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Designer Overstocks, Exquisitely Discounted, Insiders Only

About Us

Who We Are

Optical Underground is a speakeasy for extraordinary eyewear, a secret find to satisfy your optical addiction. We are a fourth generation family business that’s been helping people see better (and look better) for over 100 years. We are craftsmen and appreciate the talent and toil that goes into designing original hand-made eyewear, and celebrate the people who wear them. We are socially responsible, and take our obligations to our community and our planet seriously.

What We Do

We hand pick the best overstocks and discontinued styles from the most creative brands in eyewear and sell them at progressively accelerating markdowns starting at 50% off. Online, you can "Try them on" with our true-to-scale virtual reality tool. In our store, we offer skilled opticians who render brutally honest opinions to help guide you to the "perfect pair". Just sign up as an Insider. It’s simple and it's free, and it’s the only way you can shop online with us or get "First Dibs" on new arrivals at our San Francisco store. As an Insider, you will get full access to our online sales that are never available or searchable outside of membership.

How We Do It

Because of our long-standing relationships, our vendors trust us. They know we won’t advertise their brand or our prices to the public. In return, we get to cherry-pick the best of their past season's overstocks, samples and discontinued styles; styles that are unlikely to still be in stores. We negotiate volume pricing which allows you to experience their brand at a great price, and hopefully an appreciation for their artistry and creativity. If you fall in love with a particular designer, we’ve done our job.

How To Shop

Shop online or visit our store
Shop Online

Sign up as an Insider. You’ll get instant access to our highly curated private sales and, if desired, notices about upcoming sales, promotions and events.

Use our Virtual Try-On tool to see how your eyewear will look before buying, and we’ll deliver them to your door within 14 days.

New sales start every three days at 9:00 AM Pacific Time, with accelerating markdowns until sellout. At this time we do not sell lenses online.

Shop In Store

We hope you’ll find your shopping experience to be liberating.

All eyewear is accessible so you can try on anything you want without a sales person giving you a rash. When you do want help we’re right there with honest opinions. We’re wizards at matching people and eyewear, and we do it with brains, fashion-confidence and good humor.

We’re also optical pros, able to guide you painlessly through the lens selection process. We carry all lens materials and styles and fill prescriptions right here in our state-of-the-art lab, all at equally liberated prices. Sign up as an Insider and you can view up-to-date info on store inventory and markdowns.

Insiders

The Benefits of Being An Insider
Online Shopping

Only Insiders can shop online. Get exclusive entree to our timed sales and progressive markdowns as well as advance notice of upcoming sales.

First Dibs Events

Our after hours in-store events for Insider’s only. Get first access to new arrivals and free basic single vision lenses with each purchase.

Community Events

Advance notice to our FREE in-store events promoting local indie bands, artists, artisanal food and drink with raffle prizes benefitting local charities.

Refer A Friend

For each friend that purchases from us, we’ll bank $10 towards your next purchase. Sorry, for now referral credits only work online.

Our History

The Story of Optical Underground

From humble beginnings over a century ago, Optical Underground has become the "go-to" destination for top designers to discreetly sell their overstocks, and for discerning shoppers to find exquisite value on the best names in eyewear.

  • 1896

    14 year old Irving Silverstein works as an apprentice optician for the Standard Optical Company in the Emory Arcade, Cincinatti, Ohio.

  • 1899

    Irving as part of the factory force, Merry Optical Company, Kansas City, Mo.

  • 1900

    Irving receives his Doctor of Optics diploma from the South-Western Optical College.

  • 1906

    Irving arrives in San Francisco to find the city in ruins, sets up shop in a jewelry store “west of the fire-line”.

  • 1911

    Irving opens his showplace store on Union Square.

  • 1943

    Irving’s son Sheldon joins the practice and opens a location on San Francisco’s grand boulevard at 1003 Market Street.

  • 1952

    Father and son relocate to 951 Market Street.

  • 1977

    Sheldon’s son Lloyd joins the practice as an Optician.

    .
  • 1988

    Lloyd opens Silverstein Optics on Montgomery Street, the “Wall Street of the West”.

  • 1993

    Lloyd converts the Market Street location to The Optical Outlet and uses it to move end-of-season styles from Silverstein Optics stores. It becomes a not-so-secret "find" for eyewear junkies.

  • 1998

    Lloyd Opens the second Silverstein Optics right off Union Square in a tiny jewel box space on Grant Avenue.

  • 1999

    Optical Outlet moves to a larger location on Sutter Street and is renamed Optical Underground, a nod to the subterranean space and the surreptitious business.

  • 1999

    Optical Underground launches Underground Eyewear, our $49 vinatge inspired house brand.

  • 2001

    Our first in-store charity Art and Eyewear auction, spawning what will become regular monthly events, Underground Sights and Sounds.

  • 2011

    Cynthia Silverstein, Lloyd’s wife and favorite model, joins the business.

  • 2014

    OpticalUnderground.com becomes a full-fledged eCommerce website.

The Team

Who's Who at Optical Underground
Lloyd Silverstein

CEO, Optician & Director of Big Ideas

As a third generation San Franciscan and the son and grandson of Optometrists, Lloyd’s career in eyewear seemed preordained. Although an architecture major in college, he liked working in the family business so much, that he went back to school to become an optician. He can be found most days schmoozing with customers, teaching optics to enraptured team members or drawing elaborate graphs on the conference-room whiteboard. He loves driving his vintage sports car and eating spicy food, but rarely at the same time.

As a third generation San Franciscan and the son and grandson of Optometrists, Lloyd’s career in eyewear seemed preordained. Although an architecture major in college, he liked working in the family business so much, that he went back to school to become an optician.

As a third generation San Franciscan and the son and grandson of Optometrists, Lloyd’s career in eyewear seemed preordained.

Lloyd Silverstein
Cynthia Silverstein

President & Implementer of Big Ideas

Also a three generation native, Cynthia has a professional background in transactional law and a personal love of design and fashion, both of which serve her well in her “second” career. She co-founded our online ecommerce initiative, oversees the marketing and brand strategy, exercises fanatically, and loves her dogs almost as much as her children. Her collection of eyewear would make Elton John jealous. She is also Lloyd’s wife, a sometimes dubious distinction.

Also a three generation native, Cynthia has a professional background in transactional law and a personal love of design and fashion, both of which serve her well in her “second” career. She co-founded our online ecommerce initiative, oversees the marketing and brand strategy.

Lloyd’s wife Cynthia, co-founded our online ecommerce initiative, and oversees the marketing and brand strategy.

Cynthia Silverstein
Allan Hosmer

CTO & Director of Online Operations

A Midwest transplant, Allan has spent his career in retail, but is a computer geek at heart. Self-taught, he develops and implements our systems both online and off, and is the “fixer” when anything goes wrong. Strangely, they often do. He walks 3 miles to and from work every day rain or shine, and is rightly proud of his beard and his prowess at horseshoes. Rumors that he owns a Type 40 TARDIS are unfounded.

A Midwest transplant, Allan has spent his career in retail, but is a computer geek at heart. Self-taught, he develops and implements our systems both online and off, and is the “fixer” when anything goes wrong.

A Midwest transplant, Allan has spent his career in retail, but is a computer geek at heart.

Allan Hosmer
Sam Silverstein

Director of Digital Asset Production

An award winning artist and Division II Lacrosse player, Sam uses his creative talents to run our studio and production department. Off-hours he’s often seen blowing glass into gravity-defying shapes or surfing the green room at Fort Point. Claims he could survive in the wilderness for weeks with only snickers bars and some fine craft-brewed IPA.

An award winning artist and Division II Lacrosse player, Sam uses his creative talents to run our studio and production department. Off-hours he’s often seen blowing glass into gravity-defying shapes or surfing the green room at Fort Point.

An award winning artist and perfectionist, Sam use his creative talents to run our studio and production department.

Sam Silverstein

Give Back

A Habit For Three Generations
  • The Backstory

    In 1906, Irving Silverstein arrived in San Francisco to find that the Great Earthquake and Fire had just laid waste our beautiful city. Undeterred, he set up shop “west of the fire line” and went to work.

    Success came quickly, and with it, his need to pay it forward. Taking his optician’s kit to the homeless camps, anyone who had lost glasses in the disaster was given new ones. So began our family’s commitment to the community that has supported us so graciously for over 100 years.

    Since then, two more generations have shared our founder’s dedication. For over 65 years, Irving’s son Sheldon quietly provided free eyecare in one of the City’s roughest neighborhoods. His son Lloyd expanded the philanthropic reach to include community-wide issues like homelessness, healthcare and education.

    For almost 20 years, our underground store has hosted after-hours events for local artists and musicians. With local food, drink and swag partners adding their support, these free events draw hundreds of people, raising tens of thousands of dollars for San Francisco charities.

  • What Matters To You?

    We applaud any serious commitment to social responsibility. Whether donating a percentage of profits, or funding specific projects, if done with integrity, giving back in any form is good thing. But we also appreciate that not everyone cares about the same things in the same way. What’s important to us may not be important to you.

    To support both convictions, we’ve partnered with JustGive one of the nation’s most respected donor-advised funds. (They also happen to be our neighbors here in San Francisco). Their worldwide reach solved the dilemma of how we can do good outside our community and do it in a way that allows you to decide what’s important to you.

    Maybe you’ve got a favorite cause that you want to support, or maybe you haven’t given it much thought. Either way, if you choose, here’s a way to make a difference.

    So while we continue to do good that matters to us, JustGive lets us help you do good for causes that matter to you wherever you live.

  • Make It Count

    We hope you love our prices, but we want to give you an even better deal to help you do good in your own backyard. With each online purchase, you have the option to buy a JustGive card that takes $10 off the price. You then donate your $10 digital gift card to the cause of your choice. Buy a $100 frame for 90 bucks, and donate the other $10 to any of 1.8 million 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. There is no minimum purchase required. If you find a $10 frame, it’s free if you buy a JustGive card.

    In your community or across the planet — you choose what matters to you.

    And every cent of your gift counts, because we cover all administrative costs. You’ll also get a receipt and a record of your donation which is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

    Don’t feel like giving, or you give in other ways? Cool. We get it, but we can only add the discount when you buy a JustGive card.

Blog

Our Popular Posts from Tumblr
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Optical Underground
Industry EYEcons

No. 2 | Linda Farrow

“Timeless in design, uncompromising in quality, unabashedly luxurious, Linda Farrow takes sunglasses to the next level.”

Originally founded in 1970, Linda Farrow produced some of the most desirable frames of the 70’s and 80’s as she crossed over from fashion design to the world of eyewear. Partnering with big name fashion houses like Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Sonia Rykiel, Farrow created custom sunglasses that were extremely coveted during the brand’s heyday. With an inventive spirit and a cutting-edge vision, Farrow’s designs were constantly pushing the boundaries both on and off the runway. Although Farrow continued to be successful in her endeavor, she decided to leave her design post in the mid-eighties so she could focus on family life.

It wasn’t until her grown son, Simon Jablon, and his girlfriend, Tracy Sedino, found several thousand pairs of Farrow’s (now vintage) sunglasses in an old warehouse, that the brand had a glimmer of being revitalized. It was 2003, and Jablon and Sedino smartly realized that they had something really special on their hands. They immediately set out to find vendors that wanted a piece of the vintage stock and were pleasantly surprised at the response they received. Vintage items and heritage brands were having a moment. Not only did major retailers jump at the chance to carry Farrow’s frames, they wanted something new on their shelves as well. Jablon and Sedino obliged. Drawing on some of the shapes that the brand was built upon and also building new partnerships with up-and-coming designers like Dries Van Noten, Jeremy Scott, and Alexander Wang, the pair relaunched Linda Farrow and saw immediate success. Today they are continuing the brand’s legacy with 8 stores worldwide, a gallery store at Selfridge’s in London, and many high-end global retail partners.

What is so interesting about the Linda Farrow story, is the comparison that can be drawn to the Oliver Goldsmith eyewear legacy (Industry EYEcons | No. 1). Although Goldsmith became popular two decades earlier, both brands originated in England and took an extended hiatus before being revitalized by the family’s younger generation. Both Goldsmith and Jablon stumbled across their family trades in their early twenties, and to their credit, both saw how incredibly valuable and relevant the brands still were. 

Sources: http://us.lindafarrow.com/http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/in-the-frame-linda-farrow-brains-behind-sunglasses-brand-delving-into-our-shady-past-8784182.htmlhttps://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/linda-farrow-prabal-gurung-erdem-tracy-sedino-simon-jablon

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Optical Underground
Iris Apfel is a true icon in every sense of the word.

She has cultivated her own sense of design in fashion, interiors, and textiles. She’s hunted the world over for one-of-a-kind treasures and firmly believes in exuding personal style and taste in all aspects of her life. She says she was lucky to be born with a sense of humor and curiosity, which has guided her life-long process. One of our favorite things about her personal style is her trademark glasses. Iris is the perfect example of someone who uses eyewear as a statement and fashion accessory. 

We adore this photo shoot because it highlights some of the eccentricities and interesting objects that we’ve come to associate with Iris. At 94 she’s one of the coolest women alive. 

Sources: http://howtospendit.ft.com/womens-fashion/102683https://www.onekingslane.com/live-love-home/irisapfel/

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Optical Underground
Industry EYEcons

No. 1 | Claire Goldsmith

You can’t even begin to talk about independent eyewear designers without mentioning Claire Goldsmith. Claire’s success in the eyewear industry is made up of one-part family history, two-parts genius fit and design, and three-parts marketing prowess. It was her great-grandfather, Oliver Goldsmith, who single-handedly revolutionized the eyewear industry. Outfitting some of the biggest stars of the 20th century, Goldsmith shifted the industry’s focus from function to fashion. His timeless designs still define some of the most iconic images we can remember of celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Princess Diana, Grace Kelly, and Michael Cain. Goldsmith’s innovative approach to eyewear earned him many “firsts” in the industry: first to use plastics (especially colored plastics), first to appear in vogue, and first to create one-of-a-kind pieces for the runway.

Fast-forward to 2005. The Oliver Goldsmith brand had been shuttered for almost 20 years. As a recent marketing graduate, Claire Goldsmith had taken an interest in heritage brands and saw some potential in reviving her family legacy. Her intuition paid off, and the fashion world eagerly welcomed Oliver Goldsmith eyewear back into their lives. The brand was quickly propelled back to its cult-classic status. Claire was so successful in her endeavor, that she decided to launch her own brand focused solely on optical lenses. The Claire Goldsmith line is “contemporary and forward-thinking.” Claire see’s her designs as “future-classics, hoping that someday they will be referred to as vintage.”

Sources: http://somethingaboutmagazine.comhttp://www.luxuryeyewearforum.com, http://www.clairegoldsmith.com/, Interview Magazine, http://madeleineloves.com

Press

Shameless Self-Promotion
  • This shop, whose logo pays homage to the London Underground metro system, also carries a wide selection of frames that are all about European style. You'll find eyeglasses and sunglasses that feature unique colors and shapes with a nod to perennial standards, but catering to American tastes.

    Best Place To Get Eyewear To See and Be Seen In SF Weekly: Best of San Francisco 2014
  • As a third-generation optician in San Francisco, Optical Underground owner Lloyd Silverstein has long-standing relationships with manufacturers that make him the go-to guy for first quality overstock and samples that they want to unload for less than wholesale.

    Glasses Half-Full San Francisco Magazine
  • Union Square eyewear outlet Optical Underground has just what we want - super-slashed prices on all our favorite brands. Frames start at 40 percent below the suggested retail price, and if the design you've been coveting is still on the shelf after one year, you can have them for 19 bucks. No Catch.

    Best Discount Eyewear 7x7 Magazine
  • Optical Underground owner Lloyd Silverstein is the go-to guy when designer eyewear manufacturers want to unload their overstocks, samples, and discontinued styles. The big Deal: All frames and sunglasses come in to the store at 50% off - with additional 25% mark-downs every 90 days.

    Eyewear Outlet Store San Francisco Magazine