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Big Plastic Glasses Without Lenses: Strange East Asian Fashion

Fashion is not supposed to make sense. It is not supposed to be natural, look normal, or run flush with logical. In fact, fashion is supposed to be the polar opposite of all these attributes. In point, fashion, by design, is supposed to make people look at you, to be a beacon for social energy, [...]

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Fashion is not supposed to make sense. It is not supposed to be natural, look normal, or run flush with logical. In fact, fashion is supposed to be the polar opposite of all these attributes. In point, fashion, by design, is supposed to make people look at you, to be a beacon for social energy, to draw attention to your body by altering your appearance in some abnormal, unconventional, or new way. I understand this, but there is one popular fashion in China that I simply cannot grasp:

Big, thick, plastic eyeglasses without lenses.

What the . . .?

Why? Who would ever want to wear eyeglasses to begin with, let alone voluntarily wear them without lenses?

Big, thick plastic glasses frames are the style — but having lenses in them (and thus rendering them into vision, rather than fashion, aids) reduces their cool a few dozen notches. The glasses frames that have been selected for this fashion statement are like super charged, overly exaggerated version of Woody Allen’s vision gear — or the kind of plastic glasses that are invariably attached to the big nose and mustache gag disguises. These no lens glasses now come in all sorts colors and shapes, are sold everywhere fashionable youth go, and have become exceptionally popular among both female and male hipsters.

Glasses without lenses

Glasses without lenses is a big fashion trend in East Asia

What is double odd, is that these no-lens glasses in Asia are not only for those seeing 20/ 20. Young people with legitimate vision needs are also getting in on the trend. No, they don’t just have have lenses put in their big fashion frames, they wear contacts with their big lens-less eyeglass frames over the top. This simple seeming trend gets pretty complex.

But where did this no-lens glasses fashion trend come from? Of all possible sources, the NBA player, Russell Westbrook, claims to have been the one who began this style (I think this is the same guy who wears a backpack to press conferences as a fashion statement in addition to his lens-less plastic glasses). It is my impression that anyone silly enough to claim the no-lens glasses trend for themselves is also silly enough to have actually started it.

But people in East Asia beg to differ, and it is widely claimed that the trend was started in the late 1990’s in Japan and quickly fizzled out. Last summer the no-lens glasses fashion was resurrected with gusto in Taiwan and Korea and then spread through East Asia before extending around the world to the National Basketball Association.

Rack with no-lens glasses

No-lens glasses for sale next to standard sunglasses

So I’m satisfied with the prospective origins of this fashion, but I still don’t know why kids are going in for a trend that not only runs against common sense but also what I was acculturated to believe is cool. Sorry, but glasses with our without lenses do not go down in my book as something to wear to benefit your appearance.

I’ve been going around China asking the teenage cultivators of this rather strange fashion why they’re wearing glasses with no lenses. To date, neither the men nor the women staring back at me through their big empty frames have been able to provide a clear cut response. They just give me a “Why wouldn’t we be wearing lens-less glasses?” sort of look and pass off my questions.

Getting nowhere in my street inquiries, I put some research into the matter. Among many spin off justifications for the fashion — such as the fact that no-lens glasses don’t fog up when exiting an air conditioned building on a hot day and how women can wear super long fake eyelashes with them — I surprisingly found a substantial reason for the trend:

“It makes my eyes look bigger,” a Hong Kong resident told the Wall Street Journal.

This desire strikes at the core of many fashion trends in East Asia. The youth of this region often go through no small ends to try to make their eye openings appear larger and rounder than they actually are. Some even get surgery to meet these ends, while others wear special contact lenses that push up on the eyelids. Apparently, these big, round lens-less glasses are another tool to alter the natural appearance of East Asia eyes.

New fashion, no-lens glasses

The author’s daughter, Petra, trying out the latest fashion

Altering nature is perhaps the hallmark of fashion, and is often a prerequisite for “beauty.” Whatever is the case, by wearing these big plastic glasses without lenses, trendy kids are getting what they set out for: people like me looking at them in the streets thinking “What the fuck?”

This fashion does its job.


Filed under: China, Clothing, Fashion

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3687 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii

15 comments… add one

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  • Pierre June 18, 2012, 4:13 am

    Haha, In France too there is (there was ? I don’t know, it’s been nearly a year now since I left !) this curious fashion. And I didn’t understand it either.
    I guess it is part of the “Hipster” way of dressing : “I’m looking like a strange dude from the 70’s/80’s, but that’s cool.” And the more “retro” it looks, the better.

    Watching how the “fashion” is “evolving”, wearing back fashion from past century, I suppose that in few year that will be very fashionable to wear leather clothes, walk barefoot and carry a wooden club.

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    • Wade Shepard June 18, 2012, 5:21 am

      Good call on the “de-evolution” of fashion. Hey, I dig the caveman look. I could sport some antelope hides and carry a big femur club haha. Funny how doing anything to make people look at you can potentially be misconstrued as cool. I suppose the worst fate for some is to go unnoticed.

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  • Michi June 18, 2012, 5:23 am

    I noticed this in Paris too, just a couple of months ago!! Well, the hipsters wearing them were Asian tourists. But I also wondered what the deal was with these glasses. But now I know a fast and easy way to make MY eyes look bigger. 🙂

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    • Wade Shepard June 18, 2012, 8:44 pm

      This is truly funny stuff. What is perhaps even more strange is how the hipster style went global. I guess a sign of aging is when you don’t get fashion anymore.

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  • China travel June 18, 2012, 6:43 am

    Ooh boy, what else is going to come? This is a bit ridiculous… but at least I hope it will not be lame anymore to have to wear actual glasses with real lenses. 🙂

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    • Wade Shepard June 18, 2012, 8:47 pm

      Haha, that’s part of the funny part: it still seems lame to wear real glasses. These fake glasses are cooler than real ones. Man, this is an interesting planet. I have no idea what is coming next, maybe shoes without soles or t-shirts without backs. Whatever it is I’m sure I’ll give it the good ol’ WTF response.

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  • Dave June 19, 2012, 2:51 am

    Ha I was mouthing off about this the other day. Korean teenagers schooling overseas wearing these ridiculous frames.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if I was being similar to an old man when I was a teenager complaining about crazy haircuts. But at least it’s an expression, or practical. The glasses thing. Well, it’s just pointless commercialism/fashinonista type thing.

    I can converse with a person with purple hair and a Mohawk but if they are wearing lensless frames I just get the urge to tell em they look stupid and somehow I don’t want to bother conversing.

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    • Wade Shepard June 20, 2012, 1:47 am

      Right on. It’s just hard to take anyone seriously who is doing something so silly. Those glasses are like walking around with a construction worker’s belt full of tools for fashion’s sake. Hope I don’t give anybody any ideas.

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  • félixxx June 23, 2012, 2:05 am

    As someone who had to wear glasses every day of my life since my early teens, having them broken, scratched, damaged, lost, having paid money to get them/maintain them, plus all the trouble that comes with having a cumbersome metal frame resting on your face 18/7, I can honestly say that every time I see those fashion abominations I want to slap them clean off the wearer’s face. Lots and lots of self-control is needed, then, as I interact with teens regularly 🙂

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    • Wade Shepard June 23, 2012, 8:14 pm

      For sure, I can only imagine how annoying it must be for someone stuck in glasses by nature to be around people that are putting themselves in them for fashion. Man, that makes this fashion double strange.

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  • Tiffany Zappulla June 26, 2012, 8:46 pm

    Oooh this! I used to take offense to it as a prescription glasses wearer…”Not fair! I used to get made fun of for this!” Just goes to show that it’s cool to be geek in Asia.

    Petra is da bomb.

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  • kt January 4, 2013, 5:15 pm

    I find this trend annoying also. I don’t have serious short-sightedness, but I have never enjoyed wearing glasses. To me, it’s completely unfathomable that people think they look better with them on (I assume a minority will do, but now you can see everybody is like a clone with the same type of glasses).

    It might be a good look, but when it’s done to death, it’s not so cool anymore. And most of these people don’t even have the “right” to wear glasses, they just pretend to wear them, they don’t even bother to put the lenses in. This is really absurd. If you wanna go for this look, the least you can do is do it all the way. Stop wearing the empty stupid frames!

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  • Kai June 5, 2014, 11:39 am

    i am currently working at a restaurant in taiwan where i made the rule not allowing employees to wear them. They started rebelling against me about it, im working on firing them all soon 🙂

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    • VagabondJourney June 6, 2014, 4:41 am

      Haha, good luck! I think you may be shrinking your potential labor pool down to zero! Funny that this story was published over two years ago but this is still a popular fashion. Trends die hard in East Asia. I fear that these glasses may be here for good.

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  • My Cat Has 9 Loaves December 9, 2016, 9:19 pm

    I just found your blog. Thanks for satisfying my curiosity! I’ve just seen another Korean character with these glasses so I decided to do some research. I would give anything to be able to ditch my glasses, so this trend makes no sense to me.

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