The Wayfarer design of sunglasses is an absolute classic today, and you probably wont find many people who don’t either know of it or own a pair. Originally designed by Bausch and Lomb for their Ray Ban sunglasses range in the 1950s, it is a design that has been endlessly copied today by other manufacturers, from Gucci to Lacoste sunglasses, and has been one of the bestselling sunglasses designs of all time. But, there’s more to the story than that, and it’s an interesting history.
In 1952, designer Raymond Stegeman was looking for something new to bring to the sunglasses market. Working for Baush& Lomb he had been involved in many of their important projects. However, Ray Ban mainly produced wire framed Aviator style glasses, originally for military use, which were now becoming more popular in the mainstream. Stegeman wanted to move away from this, and the technology of plastics and plastic manufacturing being developed at the time allowed him to do just that.
Designing to suit both the fashion and new manufacturing techniques of the time, Stegeman came up with a thick plastic framed design which widened around the outward corners in somewhat of a trapezoidal, ‘cat eye’ shape. Looking back now it looks distinctly 1950s, and was considered a very masculine look. It proved to be an enormous hit at the time, and over the years was adopted by many celebrities, giving it even more publicity.
However, as the decades progressed into the 1970s, fashions changed and the Wayfarer began to fall out of popularity, to the point that Baush& Lomb even considered withdrawing the design. Quietly, the design was tweaked and tuned over the years to reign in the cat eye shape slightly and create what we know as the Wayfarer today, and then in the early 1980s, with a huge campaign of product placement, the Wayfarer saw a massive rise in popularity.
In the 1990s due to the fashion for wraparound sunglasses pioneered by brands like Oakley, the Wayfarer again began to fall away, but another redesign in early 2001 and several more high profile product placements secured them as the timeless classics they are today. Who can tell where we go from here. It is likely that they will fall out of favour again, but I’m sure they will always be set to return as the wonderful, classic piece of design work they are.