You glide the thick plastic earpieces past your temples, adjust the dark lenses on your nose, and suddenly you can be anything: a punk rocker, a jet-setter, a movie star. Just like Tom Cruise, who slips into a pair in Risky Business and instantly becomes Joe Cool, these days everybody seems to have it made in their shades.
The shades in question are this year’s hottest eyewear trend, Buddy Holly-style sunglasses called Ray-Ban Wayfarers, designed in 1952 and worn by folks like John Lennon and Jerry Lee Lewis. The glasses may look like a joke prop from Happy Days, but the style is being revived by businessmen, Vogue models, rock stars and high schoolers. These days Jack Nicholson, Carly Simon, Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon, to name a few, see through their Wayfarers (or similar ’50s-style glasses) darkly. Although Blues Brothers Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi wore Wayfarers as far back as 1978 (and Snoopy as “Joe Cool” has been wearing something like them for years), Bausch & Lomb, the makers of the specs, reported all-time low sales of 18,000 pairs in 1981. Then in 1982 the men’s fashion magazine GQ and New Wave designer Betsey Johnson simultaneously decided the clunky style went well with black-and-white summer fashions. This year, boosted by Risky Business, sales already have soared past 250,000. One Aspen store owner says he sells about 22 pairs a day.
As with most hot items, this one dragged a few others along with it. The Wayfarer helped revive prestige sunglasses like Vuarnet and Bollé, makers of a black 1956 vintage frame called the cat-eye. These glasses, with fancy sun-filter lenses that keep them ever popular with West Coast beach types, sell for between $50 and $90 to trendsetters such as Richard Gere and Monaco’s Princess Stephanie. A spinoff: the eyeglass leash, a cord that attaches to the earpieces and keeps the wearer from losing those pricey specs. Once worn by librarians and grandmothers, such strings now dangle from the glasses of no lesser men than Tom Selleck and Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues (actually Selleck and Haid favor wide elastic cords called Croakies). At the other end of the scale, Taiwan-made Wayfarer rip-offs can be bought for a mere $10.
The real thing comes from Rochester, N.Y. Unlike many fashion trends that start in Europe, the Wayfarer look has crossed the Atlantic to Paris, London and Rome. The Bausch & Lomb folks, a bit surprised by a sudden surge in sales, have somehow learned to adjust. They are selling Wayfarers for $35 a pair—up $10 from last summer.