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Thursday / August 18.
HomemifashionKeeping It Real: Teen Tested Eyewear

Keeping It Real: Teen Tested Eyewear

On any given Friday and Saturday night, in countless homes across the country, you’ll hear an adult screech: “You can’t go out looking like that!” The comment – directed at said adult’s teenage offspring – is most often met with rolled eyes and sullen mumblings.What is it that drives teenage fashion choices? And how do you – as adults who have left high school far behind – cater for teenagers who need to wear glasses and come into your practice?

Up until the late 40s and early 1950s, the fashion of young people pretty much mimicked that of their elders. The birth of rock and roll changed all that.

In the US, the greasers stepped out in their tough leather jackets and slicked back hair and shocked a couple of decades out of their parents. In Australia, suburban mums and dads tsk’ed at gangs of Bodgies and Widgies (seriously, that’s what they were called).

As teenagers discovered their own sense of identity and rebelled for (or against) a cause, fashion trends became more identifiable in reflecting the culture. The purple haze of the 60s peace, love and paisley era introduced the mini skirt, bell bottom jeans and platforms. Punk rock changed all that in the 70s… and so it goes on through to 90s grunge, and the skin tight jeans and trucker hats of the early 2000s.

they’ll whip out that smart phone, take a photo and compare prices, styles and colours online – often right in front of you

You don’t need a degree in psychology to know that teenage fashion is about much more than clothes. Adolescent fashion is a form of communication and self-expression, a representation of their values, and a symbol of the need for autonomy.

For some teenagers, the right outfit will cause them to blend in and fly under the radar. For others, it is all about being noticed. In a teenager’s world a fashion faux pas can bring social ruin while the right choices can be a fast track into the cool crowd.

Communication and Belonging

We’re all used to fashion being a statement about identity. Just as a tailored suit or overalls identifies the wearer as either a businessperson or tradie, to a teenager, fashion is their language: a nonverbal communication that speaks to others.

Fashion choices may identify a young person as being part of a particular clique, subculture or tribe – “she’s a Goth”, “he’s a Skater” and “they are Hipsters”.

And although parents might wonder about teenagers’ needs to match their friends’ wardrobes, haircuts, tats or body piercings, it makes sense to teens, who are trying to establish identities, boost self-esteem and form relationships.


The teenage years are also seen as a time when children break away from their parents, and establish their independence. Protest and rebellion – against parents and authority figures in general – are common themes for adolescents.

Rebellion is actually linked to developmental changes in the brain – in the teenage years, the prefrontal cortex is developing. According to US professor of child development Dr. David Elkind, the teenage brain becomes more able to synthesise information into ideas – and arguing and rebelling against authority is one way to exercise this new skill.1

The Teen Market

Even those (or perhaps especially those?) with teenagers at home will tell you that daily contact with teens is no guarantee of understanding them.

So, with fashion such a crucial part of adolescent identity, and so many different teenage subcultures, how do you cater for the teen market in your practice?

First, recognise that today’s teens are tech savvy and know how to shop. If they see something they like, they’ll whip out their smart phone, take a photo and compare prices, styles and colours online – often right in front of you.

Connectivity also means they’re aware of trends quickly and open to the influence from social media. They’re clued into quality and are big on customisation – while they want to look similar to their friends, there’s kudos in having sunglasses or frames in limited edition colours, for example.

Stephen Edson, sales manager at teen-focused AM Eyewear, says sunglasses are often the first ‘luxury’ purchase of teenagers, who will save to buy them.

In optical, it is usually mum or dad who pays. Now, instead of having one customer / patient, as an optometrist you have two – the teen who is being influenced by fashion trends and their peers, and the adult, who wants to ensure they’re buying frames that will last.

Mr. Edson says it is important for optometrists to engage with both parents and their children – not to “speak down” to teenagers – but be authentic. Savvy shoppers that they are, teenagers will welcome your expert advice as long as you are not being condescending.

Key Teen Selling Tips

1. Keep it real and be yourself. Teens can smell a poser a mile off.

2. Know that all teenagers are not the same. Just as with your other clients, find out key points about their lifestyle. Active, sporty teenagers will have different requirements from those more interested in screen based pursuits, for example.

3. Create a credible social media presence. Think carefully about how to leverage technology to reach young customers.

4. Be aware of young celebrities who are liable to influence teens (e.g. Ashley Benson (star of Pretty Little Liars) regularly rocks some serious big black frames; singer Rita Ora wears large metal rims, while Katy Perry indulges in cats-eye bling).