Ray Ban Wayfarer

Ray-Ban New Wayfarer sunglasses (RB2132 901L)

The Ray-Ban Wayfarer is a design of sunglasses manufactured by Ray-Ban since 1952, when their design was a revolutionary break from the metal eyewear of the past. Wayfarers enjoyed early popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Though the sunglasses had faded from the limelight by the 1970s, a lucrative 1982 product placement deal brought Wayfarers to their height of popularity. Since the mid-2000s, the sunglasses have been enjoying a revival.

Wayfarers are sometimes cited as the best-selling design of sunglasses in history (although Ray-Ban Aviators have also been credited with this achievement) and have been called a classic of modern design and one of the most enduring fashion icons of the 20th century.

Design and early popularity

Figure 1, US design patent #169,995.

Wayfarers were designed in 1952 by optical designer Raymond Stegeman, who procured dozens of patents for Bausch and Lomb, Ray-Ban's parent company. The design was a radically new shape, "a mid-century classic to rival Eames chairs and Cadillac tail fins." According to design critic Stephen Bayley, the "distinctive trapezoidal frame spoke a non-verbal language that hinted at unstable dangerousness, but one nicely tempered by the sturdy arms which, according to the advertising, gave the frames a 'masculine look.'" Wayfarers, which took advantage of new plastic molding technology, marked the transition between a period of eyewear with thin metal frames and an era of plastic eyewear.

1970s slump and 1980s comeback

Classic 1980s Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses (B&L5022)

Actor Corey Feldman wearing Wayfarers at the Academy Awards, 1989

After Wayfarers' heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, sales declined. Though Wayfarers' cultural popularity was boosted in 1980, particularly due to classic film The Blues Brothers, only 18,000 pairs were sold in 1981, and Wayfarers were on the verge of discontinuation.

The sunglasses' fate was reversed, however, when in 1982 Ray-Ban signed a $50,000-a-year deal with Unique Product Placement of Burbank, California, to place Ray-Bans in movies and television shows. (Between 1982 and 1987, Ray-Ban sunglasses appeared in over 60 movies and television shows per year; Ray-Ban's product placement efforts have continued through 2007.) Tom Cruise's wearing of Wayfarers in the 1983 movie Risky Business marked the beginning of a Wayfarers phenomenon; 360,000 pairs were sold that year. By 1986, after appearances in Miami Vice, Moonlighting, and The Breakfast Club, sales had reached 1.5 million. Wayfarers rose to popularity among musicians, including Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Johnny Marr, Blondie's Debbie Harry, Madonna, Elvis Costello, Morrissey, and members of U2, and among other celebrities such as Jack Nicholson, and even Anna Wintour. Bret Easton Ellis' fiction often name-dropped references to Wayfarers, and Don Henley's 1984 song "The Boys Of Summer" contained the lyric "You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby". Ray-Ban's Wayfarer offerings expanded from two models in 1981 to more than 40 models by 1989, and Wayfarers were the decade's sunglasses of choice.

1990's decline and 2001 redesign

Ray-Ban New Wayfarer sunglasses

As the 1990s began, the frames again became unpopular. The 1950s revival that fueled the glasses' popularity in the 1980s had lost steam, and Wayfarers were outcompeted by wraparound frames. In 2001, the Wayfarer underwent a significant redesign, with the frames made smaller and less angular, and changed from acetate to a lighter injected plastic. The changes were intended to update the frames' style during a period of unpopularity and to make them easier to wear (the frames' previous tilt made them impossible to perch on top of one's head, for instance).

Late 2000's comeback

Model Emina Cunmulaj wearing white Ray-Ban Wayfarers.

Wayfarers were brought back into fashion in the late 2000s when celebrities including Chloƫ Sevigny and Mary-Kate Olsen began wearing vintage frames. Ray-Ban designers soon noticed that vintage Wayfarers were commanding high prices on eBay, and the 2007 re-introduction of the original Wayfarer design aimed to respond to the demand. (As of 2007, Wayfarers were available in Original Wayfarer, New Wayfarer, and Wayfarer Folding styles.) Ray-Ban's marketing strategy was threefold: a return to the sunglasses' original, rebellious design, an "edgy" advertising campaign and "high-profile PR events", and the use of new media like MySpace to connect with consumers. Sales in 2007 were 231% greater than in 2006 at Selfridge's London; as of October 2007, the Wayfarer was the Luxottica Group's third-best-selling style. As of July 2008, sales had increased 40% over 2007.

As of 2008, the Wayfarer model is available in a wide variety of colors and patterns.

Similar models and myths

Ray-Ban made a number of models that looked similar to the Wayfarer style, such as the "Myth" and the "Meteor".By the 1960s many manufacturers of sunglasses made shades that were clearly inspired by the Ray-Ban line.

Audrey Hepburn wearing sunglasses in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's

In the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's Audrey Hepburn wore oversized sunglasses that resemble the Wayfarer model quite a bit and are often mistaken for the real thing by people unfamiliar with the details of the original design. This is a quite common phenomenon.

John F. Kennedy wearing sunglasses while on vacation at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, August 1963.

Other people who prominently wore sunglasses resembling Wayfarers are John F. Kennedy, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and Roy Orbison.

During the 2000s Wayfarer revival, many sunglasses designs inspired by the original Wayfarers were produced by designers unaffiliated with Ray-Ban. Grey Ant's Grant Krajecki designed a larger, cartoonish version of the glasses "so extreme that [they] are best worn by those with a good sense of humor". Sabre Vision's "Poolside" design is a smaller, thinner version that resembles "a cross between old-school Oakleys and the pair worn by Tom Cruise in 'Risky Business'". Other Wayfarer-inspired sunglasses included Oliver Peoples' "Hollis", REM Eyewear's "Converse", and various designs in Juicy Couture, Hugo Boss, Kate Spade, and Marc Jacobs's 2008 lines. Between July and September 2008, retailers began selling frameless Wayfarers.

In 2009, Oakley released the Wayfarer-inspired "Jupiter" model.
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