There’s a fine line between innovation and industrial castoff. And when it comes to hair ties, it can be hard to tell the difference. Hair tie consumers are given the repackaged snipped-off ends of nylon stockings and told they’re the new thing in “anti-breakage” hair-holding technology. Those sad elastic “ribbon ties” that were hot a few years ago never dropped below $6 a piece, despite looking like something you’d seal a bag of bread with. It was all too easy to believe that hoax going around a few years ago that a condom factory was repurposing its “seconds” into hair bands. That’s just the typical way new hair tie “tech” gets discovered—whatever’s on the cutting room floor, loop it around and send it off to Sephora.
This model hasn’t really changed, but something good finally came out of it. It’s not a single product as much as an emerging genre. I’m calling it the Telephone Cord Tie. (An example of one here). It’s made wholly of that corkscrew plastic that you remember dangling off the kitchen landline. Or, if you’re #GenerationZ, maybe you don’t. (I highly doubt that the raw material is sourced from shuttering landline-manufacturing facilities, but it’s sort of romantic and sad to imagine it—scroungers and opportunists stripping out copper wires, rolling around in old office chairs, and someone finding a ream of unused telephone cord and thinking, “Of course!” And then cutting them up into circles and selling them to girls who owned a cell phone at nine.)
Regardless of their exact point and place of origin, this is one of those wonky-looking “upcycled” hair ties that actually does something different. Due to the cord’s corkscrew nature, hair is gripped and dispersed more seamlessly when wound up inside. The idea is to eliminate that one single nape-of-the-neck wave you get when you undo a bun or ponytail that’s been wrapped up all day (especially potent in buns assembled damp). As someone who can’t imagine any future or parallel universe in which I don’t emerge from the house every morning with wet-to-damp hair, this uni-wave trouble has plagued me for some time. I thought it would for more or less ever, and that’d I’d have to think of it as the “modern Bacall” instead of just a sad, damp crinkle. That is, until I went to Korea.
One thing about hair in Seoul: it’s almost universally worn down. Even when warm. Even during the morning commute. I was obviously an exception to the standard, and, being generally a low-pony-er, thought that maybe I didn’t have much to learn from all the girls walking around with thick, shiny, actually cascading hair. That is, until I bought a pack of these telephone ties at Olive Young. They look a little silly, packed three in a plastic sleeve, but I found that a dark brown cord wrapped around my brunette hair turned out (maybe not surprisingly) pretty low key. And yeah, that crease—it wasn’t there. Two days later, I showered, did my hair in a low bun, and shuttled off to the airport.
A few hours later I was safely in the terminal, taking a few moments to pull myself together near the “GUCCI COMING SOON” pasteboard. I pulled the tie out of my hair and did the whole Pantene-commercial hair-shake thing. It worked better than it ever has for me before. I could tell in the semi-reflecting plastic walls that my hair was nicely wavy without that uni-crease of the old days. And the tie still had plenty of spring to it, too. As I started to feel the euphoria of conversion come over me, I looked around at my fellow travelers. Now that I was looking for them, I started to see these little ties everywhere—on a ponytail here, a child’s bun there, a wrist over yonder. I’d been surrounded by abridged and repurposed telephone cord this whole time. I can’t believe it took me so long to notice.