Once upon a time, it was a schoolyard taunt to label someone "four-eyes," but in Taiwan, they have adopted an unusual take on such labels. There is a strange and ubiquitous fashion trend seen among Taipei's teens and twentysomethings who sport eyeglass frames sans the lenses. It is not entirely clear where the trend originated, as some point to the Japanese and Korean pop scene as the trend's provenance, while others argue it to be a homegrown Taiwanese fashion. Regardless, the lensless frames of glasses have become a fashion accessory worn by Taipei's fashionistas.
On Taipei's metro system -- always the fashion playground, it is commonplace to see girls batting their long, fake lashes out past where the glass would sit in the plastic frames. Or in Taipei's hip Ximen district to see girls shopping for glass frames to accessorize. Some girls choose oversized square-ish glasses frames, while others opt for the more sleek and stylish variety. The seemingly common response of why girls are choosing the foureye-ish look is simply for fashion, the opportunity to accessorize further and be a little more different.
"They look stylish," a teenage girl named Fan said as she adjusted her polka-dotted square pair, that almost reached her black square cut bangs. "I have three or four pair of them, but these are my favorites." She happened to also be wearing contacts behind the lensless frames. Nothing like a little redundant irony when fashion is at play. When she was asked why not just wear regular glasses, Fan commented that the glass made the frames too heavy.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese guys also wear the glassless frames. An oft-repeated television commercial shows a dapper fellow accessorizing his outfits with various frames of different design. I asked one guy named Peter Yang about it, when I saw him playing with his purple lensless frames. He replied that he thought the frames made him look older and more mature. Another teen named David said he felt he looked funny without glasses, and even though he wore contacts, he still kept the tortoise shell frames on.
The singular importance of this fashion trend is the role that Taiwan's fashion plays in influencing mainland China. Taiwanese soft power-the power of influence- to mainland China is manifested in its influence on China's culture. Taiwanese fashion, culture and music filters to China, where Taiwanese trends are considered in vogue. Sure enough, when I visited Shenzhen and Shanghai, I saw a few girls starting to pick up the lensless trend. While the lensless wave hasn't yet broken on the mainland, if the trend fully crosses the Taiwan Strait and filters over to mainland, there could be a surge of demand for eyeglass frame manufacturers in the Middle Kingdom.
With the recent thaw in relations between Taiwan and China, and in the wake of the recently signed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), there has been an up tick of cultural exchange across the Taiwan Strait. As trade liberalizes between the two sides, and with the expectation of increased agreement facilitating broader cultural diplomacy between Taiwan and China as part of the latest round of ECFA negotiations, it is easy to expect the lensless fashion will soon be commonplace among China's fashion conscious teens.