Arguably, the Wayfarer is the most popular style of sunglasses sold around the world today. The favorite frames of JFK, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol, they cut across professional, style and cultural lines with ease to remain one of the most flattering and versatile sunglass shapes out there. In this article, we’re going to talk about the history of the Wayfarer style, Ray-Ban and other brands, how to wear them, what to buy and how to spot fake Wayfarers.
The History of Wayfarers
Interestingly, the word “wayfarer” means someone who travels by foot, but today you probably know them only as the best-selling style of sunglasses worldwide. Shockingly, just a few decades ago they were almost discontinued due to declining sales. Originally created by Bausch & Lomb’s Ray-Ban brand in 1956, designer Raymond Stegeman invented them as a way to move away from the traditional metal frames found at the time.
In his patent document, you can see that the original pair looks quite different than what most people think of as the Wayfarer shape. The distinctive trapezoidal shape is much more akin to a cat-eye frame than the squared off shape of modern wayfarers. At the time, it was considered a very masculine look, and it suited Bob Dylan’s counter-culture aesthetic perfectly.
In line with the mid-century modern movement, they were quite popular in the beginning and appeared to be gaining traction through the 1950s and 1960s. They were quickly adopted by other style icons of the era, which increased their popularity further. At the same time, the frame shape was constantly evolving and different manufacturers picked up the style.
However, by the 70s, wayfarers were rapidly fading and sales declined so drastically that Ray-Ban was ready to cease production. Sometime in the following 10 years, Wayfarers began to quietly evolve in shape. Then, in 1981, the film The Blues Brothers came out and featured an ensemble cast that wore the Ray-Ban Wayfarers prominently throughout the film. Sales grew and Ray-Ban sold 18,000 pairs by the end of the year. Though the Blues Brothers are synonymous with Wayfarers, interestingly, the two main characters appear not to have worn the exact same pair. Dan Akroyd’s Elwood wore a slightly squared off, cat-eye frame that was more reminiscent of the original patent, while John Belushi as Jake wore the tilted, rounded Wayfarers that are still for sale today.
Realizing the relevancy of product placement, the company invested $50,000 in showcasing the Wayfarer in Hollywood films and on top television shows. In just over half a decade, the sunglasses notably appeared in more than 60 pictures. By 1983, the year in which another iconic Wayfarer film, Risky Business, came out, Ray-Ban had sold 300,000 pairs. Three years after that, they were up to 1.8 million.
At that time, Wayfarers featured something called panascopic tilt. The original Wayfarer has a fairly pronounced forward angle to it and on certain faces, it can appear to be overly extreme and cause the sun to penetrate the glasses from the top on certain face shapes and diameters.
Unfortunately, by the dawn of the 90’s the Wayfarer again began to decline again in popularity. The plastic sunglass idea was being reinvented by brands like Oakley, who were introducing wrap-around sunglasses marketed for athletes and those who wanted to be like them. In 1999, Bausch & Lomb made the decision to sell and they were purchased by the Italian Luxottica Group for $640 million. In 2001, they completed a fairly significant redesign of the Wayfarer, making them from injection-molded plastic rather than the previous acetate. A small size frame wasn’t as angular, so buyers could wear them perched on top of their head when they didn’t need protection from the sun. In addition, most Wayfarer options on the market today have been squared off relative to the original shape, which had a slight cat-eye shape (see the Blues Brothers frames to see this shape). Since then, sales have steadily increased and Ray-Ban has opted to re-design the model and introduce new versions over the years. Today, it is the most popular style of sunglasses on the market, not only sold by Ray-Ban but imitated by almost every sunglass manufacturer around the world. Today, you can find Wayfarer-style sunglasses for as low as just a few dollars, to upwards of thousands.
How to Wear Wayfarers
Wayfarers work on most face shapes, but not on everyone. Often, it isn’t actually due to the shape, but more so the color and size of the sunglasses in contrast to your skin tone and the size of your head. When it comes to face shape, they particularly work well on oblong, oval and round face shapes. To learn more about how to pick the best sunglasses for your face shape and skin tone, click here.
Wayfarers in the traditional black plastic can often come across as a more casual style of sunglasses. However, this isn’t always true, as a pair of wrap-around frames are certainly more nonchalant. Here are some tips on how to wear Wayfarer sunglasses:
- Black was one of the original colors this frame came in, however the adage that black goes with everything simply isn’t true. Black can be a very harsh sunglass color relative to the skin tone, so fair or medium skin tones should avoid it. Deeper skin tones will show less contrast, so the black color will be more complimentary. Stick with black for casual wear and try tortoiseshell or more unique frames if you’re a dandy.
- Avoid wearing Wayfarers with business attire. However, they can look rather rakish if you’re wearing them with business wear outside the office.
- Wayfarers are very versatile and can be worn at the beach with your swimsuit or for a walk downtown in a pair of chinos and a polo shirt. They can even be worn with business attire when done so properly. The true benefit to a pair of Wayfarers over a pair of wrap-arounds is that they go with far more outfit choices and can easily be an everyday pair you keep in the car.
- If you find that they are the best frame shape for your face, buy several pairs in different frame colors.
- Avoid white or light colored frames; they don’t suit the vintage look of the style and in general, the color is too flashy for classy frames.
Where to Buy Wayfarer Sunglasses
Just because one pair of Wayfarers look good on you, doesn’t mean another will. You can certainly buy them online, and you will likely get a better deal, but you will have to make adjustments yourself or go to a local optician and pay for them. Of course if they are bad, you can just send them back.
Since the style is quite varied, the size of the lenses, the positioning, and even the thickness of the frame can have a dramatic impact on how they look on you. In addition, because of the bolder frame, certain colors may not look as good on you as others. Here are some tips to get the best Wayfarer sunglasses:
- Consider trying on in store where you can try them on. Keep in mind that Luxottica owns many of the leading brands in addition to retail stores such as The Sunglass Hut and Lenscrafters. They may not have the greatest selection in terms of style, but you can see how they work on your face.
- For Wayfarers made from acetate, check vintage stores for the best deal. You can often find vintage acetate pairs from before Ray-Ban was sold to Luxottica on eBay; however, new they can cost upwards of $500. Note that they are much larger than the newer models, so vintage frames are not always suited well to small faces. This is where some other brands may be able to provide a better offering.
- Often winter months are slower for sunglass sales. Therefore, you can often find a better deal in the winter than you would in the spring and summer months. Although sunglasses are now worn all the time and with snow on the ground sunglasses are even more essential than during the summer time.
What Wayfarer Sunglasses Should You Buy?
Ultimately, that’s up to you. Though, here are some good options for all budgets.
|Sunglass Model||Brand||Good For Face Shape||Price|
|Wayfarer RB2140||Ray-Ban||oblong, oval, round||$$|
|New Wayfarer RB2132||Ray-Ban||oblong, oval, round||$$|
|Leo||Tom Ford||oblong, oval, round||$$$|
|PO2953S||Persol||oblong, oval, round||$$$|
|Polarized Wayfarer||Knockaround||oblong, oval, round||$|
|Cheaters Value UV400 Polarized Wayfarer||Gamma Ray||oblong, oval, round||$|
|Wooden Wayfarers-Z6016||SHINU||oblong, oval, round||$|
|Vintage Ray Ban Sunglasses||Ray-Ban||oblong, oval, round - large heads||$ - $$$|
|State Optical Wolcott Wayfarer - only available at optician||State Optical||oblong, oval, round - large heads||$$$|
The Original Ray-Ban Wayfarer
This is the modern classic, and we say that because unlike the pre-1990 ones, they are made from injection molded plastic and not acetate. You cannot find the original Wayfarers new and in-store any longer unless you shop at a vintage store. They feature the original slanted frames that tilt away from the face for a look worthy of the Blues Brothers.
The New Ray-Ban Wayfarer
This is the newest style to come out. This new style minimizes the tilt of the frame. It’s a more contemporary look that offers a lighter frame and is more comfortable for those who found the forward tilt to be too much. Although it does come in a 55 eye size diameter that seems larger than the original’s cumbersome 54, it is actually a smaller and less obtrusive fit. If you’re looking for a smaller version of the Wayfarer, this is the one for you.
State Optical Wolcott Wayfarer
Made in Chicago, this contemporary company is making waves across the United States for their unique Made-in-America designs. Named after Wolcott Avenue in Chicago, this smaller Wayfarer style is made from acetate rather than injection molded plastic and uses lenses from Zeiss which gives clarity worthy of the price tag. You can find the acetate Wolcott sunglasses from your local optician.
Tom Ford Black Square Sunglasses
Tom Ford’s interpretation of the classic Wayfarer is a sleek black frame with gold accents and a fashion-forward shape. These scream designer-wear so if you’re looking for a pair that really stands out, this might be the pair for you.
Less Expensive Bamboo Wayfarers
If spending hundreds of dollars for a pair of sunglasses isn’t something you can justify, here is a more casual pair of sunglasses at a very reasonable price point made from bamboo and ideal for a day on the beach.
Due to this frame’s popularity over the last 6 decades, this is one of the easier pairs of sunglasses to find vintage. Flea markets, Etsy, eBay and vintage stores may all be locations in which you can dig up a pair of Wayfarers. For those who like the tilted frame or the quality of Bausch & Lomb lenses or acetate frames, vintage is a great way to get an authentic pair of Wayfarers. Look for a tiny “BL” carved into the lens to be the hallmark of Bausch & Lomb lenses. On eBay, vintage frames in good condition can often go for $500 or more, but it might be worth it to find such an enduring, flattering frame that you can wear on and off for decades.
How Do You Spot Fake Wayfarers?
Ray-Ban Wayfarers are one of the most faked sunglasses around. So how do you protect yourself from buying a fake?
- Check the box. It should have a barcode label and it should not be overly shiny. Also look at the print quality. Sometimes fakes have logos that are slightly off.
- Look at the case. Original Ray-Ban Cases have hard leather and a shiny logo, not a matte gold one. There should also be no loose threads.
- The sticker on new sunglasses should be static and it comes of easily without residue. If you have a glue mark once you remove the sticker, it’s likely a fake.
- Look at the hinges. Are they plastic? Then it’s a fake. Ray-Ban uses metal ones.
- Look at the silver bits. Fakes often have slightly different shapes than oval with corners.
- On transparent Wayfarers, check the arms. They should be reinforced by metal.
The best way to identify fakes is to look at the details and the hinges. The easiest way to avoid fakes is to buy from authorized dealers that offer returns — but you will also pay the highest price.
Wayfarers are a pair of sunglasses just about everyone seems to be wearing. Instead of going over the top and wearing tacky colors, consider a more refined approach to adding sprezzatura to your outfit by avoiding the standard black and trying unique shades that are still lovely and understated. Do you wear this style? Which brand do you prefer?