The archetype of a cool girl has transformed throughout time, but in 2022, the vision is clear. She’s obscure yet relatable. She’s plugged into the past while simultaneously looking toward a future of her own making. She rejects trends for functionality, a movement in itself, and has mastered the techcessories trend. Envision a ‘90s-inspired, ultra-kitschy beaded phone strap dangling from her fresh-out-of-the-box iPhone 13. And when you see her in a coffee shop (ordering an oat milk latte, of course), white wired headphones snake out underneath her knit balaclava. She adorns herself with vintage technology, items made obsolete by the masses, to send a bold and unironic statement: She is in control and doesn’t let anyone, especially not a tech behemoth, influence her.
Shelby Hull, creator of the Instagram account @wireditgirls, has taken notice of the recent comeback of wired headphones and finds it acutely representative of the techcessories trend as a whole. “The choice to use wired headphones is a blatant disregard for the latest tech — you can’t be bothered to keep up. It says, ‘I’m above the hype,” she details to TZR. “When AirPods first emerged, they were a sign of wealth and social status. But over the past few years, [AirPods] have become associated with Patagonia vests and tech bros, which are too conformist to be considered cool.” Whereas those familiar white chords give off a very different, more unassuming vibe.
To further illustrate her point, Hull makes an esoteric reference only a true wired It-girl could think of. She says wired headphones “have an air of sprezzatura” and turns to the words of Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian Renaissance author, to elaborate: “‘a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.’”
Hull’s account is a byproduct of Liana Statenstein’s 2019 Vogue article in which the fashion writer controversially outlined the comeback of the “humble wired headphone.” Hull pays homage to Statenstein’s claim by curating a grid dedicated to the many women who are “committed to the wire” — including modern-day Lily-Rose Depp and Jessica Alba circa 2000. In doing so, Hull connotes that wired headphones are intrinsically linked to the past while simultaneously integral to 2022. And they just received luxury fashion’s gilded stamp of approval, too; Christian Dior’s Pre-Fall 2022 show included a set of wired headphones, albeit this particular pair is made of pearl strands.
There is, however, much more to the techcessories trend than the nonchalance of a cool girl blasting Doja Cat out of 10-year-old wired earbuds. Biz Sherbert, the culture editor at The Digital Fairy, argues that wearing vintage tech as a statement accessory reflects a cultural desire to give technology more personality. “Consumer technology of the 2000s was much more diverse in aesthetic than it is now. Today’s phones and computers tend to be as sleek and minimalistic as possible, without a lot of room for fun, flair, or customization — qualities that dominated the pre-iPhone market,” offers Sherbert. “This,” she argues, “isn’t aligned with young people’s desire for expression and curation in all aspects of their self-presentation.” In other words, fashion is in its maximalist era, and a nondescript pair of AirPods or a space gray phone case doesn’t express the individuality many now desire.
“Back in the 2000s, having your own phone or laptop still felt new and exciting! [And now] many of us are nostalgic for that ‘first tech’ feeling,” Sherbert remarks. As such, people are seeking out items, typically accessories, that replicate the wholesome earnestness they first felt when discovering newfound technologies decades ago. “The early 2000s has reigned as the most influential era on fashion of the past few years, and incorporating an element of period-appropriate tech, like a phone case that makes your iPhone look like a bedazzled pink Razr, can take an early-aughts outfit to the next level,” describes the culture expert.
Marisa Ravel, for one, taps into tech sentimentality by upcycling vintage and functional Tamagotchis into jewelry for her brand Laser Kitten. “I love to remix nostalgic items into something unexpected and fresh. [And] I thought it would be fun to turn ‘90s Tamagotchi happy meal toys into ‘fancy’ [jewelry,]” she tells TZR. Each jewelry piece featuring the digital pet — including pendant pearl chokers and Swarovski crystal-encrusted drop earrings — is made by hand, too. “I sit at my work desk (for hours and hours) with magnifying glasses and jewelry tools carefully hand bedazzling each Tamagotchi so there are no two exactly alike,” describes the designer.
Additionally, familiar tech automatically evokes comfort, which is something many are collectively yearning for due to the upheaval of recent years. Rachel Steed-Middleton, the founder of String Ting, believes this shared pursuit of mood-boosting has significantly helped her beaded phone strap brand become the cult favorite it now is. “[String Ting] came at a time when people were seeking to lift their moods,” she says. “The Tings are colorful and happy, and I think it's their positive nature that people have responded to the most.”
Steed-Middleton’s Tings represent another facet of the techcessories trend in that they converge functionality with superfluous aesthetics. “When I initially designed [the Tings,] they struck me as being ridiculously luxe — yet I found them to be completely necessary, as I had become so used to carrying my phone that way,” she tells TZR. “I think [String Tings] are split between design and function, like a bag,” likens Steed-Middleton. “What we have created is essentially functional jewelry for your phone. They are designed to be worn and used — they aren't just decorative,” emphasizes the designer.
However, practicality is not a required attribute of a techcessory. Savannah Hudson, a self-described “analog girl in a digital world” and Instagram-approved cool girl, takes blurry selfies while iPod shuffles clip back her face-framing layers. Hudson, who also makes pop-adjacent synth music in the band BETWEEN FRIENDS, also frequently sports the work of Corrina Goutos, an artist who integrates 2010s-era tech into wearable art and jewelry. (Dua Lipa, too, is also an admirer of Goutos, particularly her diamond-encrusted wired headphone choker necklace.)
Wearing archaic tech purely for the sake of it adds another layer to the niche accessorizing trend: “Using technology in a solely ornamental way, like repurposing iPod Shuffles as hair barrettes, is a more playful take on tech nostalgia,” offers Sherbert. “It veers into the territory of the absurd, which serves a dual purpose on social media, as it makes for unique, eye-catching content.”
Further, viewing the overarching techcessories trend through a wider lens also signals something much more insidious than iPod hair barrettes or bedazzled Tamagotchis. The metaverse is here; its looming takeover is no longer just the subject of abstract think pieces. Society is tumbling headfirst into a new frontier, and, historically, the technological unknown has caused apprehension for the masses.
Consider how, when the new millennium dawned, a frenzy known as the Y2K bug instilled a fear that a tech-induced apocalypse would irreparably alter the world forever. Sherbert posits the vertiginous ascent of the metaverse may be having a similar effect, causing people to seek out familiar tech as a means to combat these anxieties. “The metaverse can be intimidating and confusing, whereas a less-is-more approach to tech, or a shift towards older models like low-tech phones and wired headphones, feels familiar, dependable and easy to use,” she presents.
Sherbert elaborates by saying that “[vintage tech carries] nostalgic, positive associations from a more carefree time in our lives,” providing a soothing capacity many don’t anticipate to find in the inevitable all-virtual future. Specifically, Sherbert says, “early 2000s tech was influenced by the Y2K aesthetic, which visually conveyed optimism about the future of technology.” Thus, “engaging with Y2K aesthetics is a way for people to tap into feeling excited about the future of technology, rather than scared of it,” offers the culture expert.
Lastly, retro-inspired techcessories are tactile. The trend conjures vivid memories of clicking skip on your iPod nano or snapping a CD into place inside your Sony Discman. You can feel wired headphones around your neck and play with the beads of a phone strap on your wrist — you cannot grab hold of an NFT Birkin Bag. And for those who aren’t quite ready to exist in the metaverse, resurrecting a piece of technology that you can hold in your hands can feel like taking control of your reality. Using vintage tech relics signals a conscious uncoupling from modernity, which, considering the onslaught of futuristic innovation, is certainly a form of rebellion.
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