In 1983, almost 40 years after the invention of its 80-lb precursor—the car phone—the course of history was forever altered with the creation of the first real mobile phone. With a distinct and cordless freedom separate from the automobile accessory, she was the Motorola DynaTAC 800x: clunky (weighing in at just over 2 pounds), expensive (costing almost $4,000), and somewhat unrealistic (taking 10 hours to charge for a whopping 30 minutes of battery life) but, nevertheless, iconic. Who would have thought that within less than two decades, the identity of the mobile phone would expand from being solely a piece of machinery to a full-blown fashion statement?
Back when it was first exhibited, the mobile phone was pretty much inaccessible due to its high cost and the minimal amount produced. Naturally, due to its inherent exclusivity, it was seen as a status symbol- if one had a mobile phone, one was cool. Pop culture took advantage of this, conflating the cell phone with the protagonist. In Saved By The Bell, heartthrob Zack Morris was famously known for his brick cell phone, which evolved throughout the span of the show (1989-1993) but always remained largely brick-like.
Over time, as phones physically shrunk, their accessibility grew. Around the late 1990s and early 2000s, the general public got ahold of phones and popular culture began to see the smaller, chicer cell phone in film, television, and celebrity. One of the first shows that inspired the association of the cell phone with sophistication was Sex in the City in 1998, when It girl and known fashion legend Carrie Bradshaw was often spotted talking into her flip phone and holding a shopping bag while parading down the streets of Manhattan.
Nearly a decade later, in 2006, The Devil Wears Prada presented Anne Hathaway as Andy, a recent college graduate that becomes the hardworking assistant to evil fashion editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). The T Mobile Sidekick played an essential role in the movie, as Andy is always seen holding it or talking into it, constantly called by her boss to run fashion errands throughout the 110 minute flick. Intentional or not, The Devil Wears Prada was influential in the cell phone becoming a symbol of the working woman. It was a badge of personal aspiration, productivity, and, most importantly, New York City chichi.
Though popular culture had always glorified the cell phone as an item of desire, it really wasn't until Paris Hilton's bedazzled flip phones of the early 2000s that the cell phone's role as a flat out, purposeful fashion accessory was cemented. The hotel heiress was often snapped rocking an iconic pink, sleek-looking Motorola Razr, a phone that was first released in 2004. Soon after, Hilton and her clique—the likes of Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, moved on to their beloved T-Mobile Sidekicks no thanks to the MySpace rage of the time.
Shortly after the bedazzled Razr and its cherished predecessor, the Sidekick, came the colored BlackBerry. Then the only phone to offer email access on-the-go, it was the first real smartphone of its kind. The invention, which came handy with a typeable QWERTY keyboard, was basically made for messaging on Blackberry's own instant messaging service—BBM. The exclusivity brought on by this secret world of messaging, long before iMessage, made the BlackBerry irresistible to the general public and celebrities alike: you could only BBM someone if you both had BlackBerrys. In 2008, Kim Kardashian even hosted an exclusive launch party for the BlackBerry 8330 Pink Curve, holding it on the Verizon red carpet for all to see.
In the last decade or so, Apple has come to rule the universe of technology and all that it encompasses, with the iPhones specifically becoming more than just a means of communication but also a symbol of personal style and individuality. Celebrities are often papped holding their iPhones, clad in unique protective holders, in what comes across as an intentional, even integral, part of their streetwear look. Fashion designer mogul Victoria Beckham famously uses an iPhone case engraved with her initials that goes for upwards of $200 while Kardashian West has frequented a furry Wild and Woolly holder that goes for twice that. The list goes on and on.
Designer phone cases have even begun to appear on the high fashion runway. For Fall/Winter 2013, Kenneth Cole's first New York Fashion Week show in five years, models walked down the runway while checking their phones. While, more recently, a model walked down Prada's Fall/Winter 2018 runway with a sleek designer phone case dangling from a chain around his neck (a far jump from the Prada-designed LG phone in 2007).
Though the iPhone is still undeniably popular, today a substantial wave of nostalgia has many returning to phones of the past. Samsung, for example, recently announced that they are bringing back a foldable device remnant of old flip phones. And remember that T-Mobile Sidekick that celebrities adored so much in the early 2000s? Back by popular demand, it saw a reboot last year. Nokia has even recently re-released the "banana phone," a yellow slider phone that was featured in The Matrix (1999) and popular in the late '90s to early 2000s. Its new slogan? "For the originals."
So, when it comes down to it, what really differentiates the cell phone from any other fashion accessory? It is a decorative item that is used to compliment one's outfit. It shows one's personality, expressing their unique individuality. It can be subtle or it can be loud, colorful or monotone. It has even been debuted on the designer runway during Fashion Week. The cell phone, whether antique or contemporary, is undeniably en vogue. Oh, and don't forget, it can make calls, too.