Men’s sunglasses have been around for more than a century, shielding the eyes and the dignity of military pilots and Hollywood stars. But they changed forever in 1956, when a little-known company called Ray Ban introduced a shape and style that would alter coolness forever. This is the Wayfarer, past and present.
The Wayfarer was designed by former American Optical designer Raymond Stegeman, who wanted a break from the teardrops and squared circles that had defined sunglasses to that point. To counter there ubiquity, he created a vaguely trapezoidal frame, whose rakishness was balanced by the stabilizing sturdiness of the chunky arms. It was also designed to be a revolution in sunglasses technology: unlike the metal frames that had dominated sunglasses for so long, the Wayfarer would be crafted from molded plastic, taking advantage of new advances in shaping technology. When it was released, it seemed timeless and advanced all at once, simultaneously ageless and contemporary. It was no wonder it caught on with rock stars, politicians, and trendsetters.
And the Wayfarer has never really gone away. At its lowest point, in 1981 with 18,000 pairs sold, it was threatened with cancellation, but a deal struck between Ray Ban and Unique Product Placement in California shortly lit the world on fire again for the signature sunglasses. Tom Cruise wore them with his underwear in Risky Business. Don Johnson wore them behind the wheel of his Ferrari in Miami Vice. Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Elvis Costello all stepped onto stage and screen with the mesmerizing frames upon their faces. The Wayfarer’s popularity exploded, with millions of pairs being sold in the 1980s, and though their fame dipped some in the 90’s, they were never again dethroned as the pinnacle of sun-shielding eyewear.
The core of the Wayfarer’s success is its magical ability to look cool on any face shape. Thin faces, thick faces, rounded faces, pointed faces, square faces- all of them are elevated by the trapezoidal frames. Putting on the Wayfarer makes its wearer seem untouchable, invincible, like the greatest slayer of crowds and rooms that anyone could meet. Even if a man lacks confidence, he can find at least a little behind the smoky lenses of a Wayfarer, strutting down the street with an attitude the sunglasses seem to instantly convey.