Virginia Burton, owner of Burton Optician in Georgetown. (Joshua Yospyn/For The Washington Post)

Virginia Burton, 72, owns and operates Burton Optician in Georgetown, which just celebrated its 28th anniversary. She lives in Arlington and pursued opticianry in Austin because of an unexpected epiphany: She couldn’t afford air conditioning at the time, and one day she overheard an optician younger than she talking about his new car and thought: I bet he has air conditioning.

Rick Perry. Do you know what I’m going to ask?

Whoever his optician is works for the devil. She made him look more intelligent.

Why does that work?

It just does. People always think if you wear glasses that you’re smarter, harder-working and more honest than the same person without glasses. I always tell young women going for their first job interview and such: Get glasses so people will take you more seriously. Let prejudice work for you. What were you going to ask me about Rick Perry?

That was it. He had to completely change his image, and all he did was get Buddy Holly glasses.

He looked fabulous, didn’t he? They were the perfect pair.

And now he’s a Cabinet secretary! When they wanted George Burns to play God he had these huge glasses, and then you think, “Wow, I should listen to you.”

Heavy, dark — it’s very assertive. A very aggressive kind of look. Another example of glasses saying a whole lot about somebody is [Dick] Cheney and all of that crew: rimless glasses. Cold, mean, steely. I quit selling them. I think they make people look older and meaner.

No president has consistently worn glasses since LBJ started wearing contacts in 1964.

I had a number of customers who worked in the Clinton White House, and one said, “Chelsea Clinton admired my glasses! We’re going to get Chelsea in here!” Never got her.

Was there like a Clinton White House look?

Playful. A lot of color, jazzy designs, leopard skin — that was the one Chelsea Clinton supposedly liked so much.

Is there a Washington look in glasses right now?

Tortoiseshell is always the Washington look. You can’t really go wrong with tortoiseshell. People think you’re trustworthy and a nice person.

Being an expert head measurer, do you give any credence to the so-called science of phrenology, which theorizes that you can learn about someone’s personality by measuring the contours of their skull?

I don’t want to offend any of my phrenologist customers.

I have these weird lumps — flanges, or collets — behind my ears. It makes it hard for me to find sunglasses.

That’s ’cause you’re not buying them from somebody who knows how to adjust glasses.

Someone can come in with glasses, and you’ll adjust them?


Is there a fee for that?


Why not?

It’s really fun for me to help people pick out glasses and make them look better. They’re such a great disguise, you know? They can make people look smarter or stupider or mysterious. Whatever you want.

More Just Asking

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

Follow the Magazine on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook.

Email us at