On Fake Glasses in Japan

Over the last six months, there has been a precipitous increase in the number of young Japanese women wearing giant, thick-rimmed glasses with no lenses. These are somewhere between your garden-variety, Woody Allen ironic hipster glasses and toy spectacles worn by kindergartners in school plays. Just to make sure you understand what’s going on here, let me repeat: These glasses do not have fake lenses, they have no lenses. You can see them on women here and here although I observe them normally in the gyaru variety seen here and here (scroll down for myriad examples).

The lens-less frames are apparently an Asia-wide trend, and I have been in a few Twitter spats with people assuring me that everything must have started in Taiwan or Korea. I personally am fine with a theoretical non-Japanese origin for Asian fashion trends, but I remain skeptical. Young Japanese women have basically zero opportunity to get information from the Taiwanese or Korean fashion media nor even see many images of Taiwanese or Korean women beyond K-Pop idols. (And at least in the post-war period, the Japanese have never really considered Taiwanese and Korean women to be style icons in any institutionalized way.) Meanwhile both Koreans and Taiwanese are avid readers of Japanese media (a few Japanese magazines are republished in Chinese), and based on this alone, I would guess the trend started in Japan and spread out from there.

But to make sure, I went back and looked at photos from my MEKAS. trend-spotting days, and the earliest visual record I have of these fake glasses is in late 2007, worn by an incredibly colorful CUTiE-esque shop staff girl at a party (click on the Photo Gallery icon). The article’s main conjecture — that Harajuku cutie style and hardcore Shibuya gyaru style were starting to blend — has held up to be relatively accurate, and over the last few years, we have seen a lot of trend overlap between these once rival subcultures. The giant lens-less glasses definitely look more like a prop from the crazy Harajuku wardrobe, and I assume that they drifted slowly over to mainstream Shibuya style, likely through the magazine PopSister, which is solely dedicated to building a bridge between the two adjacent Tokyo neighborhoods.

Even Japanese fashion insiders, however, have been stunned by these women’s bold rejection of cures for myopia. One of my favorite Japanese fashion bloggers Dale at Elastic did a piece last October about his “culture shock” at seeing gyaru mag Jelly state “It’s common sense to take the lenses out of your fake glasses.” Jelly claims two reasons for this practice. First, lenses tend to smash against gyaru’s enormous fake eyelashes. Second, the reflection from the actual glass in the frames ruins photographs. This may sound familiar: The editors’ logic is explained identically in the Michael Jackson video for “Bad,” where the goofy guy in Wesley Snipes’ gang says that his giant fashion glasses have no lenses because he won’t have to worry about the reflection from the flash when paparazzi snaps him. Needless to say, the guy’s explanation does not feel particularly convincing — at least to Michael Jackson’s character “Daryl.”

Whatever the exact origin, these lens-less glasses are interesting in that they illustrate a core principle to Japanese women’s style: Fashion in Japan is explicitly costume. We’ve read enough FRUiTS over the years to know this to be true in the deep backstreets of Harajuku, where the history of fashion signifiers frolic and intermingle in a mostly meaningless lysergic whirlpool of color and pattern. Yet even with the gyaru — who wear a uniform of sorts based in working class delinquent subculture — everything about the style is allowed to be obvious play as long as the adherents use approved symbols (leopard print, heavy makeup, dyed hair, general gaudiness). Extreme costume, rather than natural aspect of their daily lives, marks the affiliation.

Compare this to the implicit rules of Western fashionistas, where clothing, outfits, and accessories must all be worn with plausible deniability. If someone were to comment, “I like that dress,” the fashionable individual must reply, “Oh this? This is my mom’s. I found it in the attic.” No matter how immaculately coordinated the look, the trendy wearer must make it sound like the entire thing was lying on her floor when she woke up and her random and lazy assembly of garments that day just happened to all work out for the best. The fundamental philosophy here is that (1) the individual is naturally blessed with excellent taste and that (2) the individual is not trying to look fashionable because trying to look fashionable is not cool.

For these very reasons, lensless glasses don’t work in the Western cultural milieu. Giant hipster glasses with lenses can be explained away under a variety of reasons: medical need, hand-me-downs from parents, “the glasses I wore when I was thirteen,” “I found them in a living room drawer under my dad’s college ribbons,” economic expediency, etc. Giant hipster glasses with no lenses are so clearly beyond the pale, so clearly for costume that no excuse would sound remotely plausible. The wearer absolutely, positively woke up that morning and said, today I will wear a pair of giant glasses with no lenses to be fashionable because I am trying to be fashionable.

This is, of course, completely a fine statement for gyaru because the entire point of getting dressed in the morning is playful allegiance to a certain subculture and peer group. And it’s fine for zany Harajuku girls because their entire concept of fashion is “wearing the most insane things possible before taking on the dull responsibilities of adulthood.” More importantly, Japanese society has not been affected by the “cool” concept: the slightly poisonous value set where effort itself is suspect. The primary way to succeed in Japan is to try very hard, and the secondary way is to look like you are trying very hard. Allegiance in Japan requires effort. Affectation is a dirty word in English, but the idea of going the extra mile in fashion — perhaps through glasses with no lenses — is a perfectly correct move for the Japanese subcultural woman.

W. David MARX
July 19, 2011

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

70 Responses

  1. Anon Says:

    “the Japanese have never considered Taiwanese and Korean women to be style icons” is quite the generalized statement and this attitude seems to run throughout the article. I’m not so sure it best to perpetuate this notion, for it portrays an entirely questionable ethic.

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    If this is so contentious, please give me concrete examples of Japanese young women using Korean and Taiwanese women as sources for fashion inspiration.

    My point here is not that Japanese women shouldn’t follow Asian women or couldn’t but that there is no trend infrastructure in place for them to see examples of Taiwanese and Korean women setting styles. The Japanese media complex is very tight-knit and increasingly centered around Japanese models. I would even argue that fewer and fewer Japanese women are even being inspired by Western women.

    I am happy not to “perpetuate” this idea if you have concrete examples of how Japanese women are directly following the style of other Asian countries.

  3. Ken Says:

    Regarding the above point, while “never” is probably too strong (as there are some exceptions, as usual), the general point isn’t wrong and nothing to do with ethics.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    More accurate: “Never to a significant or institutionalized degree.”

  5. @ortospace Says:

    Thanks for the insightful post, especially the last paragraph.

  6. grz Says:

    Fashion trends can much easily permeate to Japan through through tumblr, subbed foreign dramas over private networks, blogs, and other non-mainstream means from Korea/Taiwan/elsewhere. As you say, these girls are already trying so hard; who is to say they are not going the extra mile to find out the latest, novel fashion statement from anywhere in the world.

    As for their Western counterparts, fashionistas in the United States have their hipster glasses with lens but sometimes one can find out that it is a pair without a corrective prescription — only clear glass. Basically, this keeps up appearances with the rest of the crowd… with a touch of white lie, but its for entirely different reasons.

  7. M-Bone Says:

    You’re totally right about Taiwanese and Korean style icons, but never say never – in the 1930s, several colonials were imported into Japanese film as the stylish starlets of the day. The practice was encouraged as part of the government’s Asian unity propaganda movement. Yamaguchi Yoshiko / Li Hsiang-lan – a Manchuria-born Japanese passed off as a Chinese screen star – was probably the single most popular actress of the day and reigned as an off-screen style icon partly because she was “exotic”.

    Nowadays not so much.

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Fashion trends can much easily permeate to Japan through through tumblr, subbed foreign dramas over private networks, blogs, and other non-mainstream means from Korea/Taiwan/elsewhere.

    Not really. They can, but they don’t. Fashion trends in Japan permeate very directly and cleanly from the Japanese domestic fashion industry through Japanese fashion magazines. You would have a hard time proving a wide or significant influence from Tumblr and subbed foreign dramas watched online (which is just not significantly popular in Japan especially among young women who don’t really own computers.) You can, however, show that Popteen and Sweet have huge circulations and are essentially advertorial magazines funded by fashion brands.

    with a touch of white lie, but its for entirely different reasons.

    The reason that I outlined: plausible deniability.

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    I re-edited the line about “never” to be more accurate.

  10. David Z. Morris Says:

    Very well argued and insightful, especially the point about cool vs. effort. Of course, I wish it wasn’t so, since as a Westerner programmed with ‘cool’ and living in Tokyo, it’s almost impossible for me to look at a ‘fashionable’ Japanese woman without seeing someone who’s unserious, if not an outright idiot.

  11. grz Says:

    I just checked with a friend in Hong Kong: “we have that trend in hk too
    ( u knw we learn fr the japanese)”.

    Touché.

    However, I will persist: Why can it not be possible that the new styles can also come from some of the new imported style icons, such as through Girls’ Generation, other K-pop, or – dare I say – even Lady Gaga. I do not claim as proof that it could be a wide or significant influence, but we are talking about fringe fads here.

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    we are talking about fringe fads here.

    I would not call these no-lens glasses fringe. I think they are a key part of the Japanese fashion trends among many core segments this summer. If you walk around Shibuya or Harajuku you can see them every few minutes.

    It is now possible (as of the last few months) that SNSD could influence Japanese style, and I would even argue that SNSD have better and more aspirational style than AKB48 or other Japanese idols. 2NE1 was on the cover of NYLON Japan recently. So I think there is more room for inter-cultural cross-fertilization. But this is very, very recent.

  13. Sean P. Malloy Says:

    Nice writing. From what I understand, the reasoning behind the glasses and the giant size is that the girls believe putting comically giant glasses on their face makes their face look smaller. This is a goal to strive for as they seem to think a small face equals an attractive face.

  14. W. David MARX Says:

    That makes sense. It’s also a reaction against the thinner, smaller glasses which have become completely ubiquitous and a bit over-associated with otaku’s glasses fetish.

  15. reine shimizu Says:

    “The fundamental philosophy here is that (1) the individual is naturally blessed with excellent taste and that (2) the individual is not trying to look fashionable because trying to look fashionable is not cool.”

    An excellent observation!

    When I was younger, drifting between Tokyo and Europe, mainly Vienna and Berlin, the differences in the cultural approaches towards fashion weren’t all that clear to me, and I unintentionally offended western women who clearly wore very stylish, very artfully selected garments in complimenting them on their efforts publicly.

    One part of the popularity of the big, thick rimmed glasses was also born out of a desire to look unfashionable, to create the impression of being un-stylish and awkward and convey a certain air of innocence which of course now is beside the point.

  16. subdee Says:

    I think you’re wrong about Western fashionistas not wanting to look like they are trying. We’ve had ‘grill glasses’ for men for several years now (based on the work of a Japanese designer, apparently) – those things are so impractical, there’s no way to pass them off as anything other than a fashion statement.

    On the women’s side, fast fashion is all about layering cheap (or cheap-looking) pieces with more expensive ones. It’s up to the individual hipster which era they want to draw inspiration from, but either way there is a lot of obvious effort and play going into the selection. After all, what could be more “dress up” than picking out clothes in a style that died before you were born?

    As I see it, “effortless cool” is more of a Gen X value, while “passionate sincerity” is more of a Gen Y value. Sincerity might be another kind of pose, but you play it off by claiming that you’re just having fun, not by claiming that you weren’t really trying.

  17. grz Says:

    I agree with subdee; if a Western hipster wears suffocating jeans or a scarf in the summer, it becomes quite obvious that she is actively trying to be fashionable — no matter how much plausible deniability she claims. The same goes for those wearing sunglasses in-doors. The costume may present itself differently but it is still a costume.

  18. W. David MARX Says:

    Both cultures use costume, but I still think Western fashion culture tends to avoid admitting to the costume. This is my point.

  19. MattAlt Says:

    Thanks for the interesting analysis (I didn’t even remember there was a twenty-minute version of the “Bad” video!)

    I know “costume” glasses without prescription lenses are called date-megane (伊達眼鏡) in Japanese, but is there any specific term for the lenseless glasses?

  20. W. David MARX Says:

    The common ones I have seen are レンズなしメガネ or レンズなし伊達眼鏡

  21. a reader Says:

    One Taiwanese reader here. I can attest that the lens-less frame trend got major in Japan way before it hit Taiwan.

    I first noticed the fake glasses trend around mid-2010, about the time this post appeared: http://blog.japantimes.co.jp/japan-pulse/whats-it-gonna-be-kawaii-or-interi/

    The most “mainstream” Japanese fashion publications pushing for this, at least that I knew of, were Zipper and Fudge. I find a few examples from both Zipper’s and Fudge’s March 2010 issues. I don’t have February 2010′s Fudge, but I see quite a few girls sporting big fake glasses in that month’s Zipper street snaps feature. And yes, they are all lens-less.

    One of my close cousins has a bunch of fashion design student friends (all still in college/ grad school) who are reverent followers of fashion and diehard hipsters. The girls among them tend to favor Zipper’s dictates, and I began seeing them wearing obviously fake frames after Zipper began seriously pushing for them. A few influential online fashion auctioners in Taiwan that do elaborate editorials for their products imitate examples from Zipper, Fudge, Vivi, and other Japanese fashion media a lot, and I also began seeing them wearing fake glasses in their editorials around that time. These people are the Taiwanese fashion avant gardes. They wear things before everyone else and ditch them when anyone else begins wearing them. They almost never generate novel trends (I can’t think of a single instance of that happening, ever, at least not in the last decade) and always adopt what’s fashionable abroad.

    And yes, fake glasses are very, very mainstream in Taiwan these days. I began seeing average hipster girls wearing them around late 2010 to early 2011, and lately even semi-fashionable college girls are wearing them in everyday situations.

    Yeah, it sure is popular here. But germinated in Taiwan? Nope. Don’t think so.

  22. W. David MARX Says:

    That was really interesting. Thanks for adding.

    I would also guess that Taiwan’s fashion crowd is relatively (upper) middle-class and therefore is more likely to find inspiration in Zipper and Fudge than in Popteen and working-class gyaru culture. Would you say this is true?

  23. KING OF NIGERIA Says:

    I’ve been noticing Koreans(girls and guys) doing this for a while. It’s how I’ve been telling them apart from other Asians for the past few years. Guess I’ll have to find a different way, now that I know it’s been taking off in Taiwan, Japan, and possibly China too.

  24. Max Hodges Says:

    >Young Japanese women have basically zero opportunity to get information from the Taiwanese or Korean fashion media nor even see many images of Taiwanese or Korean women beyond K-Pop idols.

    This seems overstated. There has been a sharp increase in the number of Japanese women *traveling to Korea* for one.
    http://www.hancinema.net/korean-culture-invades-japan-a-century-after-annexation-24878.html

    Why leave out movie theaters, TV shows, music videos and DVD rentals?

    >Fashion trends in Japan permeate very directly and cleanly from the Japanese domestic fashion industry through Japanese fashion magazines.

    Sometimes they do, but he seems to leave out the rest of the world.

    It seems quite implausible to think that every article of clothing, accessory, and hair-style every girl in Japan decides to wear each morning is solely and strictly determined by what they saw in a magazine. That seems like a very unrealistic and simplified conception of how culture memes spread.

    I think many girls are also influenced by their friends, movies, travel, tv shows, influential shop staff (like babymary of Faline), fashionable and popular girls in their subcultures (like Yulia, club staff and DJs), and most certainly by things they saw on the internet.

    >You would have a hard time proving a wide or significant influence from Tumblr and subbed foreign dramas watched online (which is just not significantly popular in Japan especially among young women who don’t really own computers.)

    Japan has 99,143,700 Internet users as of June, 2010, 78.2% of the population, according to ITU.

    Sure it may be hard to prove it’s influence, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s hard to prove the influence of environmental pollution on our health, or the influence of advertising on our spending habits, but that doesn’t mean there is no influence.

    Besides, even if, in some odd world, girls were only influenced by fashion magazines, how can you be sure those magazine editors and photo stylists are not in-turn influenced by something they saw while traveling outside Japan, looking at a foreign magazine or website, etc.?

  25. a reader Says:

    This might surprise you, but, to most of them, Popteen and Zipper are not different class-wise, just different in taste. As long as it’s something from the latest issues of a Japanese mag, it’s in. The sister of the Zippper crowd cousin I mentioned above (who is a guy who follows Men’s Non-No and HUGE, btw) diligently copies styles from Vivi, Sweet and Spring. These couple kids are not just upper-middle class. They are very, very wealthy. Not billionaire, but close.

    Because Taiwan has only entered international middle class two or three decades ago, fashion as a mainstream pastime is a very recent phenomenon. People only began to learn to define their identities through material possessions in the last 15 years or so. Anyone who has the knowledge and the material wealth to shape a visual identity for him/herself is already above the crowd, regardless of what taste it exemplifies. And while Japanese fashion remains influential, Korean and American fashion trends also play significant roles; none is considered above the other. Fashionable girls here generally sport a look that’s a blend of Korean street fashion, Vivi, and Malibu style. Upper middle class guys tend to wear something that’s either classic Ralph Lauren style or typical A&F fashion.

  26. W. David MARX Says:

    Why leave out movie theaters, TV shows, music videos and DVD rentals?

    I have argued this extensively in other places, but there is overwhelming evidence that Japanese consumers follow fashion advice very strictly from magazines. They do not extrapolate knowledge from a variety of sources as much as perfectly replicate what is explicitly directed at them in the magazines. This is “fashion manual” culture: you dress exactly how you are told to dress. None of these things above — movies, TV shows, music videos, DVDs — explicitly reveal to you how to buy, wear, and style the items shown.

    It seems quite implausible to think that every article of clothing, accessory, and hair-style every girl in Japan decides to wear each morning is solely and strictly determined by what they saw in a magazine.

    Yes it does sound implausible but it is generally true. Clearly there is an elite tier of fashionistas who follow other sources and disinterested consumers who don’t directly follow anything at all. But most mainstream consumers, especially ones in core segments like gyaru or O-nee-kei etc., are very much directly following fashion magazines. Talk to anyone who works at these magazines or sells mainstream brands and they will tell you that the appearance of an item in a magazine will guarantee its sale and its non-appearance will often compromise whether anyone will buy it.

    Check out something like this: http://www.mekas.jp/en/trends/409.xhtml#1

    That seems like a very unrealistic and simplified conception of how culture memes spread.

    You are thinking in a very U.S. centric “organic” model of memes spreading. Japanese memes spread much more orderly, and when it comes to fashion — which has a lot of social risk at stake — people don’t want to make mistakes. They are openly and consciously following trends, not just unconsciously following them. When girls starting wearing color tights in 2007, it was specifically because magazines and stores all showed color tights. There was nothing organic about the adoption.

    fashionable and popular girls in their subcultures (like Yulia, club staff and DJs

    Yulia is very popular among an incredibly minor creative culture that disproportionally controls the media. She’s not actually that popular among the everyday girl, like Masuwaka Tsubasa, Komori Jun, etc.

    Japan has 99,143,700 Internet users as of June, 2010, 78.2% of the population, according to ITU.

    And how many do you know are illegally downloading fan-subbed foreign dramas? This doesn’t strike me as normal behavior in Japan — especially among young women who don’t own computers and do everything through their gala-kei.

    how can you be sure those magazine editors and photo stylists are not in-turn influenced by something they saw while traveling outside Japan, looking at a foreign magazine or website, etc.?

    The editors are definitely influenced by the global fashion system, but the direct influence on Japanese women is Japanese magazines and the women — senzoku models, dokusha models — directly mediated in those magazines.

  27. MattAlt Says:

    “There has been a sharp increase in the number of Japanese women *traveling to Korea* for one.”

    No doubt, but I suspect that if you conducted a poll, you would find the vast majority of women who go to Korea do so because of an interest in Korean foods and Korean “esthetic salons” rather than Korean fashions, as articles like this one hint (translation of title: “Why doesn’t Korea have any top fashion brands?”)

    http://japanese.joins.com/article/437/140437.html

  28. W. David MARX Says:

    Japanese women have been pretty getting into Korean cosmetics brands though, mostly because they can be attained cheaply.

  29. Helen J Says:

    Was nodding my head to a lot of this, but then I remembered that SuperSuper still exists over here (a publication that certainly seems to channel the upbeat openness of Japanese catalo-mags) so yeah, I’d agree that cool=taciturnity belongs to a previous gen of yoofs for the most part. And isn’t that rather nice.

  30. grz Says:

    To go on a limb: can we expect that the traditional (sub)cultural channels of trend-setting in Japan are the same as in Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong?

    And: is it fair to imagine that the same implicit understanding of ‘fashion as explicit costume’ is preserved amongst Korean, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong girls as well?

  31. grz Says:

    If I may add:

    While I can see a goth-loli in Japan tacitly admitting her outfit is a costume, while a Western goth girl would deny hers is a costume, I would add that the latter would say her outfit is part of a way of life.

    The main restriction I would imagine for a fashion statement to be read as anything beyond ‘I’m trying to be fashionable’ among Japanese girls would be that their most-common daily clothing, year-after-year throughout their childhood has indeed been a costume of sorts — their school uniform. For then these girls to dress up in wacky outfits after-school or on weekends to then get snapped by FRUiTS, it is not a surprise then that these fashion statements are not anything more than a get-up, all the way up to adulthood.

    However, I think the older gyarus have a more developed sense of agency and means to develop their fashion statement beyond mere costume, to the level of daily life-style. Their wearing of these empty glasses becomes a demonstration of their leisure ability to religiously follow the latest trends. For the working-class, gyaru fashion niche, this fad becomes adopted as something as part of their the latest summer wear. For everyone else, it as well may be the latest summer prop.

  32. zoltan Says:

    A bit off topic but i have a question,
    How Uma Thurman dressed in Pulp Fiction and Maggie Cheung in “In the Mood for Love” started a wave of similarly dressed women back in the day.

    Are you saying in Japan, ONLY fashion magazines are able to pull this off? Does no one question the non organic nature of this trends?

    Are these fashionista, otaku in disguise since they are basically cosplaying?

  33. W. David MARX Says:

    How Uma Thurman dressed in Pulp Fiction and Maggie Cheung in “In the Mood for Love” started a wave of similarly dressed women back in the day.

    Didn’t these glasses have some sort of lenses in them? Again these are glasses with no glass in the glasses.

    Does no one question the non organic nature of this trends?

    They don’t need to be organic trends to be meaningful trends. As long as they represent the kind of culture the wearers want them to.

    Are these fashionista, otaku in disguise since they are basically cosplaying?

    Otaku cosplay like famous characters. Gyaru cosplay as themselves.

  34. zoltan Says:

    Otaku cosplay like famous characters. Gyaru cosplay as themselves.

    Wow, very meta. This will a Tshirt slogan for me……
    Thanks

  35. Alexis Says:

    This trend is huge in China too (or at least in Shanghai). Loads of college students wear them, though not always the most fashionable or outlandish girls. Lens-less glasses have definitely entered the mainstream among young Shanghainese women and are available to buy for cheap on every street corner.

    I have previously lived in Taiwan and would say the young women there are more influenced by Japanese fashion than Shanghainese women are. I see the occasional gothic lolita around but they look very out of place, having no specific area to go and dress up with a group of other young people. It’s a shame there seems to be no Harajuku equivalent, unlike in Taipei where Ximending served a similar purpose at times.

  36. tochigi Says:

    your contention that Korean fashion trends have no influence on Japanese women is laughable. i have lived in Tokyo for most of the last 25 years. i visited Korea several times in the early to mid 90s, and it was very obvious at that time that Japanese fasion mags, labels, designers, stylists and shops were getting a whole lot of their ideas directly from Korea. sure, it was adapted for the Japanese market, but Korea was leading the way. i would not say that there is always one leader and one follower. the roles almost certainly reverse from time to time. but saying Japnese consumers are not influenced by Korea is ultra naive. the fashion industry mediates this stuff day and night.

  37. LS Says:

    you really get no end of mileage out of the praxy/doxy distinction

  38. Recommended Reading – July 19th, 2011 | International Wota Says:

    [...] On Fake Glasses in Japan – Neojaponisme An interesting trend is discussed in detail; especially interesting is how this differs from Western standards of beauty. [...]

  39. Lentes sin vidrios? | CoolGeeks! Says:

    [...] En Asia el asunto es serio, miles de chicas y chicos salen con sus anteojos falsos sin vidrios. La mayoría de estos suelen ser de lo más hipster, grandes y con marcos gruesos. Yo poseo uno de esos modelos, pero el vidrio es gigante debido a mi ceguera y los encuentro cómodos porque permiten mayor visibilidad y no se te ve un vidrio extremadamente grueso si los usaras sin un marco apropiado. [...]

  40. karl Says:

    Hacking 3D movies glasses for fashion.

  41. W. David MARX Says:

    praxy/doxy

    I’d like to think it’s because the distinction is both true and a useful theoretical framework.

  42. W. David MARX Says:

    your contention that Korean fashion trends have no influence on Japanese women is laughable.

    Comments work better when they are filled with concrete examples rather than vague anecdotal pronouncements.

  43. minocchi Says:

    in the past couple years, japanese have been head over heels for korean pop girl units. kara, girls generation, 4 minute…etc

    i can’t say that japanese have gotten FASHION inspiration FROM them (i feel like the korean groups get their costume inspirations more from japan now) but i feel, with this trend, sooner than later, japanese will be taking inspirations from korea.

    also, i’m not sure if it is understood here what the reason for the “lens-less” glasses are, but to add to the fact that they are often used to make faces look smaller, lens-less glasses are wearable for girls with loads of fake lashes. on the other hand, girls may also use fake glasses to cover that they aren’t wearing much make up.

  44. W. David MARX Says:

    in the past couple years, japanese have been head over heels for korean pop girl units

    Maybe the last 9 months. Not really “past couple of years.”

  45. mud puddle Says:

    A few years ago, lens-less glasses were huge in London’s then fashionable Shoreditch. There are always swaythes of Japanese hipsters milling about brick lane – a popular destination for young trendy people on the weekends.

  46. Dave Says:

    In 1996 I was working in Tokyo and one of my (male) co-workers used to wear a pair of frames with no lenses. I never worked up the nerve to ask him what was going on and everyone else seemed to treat it as normal.

  47. knowledgeofasia Says:

    The glasses thing has been huge in Singapore for a while now too. No idea why!

  48. statiq Says:

    >Giant hipster glasses with no lenses are so clearly beyond the pale, so clearly for costume that no excuse would sound remotely plausible.

    Insightful. Great article.

    Lens-less, fake lenses or actual lenses, I love the thick-rimmed glasses look and I really enjoy their current popularity (plus the Euro/US hipsters seem very unwilling to let them go).

    It has been a while since the last popular Japanese fashion trend I could say I genuinely liked. Refreshing.

    Now if they only got rid of the hats…

  49. Steff Says:

    If fake glasses are a matter of costume, then leaving the lenses out of the frames makes perfect sense while having them in makes no sense at all.

    After all, lenses are heavy, cost money, generate annoying reflections, and collect smudges. Plus, the bigger the frames, the less interference with peripheral vision.

    From the photos, though, I wonder why the colors are so drab. Imagine bright red or green.

  50. Dan Says:

    This was a thought-provoking article, especially the last three paragraphs.

    I haven’t been able to work out this connection clearly yet, but I wonder if this relationship (denial vs. brazen acceptance of “cool”) also holds up in some way for art.

    I’m thinking of Hiromix, and the legion of snapshot photographers who she influenced. You can go to galleries in Omotesando or Ebisu and see work which I would consider self-consciously cool. Like I said, not really sure where this is going but I wonder if someone else can pick up the thread.

  51. My Kafkaesque life Says:

    I see the same trend in Taipei. I think it’s awesome, makes my daily commuting more interesting by adding few wtf moments :)

  52. a reader Says:

    I actually agree that there have been Korean influences seeping into Japanese fashion for some years now. Picking out concrete examples takes too much time, but it really is true. The one trend that originated in Korea that I remember the most is an austere reinterpretation of the 80s. It was big in Korea for about half a year or more before it began showing up in mainstream Japanese publications bit by bit.

    If you spend some time, say, a year, closely following avant garde Korean street fashion sites and mags while monitoring the changes of directions in the Japanese avant garde, every now and then, the Japanese side does pick up fresh aesthetics from Korea and tweaks it to make it a more natural evolutionary extension of the Japanese trends. Sometimes a trend is adopted exactly because it’s antithetical to what’s currently “in” in Japan. And very mainstream Western designers sometimes also get influenced by the Korean avant garde. This is true in both men’s and women’s fashion. The subtle, continuous stylistic conversation among all sides is interesting to watch.

    And I think, in Japan, there is an organic element to the adoption of seemingly extreme trends. Examples like lens-less glasses, Lady Gaga hair bows, and elaborate tights all first made their debuts in — guess where — Kera. While locally Kera is in effect a shopping catalog for unfashionable people who are trying to stand out sartorially without knowing anything about fashion (my apology to all Western Kera fans who imagine Japanese Kera readership to consist of highly fashionable and adventuresome and beautiful people, but that’s really just your imagination. Its models and stylists are, but not its average readers), amongst the often cliched subcultural wares, its stylists try out very fresh, interesting ideas in its pages, probably precisely because most of its readers don’t get it, which makes it more risk-free for the stylists to experiment. It’s sometimes a stylistic theme that a whole issue wraps around, or just a tiny 4-page featurette, but there’s always something new. Ideas that can be adopted as everyday stuff are often then picked up by Zipper, Fudge, and Soen, which then upstreamed to Vogue and occasionally SPUR, and then onto Vivi and other truly mainstream publications. While the readers of the very mainstream mags follow the dicta of the magazines closely, they surely would have seen those trends floating around them on the street long before their respective fashion bibles declare them okay to wear. The prior exposure to the trends would have made whatever seems extreme at first blush far less so by the time the editors at the magazines greenlight it for its readers, which is often a full year after the trend first made its micro appearance in Kera/ Zipper/ Fudge.

    I’m not saying that Kera is the creator of all trends in young women’s fashion, but it is the birthplace of many. That is my conclusion after closely following them all for more than two years. Trends in men’s fashion seem more confined to stylistic circles and become wide-spread less often.

    And, a response to grz: My observation is that, in the last few years, to many self-professed “very fashionable people” in Taiwan, especially the under 35 set, fashion did begin to equal explicit costume. The more out of place you look, the more “fashionable” you are. While older people don’t dress by that principle, they too seem to agree with it. Even my 80-year-old, very conservative grandma takes pride in her obsurdly dressed grandkids, and so do my other older relatives. This attitude arose as the trend of distinguishing oneself by very visibly possessing what others’ don’t have became mainstream. When Taiwan first became rich (or just not dirt poor), showing off one’s newly found wealth meant owning what everyone knew was expensive. As Taiwan got richer (or, really not poor anymore), owning what everyone knows became easier, so people have moved onto owning what others know are different because they have never seen it before, not becuase they “knew” it’s different. The interesting consequence is that the self-professed avant garde are often wearing what’s long become passe or mainstream abroad and feeling snob only because they have never seen anyone wore it “in Taiwan.” After going to my cousins’ on a near daily basis for a year on the pretense of visiting my grandma but really to observe and eavesdrop on the small bastion of self-professed fashion avant gardians that flow through the place, my conclusion is that perhaps none of them “know” what the stuff they wear means. They usually wear something simply because they have seen someone in some foreign magazine or online picture wear it, and it’s something they have never seen before. The result is sometimes unintentionally funny and self-satirizing if put into a more complete context.

  53. a reader Says:

    Forgot to mention: I also noticed that, after something upstreamed to ViVi, it often moved onto Western street snaps territory, as this trend did: http://www.manrepeller.com/2011/07/trendspotting-expose-yourself.html

    If I recall correctly, this was the big thing that ViVi readers with a hipper sensibility were after about four months ago.

  54. Will B Says:

    Going along with the costume thing, I wondered if the no lenses thing was to remove all doubt that the wearer might actually need corrective lenses. Maybe just my personal experience, but Japan seems to have very negative attitude toward eyewear in general. In other words, glasses have such bad connotations that they had to be ‘costumized’ before they could be fashionable.

  55. LQ Says:

    Lensless glasses were at least briefly done in the 80s in the US–I remember considering buying a pair in a fashion boutique.

    At any rate, I currently have a fashionable young Korean guy in one of my classes wearing a pair of these thick black lensless frames. It looks entirely odd to me; I can’t help it.

  56. a reader Says:

    @Will B:

    Wearing glasses with lenses can be a very good thing if you have the “right” kind of trendy looking frames. This has been the case way before lensless frames became en vogue, and this is also why Japan has so many periodicals devoted to fashionable frames targeted at a general readership.

    Most East Asians who are high achievers are myopic (I maybe have three friends who are normal-sighted. I don’t think there are even three of them. Probably just one.), the close association of glasses-wearing and high social status should explain why it’s far less a stigma to be visibly myopic in East Asia than in the US.

    But, come to think of it, I think you do have a point if you add gender into the calculation. Girls who wear lensless frames are girls who wouldn’t want to be caught wearing lensed glasses, in part because bespectacled = you read a lot of books = you are smart = girls assume guys don’t like smart girls –> lens off, and brainy threat is off too. (It’s still true that even most of the very highly educated guys in Taiwan are deadly uncomfortable with girls who don’t disguise how smart they are and don’t bother to lessen the threat by being kawaii at every possible opportunity.)

    I fool around elite college campuses a lot, where I’d say at least over 95% of the students are myopic, yet I still see a lot of college girls wearing lensless frames. I always wonder how many of them are also wearing contacts.

  57. Chuckles Says:

    It would help if commenters who claim that Marxy is wrong viz: adoption of fashion trends from Korea could actually provide like 3 (not a lot) concrete examples. Popping in and out and saying “this is just wrong” over and over again from a couple of people is weird. Heres a format:

    Fashion Trend,
    Period,
    Mode of Transfer,
    Evidence it was adopted on any significant scale in Japan.

    Cuz most of my Japanese friends tell me they dont find Koreans sufficiently fashionable, so I tend to agree more with Marxy here, lacking any concrete evidence.

  58. W. David MARX Says:

    Plus the comment above seems to be focusing on high-fashion which is not really the sphere of this lenses-glasses trend. High-fashion has an indirect influence on gyaru/cutie fashion but by no means a strong direct one.

    I would also guess that Korean and Japanese high-fashion are influenced by the same global high-fashion trends rather than by each other.

  59. M-Bone Says:

    In a discussion like this, I think that it is especially important, if claims about Korean origins of Japanese trends are to be made, to establish that both are not simply influenced by a Euro-American trend or that the Japanese trend is not simply a revival of an earlier one. There have been several reinterpretations of the 80s since that decade – was there something so distinct about the Korean trend that Japanese fashion elements can be traced directly to it?

    And how does one really prove these kinds of things anyway? Japan has so many fashion magazines that it seems difficult to say whether something that showed up in Korea in month X and a Japanese mainstream magazine in month X+6 wouldn’t have been in a minor magazine in Japan in month X-6.

    I’ve seen plenty of assertions that manhwa are having a big impact on this or that popular manga, but it normally turns out that there is simply a common ancestor in Japan (Kamui, Akira, etc.).

    Korea and Japan seem a bit like Canada and the United States. It isn’t judgement of cultural “quality” – one simply hit a capitalist stride earlier than the other and thus Korean TV shows, comics, packaging, elements of urban space, etc. look very much like Japanese. This is an extreme example, but there are plenty of Canadians who think that Avril Lavigne took America by storm with a homegrown style. Doesn’t make it so. In a similar fashion, there are plenty of people online arguing that the gyaru/ageha look originated in Korea (ulzzang)! Right up there, I guess, with Chinese characters, Confucius, gunpowder, sushi, kendo, karate, jujitsu, Japanese swords, origami, and so on. Korea has plenty of good stuff (metal plate printing, its culinary tradition) and there doesn’t really seem to be a need for any of this….

    In the end, all of this only means that if someone can really prove with solid documentation that there is a significant Korea to Japan fashion pipeline, it will be pretty important work.

  60. LS Says:

    For the record what I meant above is that the praxy/doxy thing is indeed very true and productive.

    I notice that you tend to avoid value judgements about it. Your stuff is often focused on the top-down nature of Japanese pop culture — is this bad? Or is the spectre of infinite authenticity regress (Western hipsterism) actually worse? Or are value judgements out of place in these kinds of discussions?

  61. W. David MARX Says:

    I think there is a legitimate philosophical debate about whether culture should be controlled by elites or “grass roots,” because there are great examples of both creating great culture and really terrible culture.

    I would argue though that the most important thing is for those who are interested in culture and talented in creating it to be able to control the production of culture. In other words, music should be created by musicians, rather than corporate committees etc. If girls who love street culture run street culture magazines, and their followers are slavishly hanging on to those editors’ every word, that’s at least better than a magazine’s styling being controlled by purely corporate interests.

    In the case of these glasses, this was a true “from the streets” trend, but the way the style got transmitted was through normal top-down structures. But I am not sure in the U.S. even that you can see trends truly go from the streets up. Usually elite media sources pick it up and spread it around.

  62. Kyle Says:

    I think it’s significant that in English we speak of this accessory as “fake” glasses, whereas the Japanese term is “date” (vanity) glasses.

    Fashion in the West tends to be concerned with authenticity. Appropriation of an image is expected to have some commentary on its referent. If one wears a Rolling Stones t-shirt, they would be expected to either be a fan or an ironic anti-fan.

    In Japan, images are often appropriated for purely aesthetic reasons, with little concern for their “meaning” (English t-shirts, for example). A high school girl with a Cheburashka strap has most likely never seen the Russian children’s show. The character is not popular because of the Soviet ethics he extols; he’s popular because he’s cute.

    What shocks most foreign observers about the date megane phenomenon is the complete lack of concern over performance of a real. Gyaru who wear glasses without lenses do not even attempt to conceal that their accessories do not correct vision. They do not care that the image of their glasses shares no relation to the usual referent of bad eyesight. All that matters is how cute the look is.

    The funny thing is, Western concern over authenticity in the use of glasses often results in lies concealing their aesthetic use. An American hipster invents narratives for why he or she needs glasses when he or she doesn’t.

    At least their Japanese counterparts are honest about their vanity.

  63. W. David MARX Says:

    Sure, that works as a summary of the article.

  64. Japan: On Fake Glasses · Global Voices Says:

    [...] at Neojaponisme gives an interesting insight [en] on the “lens-less frame” trend spreading in Japan. [...]

  65. Japan: On Fake Glasses @ Current Affairs Says:

    [...] at Neojaponisme gives an interesting insight [en] on the “lens-less frame” trend spreading in [...]

  66. John-Albert Eadie Says:

    Fascinating. Now I understand why the girls in this Japanese area of Vancouver look like they do – it’s not genetic, they deliberately intend to look cute. Huh.

    Quite fetching too, I must say. I can even recall how mixed couples (Japanese girl, Canadian guy, for example) will borrow just a token part of their look from the other. *So* different.

    Mr. Marx, the points you make about cool vs. the Japanese values are most interesting. Cool as “the slightly poisonous value set where effort itself is suspect” strikes a chord immediately, although one does not entirely take it to heart: we are just talking about looks.

    In Western culture – famously so – we are brought up to regard the truth as only in the most innocent circumstances being identical with looks.

    In that sense I suppose the Japanese culture is truly oriented around honesty, particularly with respect to presentation. Serious stuff. Whereas we cool guys are a lot more devious and tricky.

    I’m old enough to remember “Anti-Jap” WWII propaganda. The “Japs” were said to be the devious ones. Huh. Other way around.

  67. final fashion » click click – 01-08-11 Says:

    [...] On Fake Glasses in Japan – so interested in the phenomenon of stillborn trends – this post talks about why some trends work in Asia but not in the west. On the flip side, Why the Neo-Trad Trend Failed to Catch on in Japan. In both cases, it’s interesting to see that just because the media pushes it, doesn’t mean that the public will accept it. Thankful karma for all my internet sisters & brothers – [...]

  68. saleem Says:

    Rough thought: Are you including traditionally black cultural groups in “the West”? (The quotes make that sentence look like an accusation, but I don’t mean it to be. Just curiosity.)

    Because there’s a lot of areas where people seem pretty okay with openly choosing things just because they are fashionable.

    Sunday hats in church culture, large chains and pristine sneakers in hip hop culture… Little attempt at plausible deniability. Just look real good.

  69. Mercy Says:

    Black American culture is where cool originated, so, I dunno. There’s definitely a class thing there, poorer communities are okay with gauche shit like fur coats that signals you have more money than everyone else (whereas to the middle class, it just means you spend the same money as everyone else in stupid ways). Which is maybe why social climbing blacks had to articulate “cool” as a philosophy, whereas it’s something that came naturally to old money whites.

    But anyway sunday best and pristine trainers don’t contradict cool, it’s all about being *smart* and taking care of your appearance in a way that isn’t affected.

  70. Person A Says:

    When I was in Japan, I visited Seoul to extend my visa. When I told my friends in Japan that I was going to Seoul, they said, “Oh, I’ve been there before. We usually go there to shop, because the fashion is different than what’s in Japan, and the clothes there are cheaper”.

    The mere vicinity and reasonable exchange rate, make the dispersion of influence far more plausible than you make it appear.