Dua Lipa proves that AirPods will never be as cool as Apple's classic wired headphones

Fashion is a cycle, and wired is cool again, apparently

Apple EarPods on black background
(Image credit: Future)

Since Apple's original AirPods suddenly pushed totally wireless earbuds into the mainstream, true wireless has become the dominant type of headphones sold, with AirPods themselves being the single biggest seller.

Why have Apple's models had such longevity when there's not just great competition, but so much competition? It's because they're the only ones that have ever had any fashion status attached to them. They're the only ones that have ever been specifically cool to own and wear.

But ironically, they'll never be as cool as the pair of headphones they've replaced – the headphones that are actually the reason AirPods have ever been cool: Apple's in-ear headphones.

The latest proof of this is found in Dua Lipa's accessorising during Milan Fashion Week, where her use of a pair of Apple EarPods as a pendant earned a whole article from Vogue (and, er, now T3 also). 

And the Vogue article points out that model Bella Hadid was snapped with the iconic white cable and headphones in the recent past, at a time long past when someone with Bella Hadid's money should have been upgrading to wireless headphones.

It all traces back to the iconic iPod advert in 2003, with the dancing silhouettes and their white cables. Apple's headphones became a symbol of forward-thinkingness; then everyone bought an iPod and they became a symbol of conformity; then they just became a normal boring object people had… then AirPods came along and took the same shape but dropped the cable, and they were back to being that forward-thinking symbol. Kids would cut the cables off the EarPods they had lying around and didn't use, so they could ride the new fashion/status train.

Fashion tends to be cyclical, so here we are again – after 5 years of true wireless headphones being cool, they're becoming boring. 2003's looks are coming back all over the place (I literally cannot believe people have dredged boot-cut jeans back up, but so it goes), and so have wires.

If Dua Lipa had simply worn some wireless headphones, no one would comment. This is a reminder that twenty years after their introduction, Apple's white headphones have taken on a significance beyond their purpose. They're an object associated with music, and having a more visible and more physical form than wireless headphones makes them more recognisable, and so more enduring, than AirPods 3 could ever be.

I'm firmly of the opinion that if something must take up physical space, then it should be an appealing physical object. A lot of tech – including many wireless earbuds – just aims for being minimal, but it can never hide completely, so it might as well own the fact of its own existence.

It's why the Samsung Frame TVs have been such a big hit – instead of trying to reduce bezels to nothing and slimming as much as possible, these introduce a deliberate physical look. The best that most TVs can hope for is to be unobtrusive, but The Frame would like you to actually find it pleasant, and to complement your decor, not shrink apologetically away from it.

Lots of people choose flashy and large headphones for this reason – where would Beats be without this impulse? – but as wireless earbuds get smaller and smaller, they'll inevitable become less and less cool.

Ironically, the wired headphones will only become more cool as they become more obsolete, like a classic car. Although unlike a classic car, you can just pop to the Apple Store and buy a set of your own to dangle around your collar.

Matthew Bolton

Matt is T3's former AV and Smart Home Editor (UK), master of all things audiovisual, overseeing our TV, speakers and headphones coverage. He also covered smart home products and large appliances, as well as our toys and games articles. He's can explain both what Dolby Vision IQ is and why the Lego you're building doesn't fit together the way the instructions say, so is truly invaluable. Matt has worked for tech publications for over 10 years, in print and online, including running T3's print magazine and launching its most recent redesign. He's also contributed to a huge number of tech and gaming titles over the years. Say hello if you see him roaming the halls at CES, IFA or Toy Fair. Matt now works for our sister title TechRadar.