History of Sunglasses: Wayfarer Sunglasses

posted on 1/22/14
Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

Wayfarers are not just sunglasses. They are an American icon. When Ray-Ban introduced them in 1956, they embodied an entirely new look in eyewear, making the familiar metal rims of other glasses outdated overnight. The molded plastic frames set them apart as modern and innovative.


The trapezoidal shape was also unique and customized Wayfarers were instantly recognizable, presenting a look that was subtly powerful, with a touch of the maverick. They entered the hallowed hall of American design classics beside Eichler homes and Eames chairs.


Over the decades, they have experienced repeated surges in popularity as new generations discovered them. These wayfarer sunglasses dominated the market in the 1950s and 1960s, and they were embraced across social levels, from the beatnik to the celebrity.


In the 1980s, the customized Wayfarers rode a new swell of interest when Ray-Ban began a campaign of product placement in television shows and movies. From sales of 18,000 in 1981 when they appeared in “The Blues Brothers”, they soared to sales of 1.5 million following their appearances on Tom Cruise in “Risky Business”, Don Johnson in “Miami Vice”, Bruce Willis in “Moonlighting”, and Tom Cruise again in “Top Gun”.


Musicians, always trendsetters, embraced them as well. They graced the faces of Madonna, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, and many others. They were featured in the Corey Hart music video “Sunglasses at Night”, and were mentioned by name in the Don Henley song “The Boys of Summer”.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

As the years advanced, Wayfarers did not rest on their laurels or fade into history. Maintaining their cutting edge identity, they evolved in both technology and styling with the new century. Acetate frames were replaced by an injected plastic, making them lighter and more comfortable. The outer, angular portion of the frames was de-emphasized and the entire shape made slightly smaller. These changes both updated the look and made them more easily wearable.


Then a curious thing happened: vintage Wayfarers made a comeback with a kind of inner circle chic. They began fetching premium prices on eBay. In response, Ray-Ban brought back the original classic model.


Today, Wayfarers come in numerous models under the Wayfarer style umbrella, in both junior and adult sizes. They feature frames of colors and prints ranging from understated to eye-popping. Lenses can be solid colored, gradient, or polarized. Choices include the Original Wayfarers, Party Legs, Flip-Ups, Clubmasters, and Pattern Prints including Zebra print, Buffalo checker print, Rasta, Tie Dye and more.

Guess Who?

Guess Who?

In the ultimate tribute of the marketplace, the influence of Wayfarers can be seen in the design of numerous sunglasses by other manufacturers, but none of them have achieved the same enduring status as the genuine Wayfarer style.

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