Gen Z Is Making Wired Headphones Cool Again

Gen Zers are ditching their AirPods in favor of "vintage" wired earbuds

Apple wired headphones on a pink background.
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A few years ago my wired Apple headphones were nearing the end of their life, so I decided to treat myself to the fairly new AirPods most people were raving about at the time. I was pretty stoked for my first ever pair of wireless earbuds, mainly because my corded ones were wreaking havoc on my life: getting tangled in my hair, my bag straps and whatever else I was carrying. I was ready for a life free of tiny white ropes.

And that’s how life has been for the past five years or so. AirPods and other, competitive earbuds have reigned supreme, to the point where there was an entire meme that equated owning AirPods with being extravagantly wealthy.

But the empire might now be coming to an end, because Gen Z is rejecting modernity and embracing tradition by attempting to bring back wired headphones. According to Mashable, wired earbuds are the “must-have accessory for fall,” with all of the “It” girls ditching their wireless headphones in favor of the plug.

If you happen to frequent TikTok, you may have come across one or two videos of trend forecasters or users with their finger on the pulse of celeb, fashion and internet trends explaining the recent wired comeback. TikTok user @thedigifairy, who documents internet and youth trends on the video-sharing app, posted a TikTok video last month explaining how and why wired headphones are making a comeback, pointing to “It” girls like Bella Hadid, Lily-Rose Depp and Zoe Kravitz all sporting their modest buds.

“My theory is that wearing wireless headphones destroys the aesthetic of listening to music. And listening to music was a literal aesthetic in the 2010s … and now that 2010s Tumblr culture is having a huge revival it makes sense that wire headphones will be a part of that,” @thedigifairy explained in the video.

“Wearing wired headphones also says, ‘I prefer the simple things in life I can’t be bothered to keep up with technology and like iPads.’ It’s also like the weird 2020s equivalent of how being into vinyl records was really cool and aesthetic in the 2010s.”

We know Gen Z is quite enamored by vintage styles. Y2K and ’90s fashion have completely dominated the current trend cycle, and while it was only a decade ago, 2010-2016’s “indie sleaze” aesthetic is now making a resurgence, which, as the @thedigifairy noted, could be a part of the reason why wired headphones are having their comeback. As Mashable writes, they also make a particular statement: “A person wearing wired headphones is disassociating themselves from modern trends altogether. They want to be plugged into simpler times.”

One 14-year-old went so far as to tell the website, “If you want to have a good sense of style or be indie, then you might use wired headphones.”

As a Gen-Zer myself, I typically don’t mind the trends my generation wants to bring back into the zeitgeist, and often wish older generations would quit sneering at the youths for the resurgence of old-school styles. Fashion is cyclical; deal with it.

All that said, the idea that wired earphones are now considered a “vintage accessory” does make me a bit queasy. Sorry kids, but you’ll have to pry my AirPods from my cold, dead hands.

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