The Foundation: Ray-Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses
The Foundation: Ray-Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses
- Words Max Prince
- Date July 03, 2019
We understand that each wardrobe is as different as the person wearing it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things that find a place in every closet. Regardless of how you view your personal style, the guidance outlined in this series should help set the bedrock for every closet. With classic design and ageless appeal, garments featured in The Foundation are easy to assimilate style staples that are sure to be worn on a regular basis. Advice found in this column should become tenets to dress by—no matter where you are in your style journey.
It’s almost impossible to recommend a pair of sunglasses. There are too many different materials, too many colors, too many styles. Plus, everybody’s face is shaped differently. What looks great on you might look downright foolish on the next person.
There is, however, one exception: Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
Put simply, these shades work on anybody. That’s one reason the design achieved instant-classic status when it arrived in 1952. Another reason? Brand heritage. Bausch + Lomb, the optics firm behind Ray-Ban, started producing monocles (yes, monocles) in upstate New York before the Civil War. The company debuted the world’s first aviator sunglasses in 1937, sold under the new Ray-Ban label. Developed with the U.S. Army Air Corps, the teardrop shape and anti-glare lenses proved a hit with civilians. They helped kickstart the postwar military-inspired fashion trend, which made standard-issue white tees and cropped bomber jackets into wardrobe staples.
It’s hard to imagine sunglasses that could eclipse Ray-Ban’s original Aviator. But the label’s own Wayfarer did just that. For starters, the frames were made from a plant-based plastic, a radical departure from traditional metal rims. This allowed designer Raymond Stegeman to experiment with a radical new shape, mixing sound architectural lines with a modernist edge. In an era before brand ambassadors and celebrity blogs, this soon became the go-to choice for athletes, musicians, actors, influential prepsters and the avant-garde. When Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan or Andy Warhol stepped out, they were rocking Wayfarers.
Not to say there weren’t rough patches. At times, the icon has been a victim of its own success. The design was ubiquitous throughout the 1960s, and some customers started chasing trendier options for a more glam look in the 1970s. At one point, Ray-Ban even considered killing the Wayfarer altogether. But a few crucial Hollywood cameos during the 1980s (most famously in Risky Business) saved the line from oblivion, and helped coast into the hipster-chic revival in the 2000s. Even though Ray-Ban is now owned by Luxottica, the Italian conglomerate that produces eyewear for Chanel and Miu Miu, its casual-yet-refined vibe still embodies quintessential American cool.
But what makes the Wayfarer so special? And why should everybody own a pair now?
For starters, they’re accessible. Because of their popularity, the vintage and secondhand markets are flush with prime picks. Most of them are easy on the wallet, relative to other high-quality designer shades. Wayfarers’ hard-plastic construction also means they’re hypoallergenic, a major selling point for anybody who’s been burned (literally) by abrasive alloy frames.
Plus, the design is versatile. They work with everything from beachwear to a tailored jacket, and can bring a familiar touch to an experimental outfit (or ground a seriously out-there ensemble). Ray-Ban tweaks the details and sizing periodically, but the silhouette always remains fundamentally neutral—neither inherently masculine or feminine. The original Classic Wayfarer is canted forward, while the updated New Wayfarer lies flat across the brow; both use the same basic trapezoidal geometry, which works with virtually every face shape.
Of course, if you’re searching for a wilder take on the legend, there’s no shortage of customs, collabs and special-editions—the “Rare Prints” series, which feature graphics from artists like Matt W. Moore and James Jean, drop annually. Regardless of whether you go for a limited release or just keep it simple with black monochrome, having a pair of Wayfarers on hand is an absolute must this summer—and every summer after. No exceptions.
Building out your wardrobe? See more of our foundational pieces and picks here
Don’t see something that catches your eye down below? Shop more Wayfarer sunglasses here
Prefer Aviator shades over Wayfarers? Read up on the cinematic history of the high-flying style here