Plug into the fashion world and you’ll see old tech styled in new ways.
Wired headphones are now necklaces, iPod Shuffles have transformed to hair clips, and those Tekno Robot Cat toys you used to love are being incorporated into dresses. Old technology made obsolete by the ever-evolving market has found new purpose as statement-making fashion accessories, reflecting a widespread nostalgia for the early aughts and its maximalist personal expression.
In the 2000s, having your own phone or laptop still felt new and exciting, a feeling elevated by tech’s more diverse aesthetics of the time. iPods, a now-discontinued gadget, were offered in an array of colors, while flip phones were often personalized with charms and rhinestones. At the time, owning either product was considered as much of a status symbol as a Juicy Couture bag, preferably one with a small pooch inside. Paris Hilton was rarely seen without her pink Razr phone, which she held up to cameras or flaunted in the pockets of her mini skirts.
The same ethos 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’ whopping price tag and sleek minimalistic design is something to show off, similar to past listening devices like the Walkman. But the AirPods Max don’t offer the same flair (or feeling) as the over-the-top tech of the ‘00s, leaving some consumers to reject modern electronics in favor of older pieces more capable of expressing their individuality.
Aged electronics have a less-is-more approach to tech, although Myra Magdalen’s tech-infused outfits imply the opposite. The artist and designer, who boasts over 350,000 followers on TikTok, has styled everything from iPods to iDogs. After thrifting a number of old keyboards around the fall of 2021, Magdalen felt an urge to use the pieces as wall decor. She didn’t think much of her interior design, but TikTok loved it.
“I thought no one really noticed [the keyboards] or cared,” says Magdalen, who films most of her videos against her keyboard-studded wall. “And then one day I filmed a video and there were hundreds of comments about the keyboards.”
Still, the keyboards are one of the tamer looks on Magdalen’s page. An ordinary outfit for her includes plenty of wires, outlets, watches, and remote controls, the latter of which was the first piece of tech she styled on herself. “I’ve always had a weird sense of style — not just fashion-wise but home decor-wise too,” Magdalen says. “I just wanted to experiment with getting to wear [tech] on my body.”
She noticed a remote control she owned matched the colors of an outfit she was wearing, incorporated it, and never looked back. “If you’re someone who does a lot of thrifting, you see [old tech] all the time,” Magdalen says. “And being anyone that’s really creative or artistic, you see discarded stuff and think, ‘what can I do with that?’”
Themed outfits are unavoidable for Magdalen. “I’ll see a specific piece in my closet that I’ve thrifted and want to have everything match it… then it just starts to snowball,” she says. So far, she’s styled looks entirely around outlets, keyboards, remotes, CDs, and a lunchbox commemorating the classic 2008 film Twilight. A recent outfit of hers includes two RoboCat toys (popular in the early ‘00s) strapped to herself with wires and chasing a computer mouse.
Magdalen’s creative looks get 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 house. Based in Alabama, Magdalen says most of the comments she receives are about her height (6’3”). Being that tall will make a person stand out regardless, and Magdalen says that gives her the “false confidence to wear weird things.”
While Magdalen considers tech a part of her personal style rather than a trend, she thinks others have been drawn to outdated electronics as part of a Y2K resurgence. Sassy graphic tees, mini skirts, and low-rise jeans have already returned to fashion, as have trucker hats and playful prints. People may be nostalgic for simpler times (and tech) as seen in shows like Lizzie McGuire and Zoey 101, Magdalen says, and some still own the electronics they grew up with. She says an iDog she styled in one of her looks was in fact, 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 tech rather than frightened by it. Reviving such pieces, ones we can physically hold in our hands, brings people back to that era and offers a sense of control. Though we may no longer be 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 of tech is an amenity.
A quick scroll through Clee McCracken’s Instagram or TikTok — the latter of which boasts over 26,000 followers — illustrates their @clockluvr username. For the artist and designer, indulging in discarded technology, specifically clocks, evokes a sense of comfort. “My thing is that I’m trying to be as extreme in my obsession with clocks as possible,” McCracken tells Input. “So I’m trying to incorporate them into every aspect of my life.”
Since watching The Clock by Christian Marclay in 2014, McCracken has fully integrated clocks into their aesthetic. They started out their timepiece obsession with themed clothing, as it was the easiest way to show off to others, before eventually moving on to homewear, wall clocks, and watches. Today, they own about 50 wall clocks, over 100 watches (30 functioning and roughly 100 broken ones to embellish pieces with), hundreds of clock-printed garments, and around 100 timepiece-themed home goods 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 “clock-ier,” the better, they add.
They can usually be seen wearing a timepiece on their wrist — the typical way — although McCracken is anything but typical. The artist, who works a handful of day jobs to support themself, turns clocks found on the internet and thrift stores into jewelry or sews them into clothing. “We live in a time with so much stuff,” they say, noting the amount of technology waste they see while seeking out old timepieces. “Technology’s moving so fast that things become worthless so quickly.” Clocks themselves are beginning to become obsolete thanks to phones and other digital devices.
The reduced price of old tech could be why people are assigning a new purpose to it, says McCracken, who recalls saving up $250 for an iPod Nano when they were younger. People are thrifting (and reselling) electronics now more than ever, they add, making the pieces more accessible than a pair of AirPods Max. The latter’s “flat and utilitarian” look isn’t nearly as appealing as the futuristic design of early tech, which McCracken says had a “wild west” feel — as in, anything goes. The larger Y2K resurgence proves people are craving fun fashion, including wearing wired headphones as a necklace or reconstructing watches as jewelry.
There’s a certain comfort in clocks and their tick-tocking for McCracken, especially in timepieces that showcase old shows or cartoon characters. After a tumultuous few years, they (and everyone else) seem to be seeking a sense of familiarity. And as the metaverse becomes less avoidable and hence, more daunting, plugging into old tech and styling it offers a feeling of ease. Older models are familiar to users; Web3 is not.
Wearing discontinued electronics isn’t just about rejecting modernity and “embracing tradition,” though. Styling tech questions what can and can’t be considered clothing, a concept already questioned by digital-only fashion. And while the pieces being showcased by Magdalen and McCracken may be older, their looks are futuristic, rebooting a tired fashion industry.