And so it begins. Just two days into 2013 and we already have a contender for this year's most peculiar global fashion trends. This one comes to us from southeast Asia, where teens are sporting fake braces all in the name of style.
While the trend may not be new — it was first reported in 2006, having sprung up in Thailand — it has since spread across the region to countries like Indonesia and China where teenagers are buying black-market braces for about $100 a pop. And while this facial accessory may seem odd to Westerners, for whom braces epitomize adolescent awkwardness, the metal-and-rubber adornments have become an alluring status symbol in the East, where dental care can be a costly luxury. In Bangkok, for example, real braces run about $1,200, a substantial expense for the average Thai family.
Asian teens can now purchase non-medical fashion braces in local beauty salons. If salon prices are too high, braces-seeking kids can get even cheaper pairs, which they can apply at home, at open-air stalls in local markets and through online retailers. The style offerings have diversified too. Fake braces come in nearly every color under the sun, not to mention a variety of cartoonish themes from Mickey Mouse to Hello Kitty.
Several East Asian fashion blogs tout the trend's affordable advantages and some websites even provide do-it-yourself tutorials (see below). With that geek-chic look sweeping the global pop culture scene and celebrities like Katy Perry making metal mouths seem cool — most recently in her Last Friday Night video — fake braces may only continue to show up on even the most aligned of choppers.
But this fad is not without its risks. Even doctor-approved braces can pose health risks, so those without any orthodontic use could very well prove downright dangerous. Officials have warned that the wires on some fake braces may contain lead and the metal brackets can cause sores on the gums and inside the mouth. Worse yet, the accessory has been linked to at least two deaths in Thailand. In one instance, a 17-year-old from Khon Kaen reportedly contracted a thyroid infection from a shoddy pair and her condition quickly progressed to fatal heart failure.
Some online sites have warned that fashion braces should be worn for only five months at most. And in Thailand the production and sale of the item is now punishable by up to six months in prison. So, take heed, daring fashionistas, and leave braces to the professionals.