Fake glasses really popular among kids, teens

04/10/2013 12:00 AM

04/10/2013 2:55 PM

Madelene Silva is on her fourth pair of glasses.

Her latest acquisition – black plastic frames with a hot-pink interior and checkers adorning the sides – are almost identical to the pair that sit in her desk at school.

Madelene, 8, wears them all the time; for reading, at recess, while playing at home in Suisun City and Fairfield.

But this third-grader has a little secret. Her glasses are fake.

Like a growing number of children and teenagers, Madelene is opting for glasses out of want, not need. The lenses in her eyewear aren't corrective, nor are they for shading her peepers from sunlight.

"Everyone says I look good in glasses, so I decided to get glasses," she said, matter-of-factly.

She estimated that in her class alone, six other children wear fake glasses, while two wear prescription glasses.

The trend of fake glasses, industry experts say, is being spurred by the increasing number of celebrities and athletes sporting spectacles whether needed or not.

Rihanna has been photographed on and off the red carpet in bold, bottle-rimmed glasses. Katy Perry is often bespectacled in her geek-chic frames. Justin Bieber has donned plastic frames, sans lenses, in both black and white, and there are several online fan-site threads dedicated to the Biebs' specs.

Taylor Swift admitted in a YouTube interview with blogger JustJared.com to having terrible eyesight and purposefully choosing big glasses, which she claimed were the ugliest pair in the store.

And then there's singer-turned-mogul Justin Timberlake, who has taken the geek-chic eyewear concept to new heights, introducing eyewear in recent years as part of his William Rast line.

"Consumers are starting to see eyewear as an accessory, especially the younger consumer," said Rennae King, senior director of product for Cincinnati-based LensCrafters.

Also exploding is the trend of wearing frames sans lenses.

"The first time the trend emerged was in China in 2011," King said. "It took a while to reach us."

That trend exploded last summer after Miami Heat basketball players wore oversized plastic frames without lenses during press conferences.

And as glasses gain popularity, styles shift to accommodate. Forget the plain old Buddy Holly frames. Think bold colors, fun embellishments, oversized shapes.

"Since eyewear is becoming more of an accessory, people want them to be more fashionable than ever before," King said. "They're looking for a way to make a statement on their face."

Dr. Melissa Barnett, principal optometrist at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, said children and teens do come in for glasses because their friends or siblings have them. And some are disappointed if their vision is just fine.

"I take it as an opportunity to teach them about the importance of sunglasses," she said, adding that sunglasses with 100 percent UVA/UVB protection can help prevent eye conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

It is also a chance for an eye exam, which children and adults should get at least once a year. Eye examinations also are more comprehensive than vision screenings. A doctor of optometry will check distance vision, up-close vision, focusing ability of the eyes and the health of the eyes, said Barnett, a member of the California Optometric Association.

If a child is prescribed glasses, say, for reading, and wears them all the time because they like the look of them, there is no real risk of permanent damage, Barnett explained, although it could make the eyes more tired.

Kristin Thebaud, a Sacramento-area marketing consultant and Madelene's step-aunt, said she thinks the trend is "hilarious" given that when she was a child, she wanted desperately to not have to wear glasses.

"They were so ugly. My mom said they looked good with my skin coloring," she said, laughing at the memory of her pale-pink, '80s-style plastic frames.

Thebaud primarily wears contact lenses these days.

Madelene? She wouldn't dream of going without her glasses.

Especially since most of her classmates think her glasses, which her grandma bought for her from an accessories store, are real. Yes, real.

Only her two best friends – who happen to be twins who wear no glasses, fake or real – know the truth.

"I just don't talk about it," Madelene said, a hint of a smile belying her serious tone.

One recent afternoon, as Thebaud volunteered in her niece's classroom, she watched Madelene pull her glasses out of her desk and put them on. Madelene put one finger up to her mouth and looked at her aunt, giving her a look that said "ssshhh."

Fake glasses. Real popular.

No optical illusion

One resource for anyone looking for an opt-ometrist is the California Optometric Association's website, eyehelp.org.

Fake glasses do not do anything to correct your vision. They are made from clear plastic or glass and come in various styles.

The fake-glasses trend may be picking up steam, but celebrities in bygone eras wore and were photographed in them, too. (Think Marilyn Monroe in "How to Marry a Millionaire" or artists Andy Warhol and David Hockney, for example.) For a fun look at celebrities sporting fake glasses, try gurl.com.

To keep glasses (fake or corrective) clean, gently wash the lenses with your fingers using warm, soapy water. Rinse and pat them dry with a clean, soft cloth. Rags, facial tissues, paper towels, neckties and scarves can scratch lenses, and household cleaners, acetone or soaps with cream can damage the frames.

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