The wayfarer existed long before Pete Doherty. Designed in 1952 by Bausch & Lomb (the founders of Ray-Ban, owned by Italian eyewear behemoth Luxottica since 1999) it’s the quintessential American frame, “a mid-century classic to rival Eames chairs and Cadillac tail fins,” according to the Independent on Sunday’s Stephen Bayley.
Where Ray-Ban led, others followed, and the wayfarer went from a model of sunglass to a genre. In the ensuing half century, takes on the style have been spotted on everyone from Michael Jackson to Jude Law, testament to a design that seems to flatter any face shape. It’s part Talented Mr Ripley luxury; part Risky Business anti-authoritarianism; and all style.
Not that the going was always good. A post-1960s slump put the wayfarer on the backburner as aviators took control, but the late 1980s saw a resurgence once more – audiences channelling the cool of Miami Vice and The Breakfast Club’s antiheroes. The 1990s sportswear boom saw men turn – unforgivably – to wraparound shades. But the wayfarer was waiting, ready to take us back, to show us the light – and how to fight it it in style.
In the noughties, Ray-Ban tweaked its silhouette, shrinking the wayfarer and smoothing out its angles. It made for a softer, easier to wear wayfarer – and they haven’t left our faces since.
Taylor Morris Saratoga II
The Saratoga II’s unisex design exemplifies the flexibility of an all-black wayfarer.
Italian acetate frames (a hallmark of sunglasses that won’t break the first time you drop them) are bolstered by full-spectrum UV protection and stud detailing to the arms. Because it’s nice to look at least a little unique.
Available at Taylor Morris, priced £150.
Ray-Ban Original Wayfarer Fleck
The OG is still the best. This tortoiseshell take is mounted on contrast black arms with the Ray-Ban signature emblazoned on the lens – a subtle detail that says ‘my sunglasses are better than yours’.
Available at Ray-Ban, priced £134.
Spitfire Square Sunglasses
Even as Ray-Ban rounded its wayfarer, other brands shifted square.
They’re tougher to wear, particularly for chiselled face shapes, but if you’ve got curves then Spitfire’s translucent frames, brown lenses and angular design are the easiest way into the 1970s trend. Chest rug optional.
Available at ASOS, priced £24.
Jeepers Peepers Square Sunglasses
Jeepers Peepers added another layer (quite literally) to the classic wayfarer, with gold-tone wiring framing the lenses.
And because cataracts are never a good look, you also get total UV protection, at a price point friendly to eyes and pocket.
Available at ASOS, priced £18.
Thom Browne Square Frame Acetates
Thom Browne’s ability to make classics seem cutting edge extends to his sunglasses line – case in point, these sharp, square-framed acetates.
Hand-assembled in Italy, they feature an angular silhouette with a gold wire underframe (not too dissimilar to the clubmaster) and the designer’s signature stripe motif on the arms.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £480.
Oliver Peoples L.A Coen Square Frame Acetates
Each pair of Oliver People’s L.A Coen sunglasses come with a unique tortoiseshell pattern that partly explains the price tag – no two pairs are the same.
The ‘champagne’ lens sits in an easy-to-wear design, no matter the strength of your chin.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £230.
River Island Blue Faded Retro Sunglasses
Black wayfarers are a classic. But they can be, well, dull. Enter River Island’s blue faded take.
Contrast tinted lenses offer full UV protection, and they sit in frames with a blue underlining and fade-to-black detailing on the arms. So no chance you’ll blend in.
Available at River Island, priced £12.
The Idle Man Classic Wayfarers
There are some places you shouldn’t take glasses you wouldn’t be happy to lose. Festivals, stag-dos – odds are they’ll end up buried in mud or tossed in a pool.
The Idle Man offers a classic wayfarer design at a price you won’t mind paying twice.
Available at The Idle Man, priced £7.90.
Persol Design Sunglasses Orange
Best known for the foldable design that graced Steve McQueen’s face, Persol also has a glut of wayfarers in its locker.
Its Design Sunglasses boast full Italian construction, luxury acetate design and metallic arm accents. Steve might want to rethink his choice.
Available at The Idle Man, priced £209.90.
Topman Black Rubber Preppy Sunglasses
Italian acetate is sturdy, but not sturdy enough to survive a fall from your hotel balcony. Topman’s rubber frames just might.
And if not, the price tag means you’ve stowed a couple of spares in your suitcase.
Available at Topman, priced £12.