Sunglasses Part One: Ray Ban Wayfarers

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Ray Ban ‘Original Wayfarer’ 2140

Regular viewers of this blog will have noticed the frequent use of sunglasses in my pictures. This is partly to maintain some semblance of anonymity (!), partly because I live in an all-year-round sunny climate (and being a light-skinned Nordic blondie I’m very sensitive to bright light), but aside from all that I just think that wearing decent sunglasses will almost always elevate the coolness factor of an outfit, and I confess to being a collector of shades the way some women – and men – collect shoes.

So despite my collection being in a constant state of flux depending on the rotation, I thought I would create an occasional series to throw some light on my favourite shades.

The daddy of all shades of course has to be the Ray Ban Wayfarer.

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(Not quite Ray Bans but close enough.  There are close-up pictures of this pair of sunglasses available on the internet, but any excuse to post a pic of the stunning Claudine Auger! This photo was borrowed from Matt Spaiser’s excellent blog ‘The Suits Of James Bond’).

My first pair of name brand sunglasses were Ray Ban Wayfarers which I got from Roosevelt Fields Flea Market, Long Island, in Summer 1989. I don’t remember how much I paid but I got the black plastic frames with the green/grey glass G-15 lenses. They looked a lot like the current 2140 model but are likely to have been an earlier version. I know they had the signature Bausch and Lomb ‘BL’ etching on the lenses and did not have the obnoxious branding on the lens and side arms as the current versions do. They came in a black thinly padded pocket style case with a slot at the end.  Wayfarers at that time were enjoying a big revival, as worn by the always cool Jack Nicholson – and the clearly NOT always cool Tom Cruise!

Part of the reason for the spike in popularity of Ray Ban Wayfarers during the eighties was a strategic marketing ploy to pay for their product placement in several Hollywood films, which also tied with something of a retro trend in advertising at the time (the resurgence of Levi’s 501 jeans using James Dean-esque model Nick Kamen, backed with early Motown music, as an example).

Mohammad Ali, and Don Johnson as Sunny Crockett in ‘Miami Vice’ show the coolness of Wayfarers from the sixties through the eighties and beyond.

The attraction of Wayfarers across six decades has to be due to *cliche alert* timeless style. They were originally created in the mid-fifties and have enjoyed enduring popularity ever since, with occasional boosts from various iconic wearers (Lennon, Dylan, Kennedy, Nicholson, Cruise, et al). I believe that this is because like most items of iconic style, they are (or were, originally) unique enough to have carved out their own niche, but they’re also mainstream enough to avoid looking avant-garde, which often rapidly makes an item look dated. They also look equally good with formal or casual clothes, so if you have money for one decent pair of sunglasses these are the ones to shoot for.

Here’s JFK in replica Wayfarers (possibly American Optical) demonstrating their versatility in being appropriate for both informal and formal outfits.

Also, Wayfarers styles were unique in being enjoyed equally by women and men – the first unisex shades:

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and Debbie Harry of Blondie – again, probably neither are Ray Bans, but not far off!

I wore the Ray Ban Wayfarers I had bought in 1989 as my sole sunglasses for ten years before leaving them for a moment on the table near the pool outside my Houston apartment. I went back a few minutes later to retrieve them but they were gone, and only a shifty-looking maintenance man remained in the vicinity claiming he hadn’t seen them.

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Pictured here are those late-lamented shades. My friend Sheryl’s dad was no longer around to give her away so I was honored to be ‘Father of the bride’ at her wedding at the beautiful Highlands Inn in Carmel, California in 1998.

After wearing those Wayfarers for a decade I was forced to replace them when they disappeared, so of course bought another pair. Before long that pair also vanished, this time from my jacket pocket during a flight when the jacket was placed in the overhead bin, but it was no great tragedy as they seemed to let in light from behind and I was constantly seeing white glare reflected in the lenses. I replaced those with a pair of Ray Ban ‘New Wayfarers’ model 2132 (pictured below), again in black with G-15 lenses. The 52mm version is slightly smaller and the shape a little less angular, so I no longer have that problem with glare.  Just like the originals, the New Wayfarers continue to be appropriate to be worn with either formal or casual outfits:

Of course since my original Ray Ban purchase, Bausch and Lomb sold off Ray Ban to Luxottica, which mass produces a huge proportion of the brands of shades on sale these days and sells them via their ‘Sunglass Hut’ chain in malls, main streets and airport concourses the world over. There aren’t many of the modern post-Bausch and Lomb Ray Ban styles which interest me, but thankfully they’ve continued to market their handful of classic and retro styles. Buying my New Wayfarers in 1999 set me off on a journey in pursuit of other cool sunglasses which continues to this day and doesn’t look like stopping soon, so watch this space for updates. I have a few other Wayfarers and Wayfarer-like shades, but for a solid, reliable, real glass lens all-rounder, styles like this one remain very hard to beat.

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Ray Ban ‘New Wayfarer’ 2132

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