3 to me, and I was more than a little surprised you didn’t include them:
    http://www.moscot.com/vintage-eyewear-mens-eyewear-miltzen-tortoise_109_1_15.html

  2. The warbyparker website has some great preppy frames.

    http://thestyleomnibus.blogspot.com

  3. I almost got a pair of Miltzen frames from Moscot but opted for the Timothy instead; it looked a little more modern but still retained the classic features I was looking for. Moscot doesn’t make the Timothy anymore but I happen to be in their Orchard Street store over the weekend and they happen to have them.

    You can find a picture of them here: http://media.photobucket.com/image/moscot%20timothy/triumph_tr8/med_1-0000254-1273.jpg?o=2

  4. it seems like everybody is wearing the same thin, rectangular glasses these days. I was having a tough time finding some light tortoiseshell ones.

    for those here whose finances are tight, some of these are nice (and the price covers the lenses): http://www.warbyparker.com/mens-eyewear

  5. I have a pair of Tart Arnels, which I like, but have also been actively searching for something ever so slightly smaller. The Lafont Balthazars seem like they might work really well, but I can’t find any pictures online of anyone wearing them, so I don’t have a real idea of how they look when worn. Anybody out there have any idea where I could find some shots of someone wearing the glasses?

  6. NaturalShoulder | February 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm |

    I enjoyed the article. I had a chance to visit Ben Silver back in the fall. They do have an impressive selection. I picked up some AA 288s.

  7. Two nice versions:

    http://www.focusers.com/no8peabody_blackdemi.html

    and

    http://www.focusers.com/govpoorboys.html

    Text:

    In the club rooms of Ivy League colleges, the legacy students, scions of the Eastern Establishment, identified themselves to each other by sporting flesh colored frames that had a straightened top and a rounded rim. Not only did the frames make the wearer seem like a millionaire, but the shape was quite flattering too. These frames were not sold in local stores. You had to go to small boutiques in Newport or the Hamptons to find them. The rich-wannabees drove themselves crazy trying to find out where they could snag a pair so they too could look as if their father and grandfather were alumni. With sarcasm,they named the frame style, “POOR BOYS”, and the moniker stuck.

    During the Baby-Boom revolution in style, things that smacked of wealth were no longer prized, and the Poor Boys dropped off the radar screen. That is until a few candidates figured out that the sixties were long gone, and then modified the Poor Boy frames by having them custom made in a smaller eye size and a rich, deep honey-toned tortoise shell. The resurrection worked (they got elected). When the size of the rim was reduced, these outstanding frames suddenly became appropriate for both men and women. Because the new iterations of the Poor Boys were custom-made, those who sought them in stores, were still out of luck. That is, until FOCUSERS decided enough is enough. We vowed that from this point forward, no customer of ours will be deprived of governor’s poor boys.
    If you really want to look as if your father’s driver dropped you off to private school in the family’s Bentley, order the Governor’s in sunglasses. Select the tint color of your choice, and then sit back and watch the peasants stare at you in awe.

  8. The Ralph Lauren Polo rendition (PH 2047):

    http://www.eyegoodies.com/Polo-PH-2047-pr-17418.html

  9. Apparently, they were the frames worn by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Here’s the link: scroll down to the bottom for a photo of the actual glasses from the film:

    http://blog.newsok.com/bamsblog/2010/05/22/photo-gallery-oklahoma-city-museum-of-arts-sketch-to-screen-exhibit/

    Google “Anglo American AA406″ for exactly the same frames as those offered by Ben Silver at far better prices.

  10. Ben Silver has pretty much the full collection, but I don’t know why you should pay their prices. Even though they claim that the Anglo-American Liberty (model 406) “…collection is exclusively available at Ben Silver”, you can find these frames elsewhere for $90.00 to $100.00 less.

    http://angloamerican.biggreenumbrella.com/glasses/model-406/
    http://www.eyeglasses.com/glasses/anglo-american/aa406.html
    http://eyeglasses.go-optic.com/store/EYEGLASSES/details.asp?id=51047

  11. the passenger | February 24, 2011 at 9:06 am |

    I just acquired the Anglo American Optical style #406 in tortoise, very excited to get lenses made and start wearing them. Optometrist Attic (www.optometristattic.com) carries this style, and others from AA, in a range of colors and sizes for $139.

  12. AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE BILL STEPHENSON IS HAVING SOME INTERNET PROBLEMS AND EMAILED ME THIS RESPONSE:

    Chris- If you will click on Balthazar under Time cover you will get a good idea what they look like. I don’t have a photo on a live model.

    I have two pair because:

    Lens are slightly smaller than P3, and thus look more traditional, to
    me.
    Temple pieces are sturdier, and have a more solid appearance, IMO, and
    don’t get bent out of shape as easily, in warm weather.

    The secret is the lens that is slightly smaller than all of the P3 that you see. When people look for Ivy frames, the P3 is about all they can find. I used to use the Lafont Legatine, which had the same size small lens. They discontinued that model, and the Balthazar is superior, to me. (Sturdier temples.)

    You might try an optician who will let you check out the frames, and return them, if they don’t work for you. No guarantee, but I have had good luck with the one in the link

    CAUTION! Please be very careful of on line vendors. NYT had an article about a month ago about on line vendors who are out right crooks. Neat looking web site, great price, etc. When they get an order, they go on Ebay to buy the frames, and often get ones that are counterfeit or broken. Returning them becomes impossible. (Google Lafont Balthazar, and you will get a web site or two with prices about $50 under market. One of them was the one sited in NYT article. Still in business.)

    Bill Stephenson

  13. Very nice post. When I went to replace my glasses I had a hard time finding classic frames. I was able to purchase the Anglo American Fitz model locally. The price was approx the same as Ben Silver. I would like a back up pair so I appreciate the heads up abou the Optometrist Attic.

    Best regards,

    JRC

  14. Bill — great article. There are so many options out there today. While many of these frames appear the same at first glance, even small differences in frame/lens size and shape can make a huge difference. I must have spent a hundred bucks on UPS returns before I settled on my last pair. For me, the classically round P3 is not right for my face, but a slightly more “squashed” version works perfectly. I have the Pinton oval shapes in amber from Ben Silver, although I really like the Lafont Concertos that I came across when looking at your Balthazars.

  15. On several opticians’ sites, I have come across the term “panto” as an alternative to “P3″. Can anyone out there explain “panto”?

  16. I’m going to give it a look on the weekend. I share everyone else’s frustration, you go to the Optometrist and its all the same crap from Lexottica (DelVechio Family). I gave up several years ago and just have them put script lenses into black framed Clubmasters.

  17. Bill Stephenson | February 25, 2011 at 10:44 am |

    Etymologue – here are the “panto” frames.http://www.theyedoctor.com/products/product.aspx?cid=10001&pid=360548&utm_source=googlebase&utm_medium=shoppingengine&utm_campaign=googleSF022011

    Vastly different from P3, but favored by some. I have no idea who the vendor is that I copied photo from, so beware. Could be OK, or not.

    Kip, don’t get discouraged, There aren’t enough of us that care to constitute a market. That is who most mall opticians carry stuff that we don’t care for. It is like OCLS or any vendor of ivy clothes. Small, but demanding market. We have to seek them out.

    There are enough good online sources here that should make your search an easy one. Unless you are close enough to stop by Trapp opticians in NYC, the net is an excellent source if you get a reputable vendor.

  18. @ the passenger — How was your experience with optometrist attic? I’m a bit hesitant given how low their price is and the look of their website.

  19. Bill,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond continually to the questions on your great post. I have a few more…you were talking about shady sites before. Do you have any info on this one : http://www.popularglasses.com/Eyeglasses-Lafont-BALTHAZAR-053-2-110-42245.aspx ? I’m guessing nearly 50% off is too good to be true, right? If so, do you know any options comparable to the Lafont Balthazar but in a bit lower price range (half a grand is a bit out of my “recent graduate with heavy loans” price range)?

  20. Anglo-American Trad | February 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm |

    http://tradinamerica.wordpress.com/2008/08/24/the-search-for-anglo-american-406s/

    The Search for Anglo American 406′s
    I’ve wanted a pair of AA 406′s for a long time, but there certainly wasn’t an eyeglasses store in Madison which sold AAs. This, along with the fact that if I’d ask for horn-rimmed glasses I’d get laughed out of the store, made me wonder if I could find a good source on my most recent trip to MSP.

    So I called around, and got an answer from Heimie’s Haberdashery- a great St. Paul store- and asked them if they could recommend an eyewear place in Minneapolis/St Paul. They recommended Grand Spectacle, on Grand Ave. in St. Paul. For those of you unfamiliar with St. Paul, it’s one of the traddest cities out there, and probably the traddest city in the Midwest. The best hotel there, The St. Paul, is one of my favorites with a great steakhouse & great rooms. This is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hometown, and also the home of railroad baron James J. Hill. His home is worth a visit, but all of Summit Ave. (where his house is) is very neat and Trad. St. Paul is also home to my father’s undergraduate Alma Mater, Macalaster. This is one of the nicest (and traddest) campuses in all of the Midwest- red brick is everywhere, along with ivy- and it’s not a bad liberal arts school, either!

    But back to the great search for the AA 406′s. So I drive down to Grand Ave, which is exceptionally hip (undoubtedly because of Macalaster) but very community-oriented with lots and lots of nice stores. I find Grand Spectacle, and go into the Victorian home which has been re-appropriated for use as an eyewear store. They have me try on tons of frames, and tell me that they can get a wide variety of sizes from AA. So he measures my face and I pay him.

    3 weeks later, the postman rings my doorbell. In the box from Grand Spectacle are some of the nicest frames I’ve ever seen, and the tortoise effect is beautiful. They fit my face great, and need a bit of adjusting, but not much. I love them, and they certainly add an air of sophistication.

    I’d get them again, and I’d highly recommend Grand Spectacle. They’re service is great and pricing reasonable. If you’re not a Midwesterner, try eyeglasses.com. While they don’t have the same level of customer service or expertise, their prices are great ($149!) and they have a great assortment. Others have had good luck with them. I would have probably used them, had their site not been down when I needed glasses. For sizing, unless you have a larger face or nose (like me and my Scandinavian roots) I’d recommend the 50, the size worn by Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird. I wear the 52, and I’ve received compliments on how well it works for me.

    FINAL JUDGEMENT:
    AA 406′s are some of the nicest glasses out there. The craftsmanship is superb, the styling great, and the price decent. Certainly better (in price and style) than most LensCrafters and their outrageous pricing/frames. I love the tortoise effect.

  21. Whoops. Started doing some research on all those sites that offer the Lafont’s for extremely low prices. Long and short of it is like BIll stated: they’re crooks. Still looking for something like the Tart Arnels but smaller. So basically the Lafont Balthazar’s but a little less expensive. Any and all suggestions greatly appreciated.

  22. Bill Stephenson | February 26, 2011 at 3:46 am |

    Chris – All I know about vendors comes from personal experience with the vendor linked to under Time cover (eyeglasses.com). Ones listed in link were $393, which seemed about right for a legitimate vendor.

    I can’t guarantee anything about them. However, I purchased 2 pair from them, and saw that they charged my Amex for only one. I called, and spoke to the guy that apparently runs the place, and said that he had short changed himself. In response, he only charged me 1/2 price for the second pair. Shipment was always fast, and service good. However, I still can’t guarantee anything but my own experience.

    Don’t know anything about the vendor in your post, and I don’t have the experience to rate vendors, that I haven’t used. The thing that scared the heck out of me was the NYT article about a specific vendor who had a lot of complaints. Name was listed in article, not the one that you mention.

    According to NYT article,after getting complaints, this crook called one woman and threatened to come to her house and do her physical harm. This site is still on the net.

    The thing that warned me off of this one, was that it is possible to go on net, and look at customer complaints. This guy had a raft of them, but loved them, because the higher number of hits, the more you move up in the order that merchants appear in Google. Beware is all that I can say, without making any specific recommendation. I just don’t know, other than my experience.

  23. Bill Stephenson | February 26, 2011 at 6:48 am |

    Here is the NYT article referred to above:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/business/28borker.html

  24. I went shopping for AA 406s and saw it was not something that every optical shop in town stocks or for that matter could I find anything similar. I called Anglo American’s US office, whose phone number is listed on the their website, http://www.angloamericanopticalltd.com/. They were nice enough to go through their list of vendors in my area. I wound up purchasing them from a shop five minutes from home. They must of had a hundred pairs of AAs on display as well as LaFont and other frames of a similar style. As others had mentioned the slightest difference in shape, size and color makes a huge difference in how they looked on me. It was good that I brought my daughter with me, she makes sure that I don’t go around looking like a total dork. In any case I bought the 406s in Japanese Torquoise for $200. Not as little as I could have paid online but I was sure of how they looked on me and I helped support a local merchant.

  25. the passenger | March 1, 2011 at 10:23 am |

    @ commenter sp: sorry, I hadn’t checked back on this post in a few days… I didn’t actually make the purchase from Optometrist Attic. I was about to when I happened to find the frame in the size/color I wanted on eBay (they don’t come up often) for somewhat less, plus I had some balance in my Paypal account that went toward it. The seller was an individual and not a storefront, with 100% feedback, so I felt confident enough to make the purchase.

    As for Optometrist Attic, I get the feeling it’s a one-person operation but it would not have stopped me from purchasing from there. The site lists a PO box in Austin, TX and two email addresses to use for contacting with questions. You might consider asking for some references or BBB info.

  26. I bought a pair of AA 406’s from the Optometrist Attic and the service and shipping speed were excellent. Vick (the sole proprietor I assume) was extremely helpful pre- and post-purchase, and I couldn’t bee happier with the product. Best –

  27. I purchased a pair of Lafont Concertos a few months ago, and am really happy with them. Thankfully, I was able to buy locally, and after trying on a number of frames they were the right ones. I had compromised on glasses for far too long.

    http://www.eyeglasses.com/glasses/lafont/concerto.html

  28. Over the past year or so, I’ve purchased 4 pairs of the AA 406 glasses in tortoise colors from the Optometrist Attic and they’re always helpful, fast shipping, nice packing. I’ll be back for more!

  29. Interesting. John Dean seems to wear them on the small side too. A little small for his face if you ask me…

    I’m currently in the process of getting my own pair. I’m going through Optometrist Attic. Vick couldn’t be more helpful with returns and sizing issues.

  30. @Michael

    The size of John Dean’s frames looks just right to me.

    My ophthalmologist tells me that (despite what opticians will tell you), one should keep away from large frames as the amount of distortion around the edges increases with the size of the
    lenses–even with the most expensive lenses.

    My image consultant also tells me that smaller frames deflect people’s attention away from my double-chin and my receding hairline. I’m sure they’d do wonders for you too.

  31. Christian | April 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm |

    Image consultant? I think I speak for all of us when I say please elaborate.

  32. French Press | April 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm |

    Christian,

    By “image consultant”, I think he means his wife, his partner, or someone else (a friend, colleague, or even salesperson) whose opinion he trusts with regard to whether particular items of clothing, etc. suit him ot not.

    That’s how I’ve heard the term jocularly used.

  33. If 406 had said “my barber”, “my tailor”, “my lawyer”, my dentist”, etc. would you have asked for an elaboration?

    Image consulting is a recognized profession:
    http://www.aici.org/

    By the way, “Ivy Style” is at the top of the list of sources that we recommend for those who wish to adopt an Ivy image.

  34. @406

    To each his own, I guess. The temples looks uncomfortably tight on the sides of his head to me. I know that would bother me. The front of the frames do look great on him though.

  35. @406

    To each his own, I guess. The temples looks uncomfortably tight on the sides of his head to me. I know that would bother me. The front of the frames do look great on him though.

  36. The Russian bully from the Times story gets his comeuppance police style:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/business/07borker.html?ref=business

  37. What are those frames that are first shown in the article? I love the firey color.

  38. I just picked up preppy p3 glasses from Walmart. Crazy. I know. And not waspy. BUT they were $38. TOTAL.single vision.the frames were $9.00.

  39. Where do you get these?

  40. They have Some at The Vintage Optical Shop Online.

  41. I wear Anglo American AA116 frames, one black pair with the darkest lenses made for sunglasses, the other tortoise with reading lenses. love em!

    http://www.eyeglasses.com/glasses/anglo-american/aa116.html

  42. Hamlisch, a child prodigy and a talented man, that wore tasteful eyewear.

  43. Your feelings create your reality. make money online You just have to decide for yourself if this is something that you definitely want to do or not.

  44. Orthodox Trad | March 17, 2013 at 1:54 am |

    For those of us who believe that nothing plastic is Trad/Ivy:

    http://www.ray-ban.com/international/products/optical/RB6242?var=2730

  45. @Orthodox Trad

    The original of that partıcular frame is familiar to Brits of a certaın age as the 422HJ NHS frame.

    Ray Ban have done a fine job of replicating it.

  46. Philly Trad | August 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |

    Kermit Roosevelt, Chief of CIA Near East Operations, 1953:

    http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/images/Kermit%20Roosevelt.jpg

  47. Etymologue writes: On several opticians’ sites, I have come across the term “panto” as an alternative to “P3″. Can anyone out there explain “panto”?

    Entering this conversation late, but, yes, this is the source of a lot of confusion, as many opticians seem to use “P3″ and “panto” interchangeably, even though this is not accurate. “Panto” frames are a kind of wire frame, sometimes accented by tortoiseshell, with a roughly similar shape to the P3. P3 frames are acetate or plastic, by definition.

    There’s a lot of loose usage around – I’ve seen glasses that were more or less “wayfarer” style (Buddy Holly or Woody Allen type glasses) labeled as “P3″. Of course, there are a lot of intermediate shapes between the two in the realm of acetate frames, so that probably contributes to the confusion.

    Hope this helps.

  48. A.E.W. Mason | December 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm |

    I thought it came from “Pantheon Frames,” as sold by LaFont.

  49. PETER
    ” frames are a kind of wire frame, sometimes accented by tortoiseshell”, these were the original NHS optical frames in Britain after WWII. funny how welfare glasses became chic.

    http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/nhsspecs.cfm

  50. Hello, all.

    The article recommended the Lafont Balthazar frames because they have smaller (more traditional) lenses. I agree.

    Some burning questions:

    Are DARK tortoise Balthazar frames considered traditional/prep, or should I stick with the lighter tortoise frames (like the Balthazar 519)?

    I’ve noticed that their dark tortoise frames (the Balthazar 619) are officially discontinued. I have now spent 3 days and at least 20+ hours searching online for these 619 frames to no avail – not even used on ebay.

    Which frame is the most genuinely prep: the Balthazar 519 (light tortoise) or the Balthazar 619 (dark tortoise)?

  51. How preppy are those browline eyeglasses? Those that combination with a tortoiseshell on top and gold metal temples.

  52. Philly Trad | July 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm |

    A Gentleman of Japan in the 1930s:
    http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/dokidoki_puck/31337104.html

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