GREAT NECK, N.Y. — Philip Meltzer is an optometrist. Some days, he's also a marriage counselor.

GREAT NECK, N.Y. — Philip Meltzer is an optometrist. Some days, he's also a marriage counselor.

Occasionally customers return glasses because their husbands or wives hate them, says Meltzer, owner of Spectacles in Great Neck.

He'll usually take them back, suggesting the client return with spouse in tow. If they get the choice down to two, Meltzer advises they go with the spouse's pick — since that's who has to look at them the most.

Buying glasses can be prickly business for the nearly 171 million American adults who, according to the Vision Council of America, wear some form of corrective lenses — eyeglasses, contacts or reading glasses. The good news: There are more choices than ever before. Eyewear, in fact, has become the hot, new accessory.

We're in something of an ophthalmological moment, with more and more brands launching eyewear lines (including Cole-Haan, Carmen Marc Valvo, Jimmy Choo, Tiffany and Pucci), and designers (like Valvo and Michael Kors) dressing models in frames in recent runway shows.

Stars, too — Chloe Sevigny, Jennifer Garner, Johnny Depp, even "Speed Racer's" Emile Hirsch — are popping up bespectacled in the pages of magazines and gossip columns. "Saturday Night Live" alum Tina Fey became a smart-girl sex symbol with her specs. And "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson is so identified with his angular frames he launched his own line this spring.

"My eyewear is a part of my look and personality," says Jackson. "Eyeglasses aren't only for seeing, but for looking good. The days of being called 'four eyes' are out."

"I attribute it to the political atmosphere today," says Robert Marc, a designer of sleek, upscale frames. "With the upcoming elections and debates about the economy, the environment and the war, everyone wants to look cerebral and 'in the know.' "

Glasses can also express one's style and creativity. "Eyewear is the new scarf, the new tie," notes trend consultant Tom Julian, of the Tom Julian Group in Manhattan. "Think left brain/right brain — if a purse or watch used to do a power thing, glasses do the creative thing." Technology, too, he adds, "has helped spur interest in frames."

Advances in laminates allow for saturated, bold colors; lasers cut out or etch intricate designs on temples; and jewels and crystals offer bling.

And that's just frames. Lens technology also continues to improve.

"It's like digital cameras," says Kevin Palmer, owner of Main Street Optics in Southampton. "Two or three megapixels used to be a big deal, now 10 seem standard." Today's lenses, he explains, are ultra thin, offering consumers more choice in the kinds of frames they can wear.

So, which do you choose? Rectangles remain strong, say opticians. Bold colors and shapes are hot, and a retro look is on the rise.

"Nostalgic baby boomers," says Marc, are driving sales of old-school glasses — thick, round and square frames reminiscent of the 1950s and '60s.

"Call it the 'Mad Men' factor," says Julian.

For men, mad or not, tortoise and black are the norm, notes Meltzer. Women are more likely to experiment with color, and tend to do well with modified cat's-eyes turned up slightly at the ends, he says. "It gives a bit of a face-lift." Sold!

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service