Plug into the fashion world and you’ll see old technology styled in new ways.
Wired headphones are now necklaces, iPod Shuffles have turned into hair clips, and those Tekno Robot Cat toys you once loved are incorporated into dresses. Old technology rendered obsolete by the ever-changing market has found new purpose as statement-making fashion accessories, reflecting a widespread nostalgia for the early years and maximalist self-expression.
In the 2000s, having your own phone or laptop still seemed new and exciting, a feeling elevated by the more diverse aesthetics of technology at the time. iPods, a now discontinued gadget, came in a range of colors, while flip phones were often personalized with charms and rhinestones. Back then, owning either product was seen as a status symbol like a Juicy Couture bag, preferably with a small dog inside. Paris Hilton has rarely been seen without her pink Razr phone, which she held in front of cameras or displayed in the pockets of her miniskirts.
The same philosophy could apply to current electronics like the AirPods Max, a $550 pair of Apple headphones dominating TikTok as the next “it” accessory. For many, the headphones’ exorbitant price and sleek minimalist design is something to show off, similar to older listening devices like the Walkman. But the AirPods Max don’t offer the same flair (or feel) as the over-the-top tech of the 2000s, leaving some consumers tossing off modern electronics in favor of older pieces more capable of expressing their individuality.
To light up
Aging electronics has a less-is-more approach to tech, though Myra Magdalen’s tech-infused outfits imply the opposite. The artist and designer, who has more than 350,000 followers on TikTok, has styled everything from iPods to iDogs. After saving a number of old keyboards around fall 2021, Magdalen felt the need to use the pieces as wall decor. She didn’t think much about her interior design, but TikTok loved it.
“I thought no one had really noticed [the keyboards] or worried,” says Magdalen, who shoots most of her videos against her keyboard-studded wall. “And then one day I filmed a video and there were hundreds of keyboard comments.”
Still, the keyboards are one of the more tame looks on Magdalen’s page. A regular outfit for her includes lots of wires, plugs, watches, and remotes, the latter being the first tech she got her hair done. “I’ve always had a weird sense of style – not just in terms of fashion, but also when it comes to interior design,” says Magdalen. “I just wanted to try to wear [tech] on my body.”
She noticed that a remote control she owned matched the colors of an outfit she was wearing, incorporated it, and never looked back. “If you are someone who saves a lot, you see [old tech] all the time,” says Magdalen. “And being someone who’s really creative or artistic, you see things being thrown around and you think, ‘what can I do with this?'”
Thematic outfits are a must for Madeleine. “I see a specific piece in my closet that I saved and I want everything to match…then it starts to snowball,” she says. So far she’s all styled around sockets, keyboards, remotes, CDs and a lunch box commemorating the classic 2008 film Dusk. One of her recent outfits features two RoboCat toys (popular in the early 2000s) attached to herself with wires and chasing a computer mouse.
Magdalen’s creative looks are getting a lot of attention (both good and bad) on TikTok, but she doesn’t seem to get the same reaction when wearing her outfits outside the home. Alabama-based Magdalen says most of the comments she gets are about her height (6’3″). Being that tall will make a person stand out regardless, and Magdalen says it gives her the “false confidence to wear strange things”.
While Magdalen sees technology as part of her personal style rather than a trend, she thinks others have been drawn to outdated electronics as part of a year 2000 resurgence. sassy graphics, mini skirts and low rise jeans have already come back into vogue, as have trucker hats and playful prints. People can be nostalgic for simpler times (and technology), as seen on shows like Lizzie McGuire and Zoe 101, says Magdalen, and some still own the electronics they grew up with. She says an iDog she styled in one of her looks was actually the one she played with as a kid.
For many, older technology seems to symbolize a simpler time, one that felt excited about the future of technology rather than scared of it. Reviving such pieces, the ones we can physically hold in our hands, brings people back to that time and provides a sense of control. While we’re no longer able to close a flip phone at the end of a call, we can still channel its aesthetic by wearing one on our hip. The same goes for iPods and old watches. In a highly digitized world, the simplest technology is a convenience.
A quick scroll through Clee McCracken’s Instagram or TikTok — the latter with over 26,000 followers — illustrates their username @clockluvr. For the artist and designer, indulging in discarded technology, especially clocks, evokes a sense of comfort. “My thing is, I try to be as extreme as possible in my obsession with clocks,” McCracken said. To input. “So I try to integrate them into all aspects of my life.”
Since I watched The clock by Christian Marclay in 2014, McCracken has fully integrated clocks into their aesthetic. They started their horological obsession with themed clothing, as it was the easiest way to show off to others, before eventually moving on to loungewear, wall clocks and watches. Today, they have about 50 wall clocks, over 100 watches (30 working and about 100 broken to spruce up rooms), hundreds of clock-printed garments, and about 100 clock-themed housewares and books. . “My end goal is for everything I own to be clock-centric,” McCracken says. “I try to wear as many clocks as possible [at once].” The “higher the clock” the better, they add.
They can usually be seen wearing a watch on their wrist – the typical way – although McCracken is anything but typical. The artist, who works a handful of day jobs to support himself, turns clocks found on the internet and in thrift stores into jewelry or sews them into clothes. “We live in a time where there’s so much stuff,” they say, noting the amount of tech trash they see when looking for old watches. “Technology moves so fast that things lose their value so quickly.” Clocks themselves are starting to become obsolete thanks to phones and other digital devices.
The reduced price of old technology might be why people give it a new purpose, says McCracken, who remembers saving $250 for an iPod Nano when they were younger. People are saving (and reselling) electronics now more than ever, they add, making parts more accessible than a pair of AirPods Max. The latter’s “flat, utilitarian” look isn’t quite as appealing as the futuristic design of the earlier tech, which McCracken says had a “wild west” feel – as in, anything goes. The larger resurgence of the year 2000 proves that people are craving fun fashion, including wearing wired headphones as necklaces or reconstructing watches as jewelry.
There’s a certain comfort in clocks and their ticking for McCracken, especially timepieces that feature old shows or cartoon characters. After a tumultuous few years, they (and everyone else) seem to crave a sense of familiarity. And as the Metaverse becomes less avoidable and therefore more intimidating, plugging into old tech and style feels easier. Older models are familiar to users; Web3 is not.
However, wearing discarded electronics isn’t just about rejecting modernity and “embracing tradition.” Style technology is challenging what can and cannot be considered clothing, a concept already challenged by digital-only fashion. And while the pieces featured by Magdalen and McCracken may be older, their looks are futuristic, rebooting a tired fashion industry.