Fashion Cycles of the Cell Phone: History Tells All

Posted on September 26, 2012 by casepops | 0 Comments

James Laver, an English art historian and author of Taste and Fashion (published 1945) developed a “law” of the cycle of fashion as follows:

After our post on Fashion and Technology, we got to thinking that this cycle might apply to technology just as well as fashion. With the recent release of the iPhone 5, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the history of cell phone fashion to see which originally “high tech” phones have reached the point of “romantic” or “dowdy.”  This is of course our own opinion, so if you have other examples, submit them in the comments below! Also, needless to say, cell phones haven't been around long enough to go back 150 years in time. The selections below are therefore not chronologically accurate but fun...


If "indecent" means 10 years before it's time, then this phone might just be the definition. Who would have ever predicted that our phones would go from huge to tiny and then back to huge? Well, the Galaxy Note II (scheduled for release in the US this fall) marks this trend clearly. This thing is huge!  If you can’t palm a basketball you may not be able to hold this to your ears without two hands. It'll definitely be useful for taking notes and watching movies. (via Cnet)


Vertu Boucheron. Solid gold phone. What an opportunity they had! How did it turn out looking like a crumpled paper bag?  We don’t think this one will make its way through the fashion cycle. Mr. Laver forgot to make a fashion cycle category called “bling”  for this bad boy! Via Engadget


history of iphone cell phones

AKA “cutting edge.”  The iPhone 5. Though, in a year everyone will have one, and it will drop into the “current” fashion cycle, below. Get it now, and you’re ahead of the curve. Image via TechRadar


history of iphone cell phones

iPhone 4S. Sleek and useful, but widely used and accepted. This is a “smart” look. Not too trendy, but certainly not outdated…yet. Give Apple a couple more years, though, and this will quickly drop down a few fashion cycles.


fashion history of cell phone blackberry

Blackberry. Long-time must-have for the high-power professional (or even if you just wanted to look important). Has since trickled down to the high school-age kids. Really, is HS that hectic these days?


fashion history of cell phone nokia

Nokia 3300. Am I playing video games or making a call?! (Inspiration for Nokia phones thanks to an incredible photo history found on While "hideous" might be a bit harsh...somehow, someone designed a phone that looked like an old SEGA or Nintendo controller from ages ago!


Okay, we had to post this. We all know Zach Morris from "Saved By the Bell," but his clunker cell phone might be even more infamous. This thing is the definition of ridiculous but back then he made it look cool!


samsung history of cell phones

Samsung Trill. Buttons, buttons everywhere!  These slider phones are totally fun to play with.


motorolla flip phone history

Motorola flip phone. Remember when these were so cool because they were so compact compared to the generation of brick phones that came before?  It was nice when girls could finally fit their phones in their clutch! How quaint they seem now.


Nokia 5110. Ok we think its charming because this was one of our first phones and cell phones became more fashionable!  You have to admit this phone is pretty iconic. And those colors! They even sold different skins for the front!


Car phone. It was a thing we all thought only came in Limousines or in Michael Corleone's car. It was for jet setters in the 80's, gangsters from the Godfather or that Grey Poupon commercial people.  Who would have thought 30 years later we would all be carrying a phone in our pockets? That's why the car phone was Romanic, it was classy and cool.


Fashion is supposed to become beautiful after 150 years? Cell phones haven’t been around long enough! Although, come to think of it Apple, might have created a beautiful cell phone 150 years before its time. But, when we look back at old Best Buy ads a century from now, do you think the iPhone will stand the test of time?

cell phones from 1996

Have a good phone for any of these categories? Post below! We'd love to hear from you.


Written by Christiana Lackner, graduate student in Interaction Design at Carnegie Mellon University, lover of beautifully and smartly designed things, member of the Casepops team.

Featured image via:

Posted in cell phones, design, fashion, Fashion, History, iPhone, technology, Technology, zack morris

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