Style Upgrades: Fashion’s Love Affair with Retro Tech

Published 06 March 2023

6 min read

As nostalgia-fuelled Y2K continues to influence Gen Z style, vintage-inspired tech accessories are bringing a retro flair to IRL outfits. Old-school devices like flip phones, digital cameras and wired headphones are staging a comeback, and new gadgets are receiving maximalist fashion-conscious upgrades – think crochet covers and rhinestone embellishments. 

Antisocial Media

Antisocial Media

Tired of having social media permeate every aspect of life, always-online Gen Zers are leaving their iPhones at home, and turning to low-tech flip phones that relieve the pressure of constant image sharing, allowing them to live in the moment instead. Concurrently, they’re also quickly becoming must-have props for online fit checks.

Unboxing videos of endlessly nostalgia-inducing mobile models like the Motorola Razr – which debuted in 2005 and was recently revived as a smartphone – have been taking TikTok by storm. They’ve also been popping up in music videos from viral artists like Brooke Candy (US) and Sunmi (South Korea). In fact, online sales of flip phones in the US increased by 218% in August 2022 (Klarna, 2022).

Also tapping into the slow media trend, Bella Hadid and other celebs have been spotted snapping pics on the digital cameras that were ubiquitous during the halcyon days of the internet. Underpinning fashion’s indie sleaze revival, digital cameras turn memory-making into a tactile experience and are responsible for the uptick in messily imperfect imagery (and seemingly uncurated outfits) circulating the web.

Tired of having social media permeate every aspect of life, always-online Gen Zers are leaving their iPhones at home, and turning to low-tech flip phones that relieve the pressure of constant image sharing, allowing them to live in the moment instead. Concurrently, they’re also quickly becoming must-have props for online fit checks.

Unboxing videos of endlessly nostalgia-inducing mobile models like the Motorola Razr – which debuted in 2005 and was recently revived as a smartphone – have been taking TikTok by storm. They’ve also been popping up in music videos from viral artists like Brooke Candy (US) and Sunmi (South Korea). In fact, online sales of flip phones in the US increased by 218% in August 2022 (Klarna, 2022).

Also tapping into the slow media trend, Bella Hadid and other celebs have been spotted snapping pics on the digital cameras that were ubiquitous during the halcyon days of the internet. Underpinning fashion’s indie sleaze revival, digital cameras turn memory-making into a tactile experience and are responsible for the uptick in messily imperfect imagery (and seemingly uncurated outfits) circulating the web.

Plugged-In Perfection

Plugged-In Perfection

Wired headphones were declared the new it-girl accessory back in 2021, and Gen Z favourites like Jenna Ortega and Lily Rose Depp kept the trend alive with their plugged-in looks. So much so that Klarna named ‘vintage tech’ one of 2022’s key fashion trends, with global online sales of wired headphones jumping 317% year-on-year (Klarna, 2022).

Instagram account @wireditgirls shares a mix of street-style shots of celebs wearing the wires, retro pics of people listening to Walkmen, and other nostalgia-inspired tech faves making the rounds. See Koss, a 50-year-old headphone brand that’s found the spotlight recently thanks to Emma Chamberlain endorsements and a cult-like fan following, with 10.3 million views on TikTok.

And then there’s the ubiquitous AirPods Max from Apple, seen on the likes of everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Timothée Chalamet. As a logical next evolution of the wired trend, the tiny AirPod has been replaced by the chunky over-ear headphone, meshing with the oversized-everything landscape of cartoonish proportions and phygital aesthetics dominating runways and street style alike - read The Brief for more.

Beyond Apple, smaller designers are creating unique headphones that tap into hyper-niche aesthetics, using the larger surface of over-ears as a canvas. Look to the explosive 3D designs from up-and-coming creator Drew, the softly psychedelic crocheted looks from Alexandria Masse, and the anime-approved headphones from “robot artist” Yūn.

Wired headphones were declared the new it-girl accessory back in 2021, and Gen Z favourites like Jenna Ortega and Lily Rose Depp kept the trend alive with their plugged-in looks. So much so that Klarna named ‘vintage tech’ one of 2022’s key fashion trends, with global online sales of wired headphones jumping 317% year-on-year (Klarna, 2022).

Instagram account @wireditgirls shares a mix of street-style shots of celebs wearing the wires, retro pics of people listening to Walkmen, and other nostalgia-inspired tech faves making the rounds. See Koss, a 50-year-old headphone brand that’s found the spotlight recently thanks to Emma Chamberlain endorsements and a cult-like fan following, with 10.3 million views on TikTok.

And then there’s the ubiquitous AirPods Max from Apple, seen on the likes of everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Timothée Chalamet. As a logical next evolution of the wired trend, the tiny AirPod has been replaced by the chunky over-ear headphone, meshing with the oversized-everything landscape of cartoonish proportions and phygital aesthetics dominating runways and street style alike - read The Brief for more.

Beyond Apple, smaller designers are creating unique headphones that tap into hyper-niche aesthetics, using the larger surface of over-ears as a canvas. Look to the explosive 3D designs from up-and-coming creator Drew, the softly psychedelic crocheted looks from Alexandria Masse, and the anime-approved headphones from “robot artist” Yūn.

Decorative Delights

Decorative Delights

Ornamental add-ons bring kitsch and nostalgia to more contemporary tech devices, while also allowing for constant customisation. This is paramount not only for Gen Zers, who view their phones as extensions of themselves, but also for the age of the mirror selfie, where a phone is just as important to an Instagram composition as the outfit is.

LA brand Wildflower Cases (founded by it-girl sisters Devon and Sydney Carlson) and London-based String Ting bring a McBling-era, retro edge to modern tech by way of Lisa Frank-esque designs on phone and AirPod covers and handmade-style phone charms. Meanwhile, TikTokkers like Emma Lauren Fasulo take a DIY approach by bedazzling retro phones at home, and Kawaii-influenced kits are all the rage on craft sites like Etsy.

As the line between on- and offline lives becomes increasingly blurred for Gen Zers, consumer tech – and the corresponding accessories – are serving just as much of a sartorial purpose as a pragmatic one. Look no further than major labels like Prada and Jacquemus, as well as more niche brands like Milan-based knitwear specialist Alanui, which have already begun to capitalise on this burgeoning accessory category.

Ornamental add-ons bring kitsch and nostalgia to more contemporary tech devices, while also allowing for constant customisation. This is paramount not only for Gen Zers, who view their phones as extensions of themselves, but also for the age of the mirror selfie, where a phone is just as important to an Instagram composition as the outfit is.

LA brand Wildflower Cases (founded by it-girl sisters Devon and Sydney Carlson) and London-based String Ting bring a McBling-era, retro edge to modern tech by way of Lisa Frank-esque designs on phone and AirPod covers and handmade-style phone charms. Meanwhile, TikTokkers like Emma Lauren Fasulo take a DIY approach by bedazzling retro phones at home, and Kawaii-influenced kits are all the rage on craft sites like Etsy.

As the line between on- and offline lives becomes increasingly blurred for Gen Zers, consumer tech – and the corresponding accessories – are serving just as much of a sartorial purpose as a pragmatic one. Look no further than major labels like Prada and Jacquemus, as well as more niche brands like Milan-based knitwear specialist Alanui, which have already begun to capitalise on this burgeoning accessory category.

Want to know more?

This article is an example of Stylus' expert research into how trends are evolving. Get in touch so someone from the Stylus team can explain how your business can harness the power of trends and insights like these – and more.

Want to know more?

This article is an example of Stylus' expert research into how trends are evolving. Get in touch so someone from the Stylus team can explain how your business can harness the power of trends and insights like these – and more.