Usually, only people with vision problems go to the trouble of getting a pair of glasses. But sometimes, we have a character who dons a pair of spectacles even though they have perfect eyesight. The Purely Aesthetic Glasses are just there to make the character look smart, sophisticated, scary, and/or cute. However, whether they really do make the wearer smart, sophisticated, and cute is variable. Another possibility is wearing glasses as part of a disguise, to impersonate a glasses-wearing person or simply as a bit of facial concealment.
A sort of sister trope to Goggles Do Nothing.
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A McDonald's commercial shows two men, wearing glasses and sitting at an intellectual coffee shop, somehow found out that McDonald's also serves coffee. They immediately rebel against the pseudo-intellectual front they had been putting up to get their coffee, and yes, one of them was pulling this trope. The other one was not.
Anime & Manga
Miu from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple wears these to make herself stand out less, and although she's still a head-turner, she's not as much of one. That said, when she finally ditches them and decides to be more open, it does not go unnoticed.
Haruhi Suzumiya: Yuki Nagato's glasses seem to be simply an aesthetic feature, and she stops wearing them after Kyon tells her she's cuter without them.
She uses them for "magical" purposes in some novels (such as The Disappearance) but they don't correct her vision. Except in the spinoff, where she's Blind Without 'Em.
Angel Beats!: Takamatsu wears a pair of these. However, it is noted almost immediately that despite the specs, he's still an idiot.
In Sailor Moon, both Ami (Sailor Mercury) and Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask) have been shown wearing "reading glasses" on occasion. Neither of them actually need them.
In One Piece, Nami wears a pair of glasses while lecturing the rest of the crew on what they'd learned at Sky Island since arriving. These glasses had never appeared before and only once since.
In the Alabasta Arc, Sanji wears them for his "Mr. Prince" persona.
In the tenth movie, Strong World, Robin sports a pair of eyeglasses for most of the film.
Oshitari Yuushi from The Prince of Tennis. He's so used to wear his glasses that at one point, he eventually forgets they are non-functional lenses, when he sees Inui has his own glasses broken in a match and asks Atobe if he should lend Inui his glasses.
Though people read into it for different reasons, America doesn't need his glasses. They represent Texas (rather, he puts them on after annexing Texas) but really seems to exist solely for looking cuter.
It's implied in Chrono Crusade that neither Aion or Shader need their glasses. In Shader's case she's probably wearing them because it makes her look brainy, in Aion's case it might be that, or it might be to make him look more intimidating. In Aion's case, they're probably also there to hide from the audience that Chrono and Aion are identical twins.
In D.N.Angel, Satoshi doesn't actually need his glasses, and admits it to people when they ask. However, it's implied they might function as a way to hold back his alter-ego, Krad.
Chisame uses her glasses to hide behind, as she doesn't like to stand out too much. Her vision is actually better than average.
In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, Gokudera Hayato aquires a pair of glasses half way through the series for no apparent reason, aside from the fact that they make him look even cuter. Well, he does seem to use them whenever he reads things. When studying Sistema CAI, when teaching Tsuna to swim, when trying to learn how to properly cook... Looks like it can be deduced that Gokudera has a little vision problem when it comes to reading things up close. He seems to have no problem in school without his glasses, however. He doesn't care about school, though.
Jin from Samurai Champloo wears designer glasses which are completely pointless, expressly for the purpose of looking sophisticated.
Firo of Baccano! takes to wearing a pair of these from 1970 onwards after he replaces Maiza as the camorra's conta è oro. When asked about them, he admits that they're just there to make him look smarter.
Azuma from Bamboo Blade got herself (fake) glasses in the hopes that they would help improve her marks.
Used by Poplar while studying for a test in WORKING!!
When the master assassin Golgo 13 needs to infiltrate a chemical warfare lab by posing as a skilled chemist, his disguise consists of... a pair of glasses. It's arguable whether they make him look smarter, but they actually DO make him look less intimidating somehow, which is an accomplishment in itself, considering his face.
Ginnosuke from Tokyo Underground wears thick Nerd Glasses, but whenever he loses them, he has no trouble functioning - he assembled his first spirit gun without them (requiring him to scavenge for parts in a junkyard), and even fight better. He's also surprisingly handsome without glasses, a fact made clear by not a few girls. He still puts them back on when he can.
Ninamori wore lensless glasses over contacts during the school play in FLCL, instead of just wearing normal glasses, because she doesn't want the other students to know she has imperfect vision. It's explained in the commentary for the episode she has fine eyesight and the glasses are just something she worked into the play (and wore in front of Naota) because they made her look more grown up. The events of her spotlight episode made her realize that she could still have fun as a kid, recognized when she told him they were fake at the very end.
Detective Conan's Conan Edogawa has big round glasses for the aesthetic affect of looking less like himself; he's been de-aged into a child and is living day-to-day with a Childhood Friend whom he does not want to recognize him, and Shinichi never wore glasses. He's Clark Kenting, but he doesn't have the luxury of changing back and forth at will. They also make him look cuter, which he exploits. That said, he does get some cool features built into them as time passes, chiefly that they contain the monitor system for his little electronic trackers. And yeah, I don't know how he gets his eyes to focus that close-up either.
When he first grabs a pair in the anime he punches out the lenses in them so he can actually see as they originally belonged to someone else presumably his father, who does need them.
A common feature of the Human Alien heroines in the Onegai franchise. In Please Teacher! Mizuho's glasses serve mainly as a signal that she's in teacher mode; she doesn't wear them whenever she's being domestic with Kei. Ichika's glasses in Ano Natsu De Matteru serve both as a disguise and as a head-up display interface for her alien hardware. Neither of them wears glasses aboard their spaceships.
In a show about the Bishōnen guys in a High School "Glasses Wearers Club," the member Hayato Kimata has 20/20 vision and wears glasses for show, he just really likes them and wants to be a member of the club. He had to actually beg to be allowed into the club too.
On the other end, Akira's brother Hikaru is blind, yet he's wearing clear, normal-looking glasses.
Comics — Books
In the Marvel Universe, Jeanne-Marie Beaubier a.k.a. Aurora of the Canadian team Alpha Flight wore fake glasses when assuming the persona of a straight-laced schoolteacher.
In the same universe, some versions of Spider-Man claim that Peter Parker never needed glasses at all, but his Aunt May feared he would strain his eyes by reading without them. They were broken in an early strip, and after that he has never worn them again. The gag shows up again every couple of years, where after seeing something supernatural/incredible, Peter will muse that maybe he needs to go back to wearing glasses.
Clark Kent, of course, whose glasses mainly serve as his disguise. In some versions his glasses do have something special about them.
The Phantom almost always wear glasses or shades whenever he's not wearing his regular mask and costume. The same goes for all predecessors down the line (as a Legacy Character, The Phantom has a 400 year long history) and as none have had particularly bad vision, they've just used fake glasses.
Justified in-universe by a legend saying that "Whoever sees the eyes of the phantom must die". Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, as even the Phantom himself has wondered about how criminals who get a look under his mask tend to have fatal accidents shortly after.
In DAYDverse, Terry Boot had these when he was younger, to appear intelligent so the Sorting Hat would put him in Ravenclaw.
Eridan in Moiraillegiance is Science is a deconstruction; his glasses used to be this trope, but since he wore them practically all the time it actually screwed up his vision to the point where he's Blind Without 'Em. And all because Feferi said he looked cute wearing them.
Films — Live-Action
Subversion: In Charade, Regina (Audrey Hepburn) accuses Peter (Cary Grant) of not needing the reading glasses he puts on. She pulls them from his face and dons them herself — then gets a shocked expression and quickly hands them back, saying quietly, "You need them." Evidently, the degree of correction in those lenses was something fierce.
Played straight in High School Musical with Kelsi, completely averted with every other character in the movie.
In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the smart gremlin obtains a set of glasses from an unknown source the moment it acquires intelligence.
In (Untitled) (yes, that's its name, parentheses and all), gallery owner Madeleine Gray has a whole collection of fake glasses she wears to look more sophisticated and hip, and she tries her hardest to prevent anyone from discovering that they're just for show.
Joe wears glasses as part of the wealthy bachelor disguise he puts on to seduce Sugar in Some Like It Hot.
This tends to be common in porn. Few, if any, porn stars wear glasses, and if they do, it's only to either establish the theme of the scene (usually school or hospital settings) or to enhance the Money Shot (and in many cases the glasses are either lensless or removed a few minutes after the scene starts.)
Imzadi by Peter David. Mary Mac, a female Orion administrator of a Federation science post, dresses in a rather dowdy manner (loose fitting clothes, functional braids, and large glasses) to avoid being seen as just another Green-Skinned Space Babe. Ironically, glasses are rare in Picard's time (or even Kirk's), as future medicine has other means of correcting eyesight.
Harriet the Spy wears a pair of lens-less frames as part of her spy gear and sometimes to school because she thinks they make her look smarter.
In one essay in Scott Adams' book Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!, he writes about how to appear smart. The first and most important tip he gives is to wear glasses, even if you don't need them.
Referenced in Skinned. Due to everyone being a Designer Baby, flaws such as poor eyesight are a thing of the past. Lia mentions that there was once an old-fashioned glasses fad, though it passed.
Several of the characters in American Psycho wear "nonprescription" name-brand glasses purely out of yuppie fashion.
Doctor Who: The special episode "Time Crash", where the Doctor teases his own past self for wearing glasses he doesn't need in order to look "a bit clever". Ironically, the Tenth Doctor himself is practically infamous for his use of the brainy specs and later admits his hypocrisy, "Snap!". The fact he has worn them in not only his fifth and tenth incarnations, but also, at least once in a Television Tie In Novel, his eighth, which were pretty much his youngest-looking incarnations, rather suggests he might not really need them and just wears them to give himself more gravitas. Out of universe, David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) has said that he wanted to have his Doctor frequently wearing glasses in order to give glasses-wearing kids a heroic role-model.
They did once do something; in Planet of the Dead, when stranded on a desert planet that looked suspiciously like somewhere in the Arabian Peninsula and the Classy Cat-Burglar donned her own regular sunglasses, Ten sonic'd his Purely Aesthetic Glasses into tinted sunglasses, thus making them do something.
Eleven has broken out the Brainy Specs on occasion, although they weren't purely aesthetic. The first time, he used a heat vision feature (no, not that kind of heat vision) to try to track the Silurians, and the next, he sonicked them and gave them to Rory so Rory could see Amy in two different time periods.
In a non-comedic example, the Eleventh Doctor took to wearing reading glasses in series 7, they're actually Amy Pond's reading glasses, and he hangs on to them as a Tragic Keepsake. Played with in that while he doesn't actually need them he comments that they actually do make reading easier.
Before the Fifth and Tenth Doctors, the First Doctor had both a pair of Edwardian-style glasses and a monocle that he would occasionally take out when he was trying to look extra clever. The monocle would pop up more often due to him wearing it around his neck as part of his costume in some stories - the glasses show up more rarely but are prominent in "An Unearthly Child", including during his first encounter with Ian and Barbara. In at least one scene ("The Rescue"), the Doctor uses both his glasses and his monocle at the same time to study a spiral-bound notebook.
The Fourth Doctor has a pair of very small-lensed dark tinted glasses which he occasionally wears while tinkering with scientific equipment, inspired by 1930s horror movie Mad Scientists.
On How I Met Your Mother, in the flashback in "Arrivederci, Fiero," it's shown that Ted wore spectacles. When they accidentally break, however, he says they were merely "decorative."
Red Dwarf: Rimmer dons specs in the episode Holoship after illegally enhancing his intelligence with a mind patch.
In one episode of Even Stevens, Donny watches a video on how to appear smarter. One of the video's suggestions is to wear glasses (Also, to use big words like "cornucopia, meaning 'bountiful' or 'a lot of'").
In an episode of Better Off Ted, Lem reveals that he has been doing this for the past ten years to make him appear smarter.
Both Mulder and Scully are seen wearing glasses occasionally in the early seasons of The X-Files. They wore "brainy glasses" both for slide shows or watching TV and for typing reports at the computer, yet obviously they could read or write and watch things in distance without them. Mulder does make a passing reference to "a need for corrective lenses" in the fourth-season episode "Home", but no other explanation in-story for why both stopped using them is given.
In the Torchwood episode "Adam," when the title character has altered the Torchwood team's memories and personalities, Owen gets a fetching pair of specs with his nerdier, more awkward persona. As well as a cardigan and a slicked-back hairdo. Geek chic indeed.
Scrubs: In an early episode, Elliot is seen with a pair of glasses that disappears without explanation and never comes back. In the commentary, the writers noted that Sarah Chalke wore them because she thought it would make the character seem smarter.
On 30 Rock, Liz Lemon wears glasses most of the time, despite Jenna pointing out that she doesn't actually need them. This is a case of Truth in Television: Tina Fey, who modeled the character of Liz on herself, has said many times that she only needed glasses to read the cue cards on SNL but continued to wear them off the show because they unintentionally had become her trademark.
NCIS: This trope is Michael Weatherly's personal Hand Wave for his glasses showing up a few times in the first season. Tony, his character, is supposed to have 20/10 vision.
Doctor: Why do your glasses have no lenses? Spike: Because I have perfect eyesight, Doctor.
In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Illya does seem to legitimately need reading glasses, but he's also been seen putting them on in order to pose as a doctor or scientist on short notice.
Subverted on Dollhouse: in the first episode Topher explains that Echo really does need glasses when she's imprinted with the Miss Penn personality, even though she normally doesn't. The way he sees it, little weaknesses like that are important features that help give the personae their strengths.
Ryan on The Office (US) wears these when he adopts a more hipster-ish persona.
A plot point on Lebanese Soap OperaThe Storm Rages Twice. In this case, Nader's secretary Haifa uses them. When she accidentally leaves them on her desk, Nader deduces that their lack of correction means that ex-wife Jamal hired her to spy on him (and through that, the same applies to his daughter's live-in maid Enaam). He's absolutely correct in both cases. Of course, this is nothing unusual here.
Jess wears glasses which clearly have no lenses. It might be this trope, but it's more likely an issue with the prop.
An actual example is Elvin, who suggest to Winston (who wishes to appear smarter) that he start wearing fake glasses. Elvin says it worked for him.
Britta on Community starts wearing these at the end of season 3; Jeff also toys with the idea.
Exaggerated in a season 4 Imagine Spot sequence where all the main characters except Abed and Jeff are seen wearing them.
In The Big Bang Theory, Penny gets jealous when one of Leonard's coworkers hits on him. To compensate for the fact that the other girl is very intelligent, Penny gets glasses so she can look smart. It works QUITE well on Leonard.
On The Voice Season Four finalist Michelle Chamuel wore large glasses, which caused her fans to don similar hipster glasses. Usher has donned them in support, as has Shakira after her team was eliminated.
After her heel turn, Eve Torres regularly wore glasses, even though she never needed them before.
Stacy Keibler, during her time as Miss Hancock in WCW. Whenever she started dancing, the glasses came off.
Terri Runnels wore glasses when she was Alexandra York in WCW, as York was supposed to be a businesswoman/computer expert.
GLOW girl Ashley Cartier used to have an advice segment called "Asking Ashley" where she wore glasses while reading letters from people. Hers were more aesthetic than anyone's - they were just frames, no lenses.
Worn by a character who was cut from GURPSDiscworld. Wilma is a hamster who was turned into a human, and now travels with a strange group of adventurers. Because she's so much smarter than she was as a hamster, she's convinced she's a genius. And because she's a genius, she should wear thick glasses. The fact said glasses impair her vision doesn't matter to her in the slightest.
Charlie from the Street Fighter Alpha series is a well-educated individual (on top of being devilishly handsome) and can be seen removing his glasses before a fight. A bit of Capcom trivia reveals that the glasses are purely aesthetic, as his vision is just fine. Note that Charlie is an Air Force Pilot, and they have to have 20/20 vision.
Emma plays this straight in Metal Gear Solid 2. When Raiden is about to escort her underwater, she takes off her glasses and he suggests for her to get contacts. Emma then admits that she can see perfectly fine and only wears the frames to look cuter. And because a guy she liked used to wear them. While it is never explicitly said, it is very clear that she wears them in Otacon's memory.
In Final Fantasy Fables, Chocobo gains a pair of these while he's a Scholar. Most. Adorable. Nerdy bird. Ever.
They return in Final Fantasy XIV, again for the Scholar Class. The first one is given as part of a Job quest at around 45, the other is a recolor bought with end game currency.
In Fallout: New Vegas, most glasses do nothing, unless you take the "Four Eyes" trait, which raise your perception with glasses and lower it without. Fallout 3 averts this - any glasses you wear grant an additional point to damage resistance. In both games, the lucky shades also increase your luck by 1 along with the other effects. Non-unique glasses are weightless, so if you think your character would look better with them, you can wear them without needlessly weighing yourself down.
Averted in Old World Blues with the unique glasses from Dr. Klein and Dr. Mobius, which increase your repair skill and your explosives skill respectively.
Kenji from Katawa Shoujo claims to wear glasses solely for the effect. He's legally blind with or without them, and a compulsive liar to boot. As usual, it's hard to tell with him.
Guild Wars: Eye of the North introduced three different models of spectacles for characters to wear, which are no different than your standard headgear.
El Goonish Shive: Tedd's glasses, before their special abilities were revealed, could be called manly specs (stop laughing!), as he wore them to look less effeminate. However, the obvious side-effect was to make him more nerdy as well, an example of the trope.
Ping from MegaTokyo does this once to try to get her classmates to like her. The plan fails, unfortunately.
Sarin the Wizard of The Dragon Doctors wore a monocle in the first chapter (and ditches it right around the same time he gets permanently turned into a woman). It's later revealed in a flashback this was entirely an affectation; a kid said Sarin (a young, green-haired man wearing a grey hoodie) didn't look anything like a wizard. Sarin's response was to magically grow a (green) mustache, throw on a robe, and pop in a monocle, with the words, "Impaired vision equals smart!"
Jyrras Gianna of Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures doesn't need glasses, and originally started wearing them on the suggestion of Dan, who told him that smart people usually wore glasses. They still serve a purpose, however, in somehow decreasing his cuteness, thus preventing people from slipping into diabetic shock whenever he makes Puppy-Dog Eyes...
Averted in real life: He removes the glasses when breaking character because he's done OOC vlogs without them, but he is shortsighted.
Ask That Guy with the Glasses: In a segment, he reveals that he attended Glasses University, where everyone wears glasses and is therefore smart, good education and effort toward learning being well beside the point. He demonstrates by taking off his glasses, and... well, it's hard to properly describe.
Spoony: How do we know she's a scientist? Because she wears glasses, of course! And as we all know, any woman who has glasses is either a scientist or an adventurous librarian. As if wearing glasses makes you look any smarter! (NC and Linkara glare at Spoony) Spoony:(sheepishly) ... I need glasses.
The other take of this was Spoony trying to cover his ass and eventually telling Critic that he'd do him. ...he got his wish.
The Nostalgia Chick will sometimes wear hipster glasses when she wants to appear more like an academic. In the main cast commentary for Suburban Knights, Lindsay discusses her usage of glasses. She explains that she stopped wearing them because the camera would be reflected in the lens, leading to several other commentators bringing up their own issues of wearing glasses while filming.
James Rolfe doesn't need to wear glasses, as can be seen in some of his videos, but wears them in his persona as The Angry Video Game Nerd to add to the image of a stereotypical geek.
Baby Manatee: I refuse to believe those glasses are prescription.
In an episode of Cow and Chicken, Cow immediately became smarter after she started wearing glasses. Chicken then started wearing glasses to try and become smarter — it failed, but he acted like he was much more intelligent.
On Daria, noted ditzes Kevin and Brittany are convinced for one episode that glasses might make them smart. Brittany does say something intelligent and then declares, "Wow, these things really do work!" but Kevin gets a pair without lenses because he doesn't want to get too smart.
In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer finds glasses and immediately starts acting smart, by quoting the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz after he got his diploma (and making the same mistake of referencing the wrong type of triangle). He does the same thing in one of the comics, when he buys Artie Ziff's glasses. Mind you Homer actually seems to be farsighted and has been shown wearing half moon spectacles while reading.
It's been debated in Metalocalypse fandom whether or not Charles Foster Ofdensen's glasses are functional or just there to both accentuate his cleverness and make him seem more harmless than he really is (which isn't at all. He's the Badass Normal).
On Jimmy Two-Shoes, during a Screw Learning, I Have Phlebotinum! plot, Beezy dons a pair of glasses even though he has perfect eyesight. Heloise apparently needs hers to read, but in one episode she puts them on before giving advice, probably to appear smarter.
Later episodes of ReBoot had Dot adopt a pair while working as Mainframe's COMMAND.COM. In earlier episodes she would wear them inconsistently with the implication that she didn't need them, she just liked them.
On Family Guy Brian tries to show Lauren Conrad how smart he is by taking out glasses to read. When she asks when he got reading glasses, he says he always wore them. She points out she knows they aren't real as she can see the Austin Powers logo.
Drew Carey got laser surgery at some point, but started wearing a pair without lenses, because he looked weird without them. Not only that but he usually wears a specific style of glasses modeled after military-issue "Birth Control" glasses (so named because no one wearing them will ever get laid). This was lampshaded in one episode of The Drew Carey Show where he addresses the audience wearing a slimmer, more stylish pair that he usually wears off camera before switching to his familiar ones right before the show starts.
Not long after taking over on The Price Is Right, he switched to a different, more stylish variant.
For a brief time, "Weird Al" Yankovic wore these after he got laser surgery of his own, since his glasses were part of his iconic look. He quickly decided this was silly and simply altered his look instead.
He still wears them to complement the fat suit whenever he performs "Fat", just because they help the mask stay on better.
In his youth, Elton John played this trope straight when he started wearing glasses to copy his idol, Buddy Holly. Subverted, now that he can't see without them.
This trope has its origins in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Educated, relatively wealthy literate people were more likely to need (and be able to afford) glasses than the ignorant masses, or those who earned their fortune in other ways.
Sadly believed to be played straight in real life by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which executed any "intellectuals" in their attempt to bring Cambodia back to a self-sufficient agricultural community, including anyone who wore glasses.
Stephen Harper started wearing glasses, seemingly for no reason other than to look smart. They don't help.
Even people who don't need a vision correction (or only need a very minor correction, possibly unknown to themselves) are often advised to buy proper lenses anyway that correctly match the human eye and are of the same optical quality as lenses in prescription glasses. Because of the cost of those lenses some refuse and wear glasses with the demo lenses from the store still in the frame. Those lenses are often stamped with the name of the frame manufacturer on them, so as a result you can occasionally see people wearing aesthetic glasses whose lenses are half covered with a brand tag like Prada◊, Vogue◊, etc.
Anytime an actor who doesn't need glasses plays a character who does. For example, Daniel Radcliffe, who has normal vision in real life, wears lensless glasses throughout the Harry Potter movies. Lenses, after all, create reflections and, if you're a cinematographer, reflections are the enemy. It's much easier to put your actor in lensless glasses and not constantly worry about whether the camera, studio lights, or crew members are being reflected.
If you do use dummy lenses, the reflections seen off of the flat plates are much flashier than those from normal curved lenses. For an example see Ben Sisko's glasses in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars"
Zachary Quinto has taken to wearing thick-rimmed glasses when he's in the midst of filming the Star Trek films because they help him hide his shaved eyebrows.
As of late, it seems to be somewhat fashionable to wear large, thick-rimmed glasses that may or may not even have lens with some outfits. People who wear these often aren't popular with those who are actually vision impaired. (Cheap frames for this purpose are sometimes sold under the name "attitude glasses.")
It's not uncommon for people who have worn glasses all their life to choose to keep wearing glasses after getting eye surgery, because they like the look of glasses or feel that their face does not look "right" without glasses.
Lampião, a famous Brazilian bandit, had his eye pierced by a cactus spine during a confrontation with the local police. The spine was removed, leaving him blind on the right eye, and he subsequently wore glasses to hide this from those who didn't know him. He also switched to firing his gun with his left hand to compensate.