Proof That Wayfarers Are A True Summer Classic

Every season, we pore over the latest batch of street style images from Fashion Weeks across the globe, looking for tips and takeaways from the industry’s most sartorially savvy individuals. It’s a fun and inspiring exercise we’ll probably never stop doing — and yet it’s easy to feel removed from the fresh-off-the-runway, all-designer ensembles the subjects of these snaps dress themselves in. At the end of the day, it’s aspirational more than anything.

However, there’s one accessory that brings it back home for us — more specifically, back to our #brunchstagrams: the Wayfarer. You’re as likely to spot it perched between a latte and eggs Benedict on a Saturday morning as you are on one of these professionally shot “Best Outfit” roundups. These sleek sunglasses transcend style circles — and they have done so successfully for more than 60 years.
When it was introduced to the public in 1956, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer wasn’t a run-of-the-mill silhouette. It was actually quite revolutionary, made of pioneering acetate — a sudden break from the metal frames that saturated the market. “Its design was distinctive, with trapezoidal lenses, sturdy temples, and trademark rivets on the front and temples,” Alessandro Mariani, Senior Brand Director for Ray-Ban, wrote in an email. Not only was it one of the first sunglasses crafted from acetate, but the silhouette was decidedly minimalist and pared down — quite different from another new style of the time, the aviator.

The cool factor of these new, plastic frames was quickly backed up by a no-big-deal list of famous fans: James Dean, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, John F. Kennedy. It's this not-insignificant roll call that has since put the Wayfarer at top of mind when we're looking for retro-inspired frames.

But even from the get-go, the angular frame wasn’t just a man’s game. Marilyn Monroe loved the silhouette, and Audrey Hepburn’s Wayfarer-like, oversized specs by Oliver Goldsmith were an instant classic in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Modern devotees include Taylor Swift, #squad member (and bona fide street style star) Karlie Kloss, and a well-documented string of fashion folk who understand that sometimes the greatest luxury is a universally flattering pair of sunnies.

What it boils down to is that the Wayfarer isn’t a trend but an attitude. “It’s what the Wayfarer stands for that has perpetuated its resonance over the decades,” comments Mariani. “From rebellion, creativity, sex appeal, and an effortlessly cool vibe, the Wayfarer has captured generations’ voices and embodied them through several reinterpretations,” he shared over email.

The frames have been especially ubiquitous in the music industry. “The Wayfarer has become synonymous with the spirit of rock ’n’ roll,” Mariani continued, thanks to its early link with Bob Dylan — an association that has now extended to the retro-referencing artists of today. Naturally, as these celebrities’ influence grew, so did the reach of the Wayfarer: It became known as something that pushes boundaries, and it's the ultimate expression of (sartorial) individuality. Also, Wayfarers pair well with any and every outfit you packed for the four-city race that’s Fashion Month — an important consideration.
Six decades is no joke, especially when we’re talking about an accessory. And you can credit the style’s design for its longevity. “There’s an importance in the shape of it,” says fashion editor, stylist, and creative director Freddie Leiba. “Any woman who wears them sort of looks like a movie star.” In other words: I want to look like I’m trying to blend in, but I know I stand out (and I’m not apologizing for it).
Leiba compares the hold of the Wayfarer to that of Chanel’s classic flap bag: “It’s so well designed that it has the longest life of any bag. They’ve changed and they’ve changed colors, but not really. At the end of the day, it still works in its traditional way.” Nowadays, you can find Wayfarers in virtually every color of the rainbow, as well as different prints and even textures — and that’s just at Ray-Ban. Thanks to the introduction of colorized acetate on the Wayfarer in the mid-2000s (another big moment of innovation at Ray-Ban, remarks Mariani), you can basically dream up any hue, color pairing, or frame-and-lens combination your heart desires.
Today, the Wayfarer is universally lauded: It is something that everyone wears, has worn, or will likely wear at one point or another. It’s a frame you can borrow from your friends and S.O. (and possibly never return, because it’s that darn good). It works, stylistically and commercially.

Yet so much of its success has revolved around pop culture, rather than fashion. It's true that while you’ll see it on many smartly dressed showgoers at Fashion Week, you’re less likely to come across it in a photo shoot. Yes, industry folk — like many other eyewear fanatics — love the style, but “fashion is interested in the new news, and the sunglasses are not new news,” comments Leiba. He believes the same thing happens with other staples, such as denim: Levi’s may have been one of the first (and remains a go-to brand), but you’ll more likely see jeans by a contemporary designer styled and shot for a spread. It’s the way fashion and commerce work.

But outside of fashion, these shades still have a hold over the influencers’ hearts: Cat-eyes may come, go, and get embellished along the way, but the Wayfarer ain’t going anywhere.

More from Shopping


R29 Original Series