Why This Year’s Accessory Of Choice Is Still A Pair Of Oversized Headphones (And Where You Can Buy Them)

By Dan Ahwa
Lend me your ears: Over-ear, oversized headphones are here to stay.

Once the domain of DJs and gamers, large headphones are a physical embodiment of drowning out unnecessary noise in a complicated world.

In Newmarket the other day I played a game in my head of spot the oversized earphones. Between running my errands and going back to the car I

They came in all shapes and sizes, colours and styles. Some wearers had even taken the trouble of personalising them with stickers.

One woman had matched her saccharine pink hair with pink diamantes plastered on a pair of pink wireless Beats headphones. Another oversized pair walked past on its last legs, plastered with black duct tape.

Wearing oversized headphones is a trend that has been brewing for the past couple of years, but in 2024, it feels like it’s reached a point where it is finally able to articulate the reason for its renaissance: A nod to the past and independence from the relentless pace of the modern world. It’s ironic given the very first headphones were invented to free up a person’s hands when operating a telephone in the 1800s. They’re pragmatic too; over-ear headphones are for people who want to totally immerse themselves in their listening or don’t like the feeling of earbuds in their ears.

Lilly Rose Depp wears her Bose headphones. Photo / @lilyrose_depp
Lilly Rose Depp wears her Bose headphones. Photo / @lilyrose_depp

In recent years we saw the uncluttered appeal of a pair of earphones that weren’t connected to a wire, evoking a sense of efficiency. Anyone who’s owned a pair of AirPods or wireless buds will attest to having lost at least one bud at some point.

When paparazzi photos of The Idol actor Lily-Rose Depp surfaced in 2021 of her wearing a pair of wired Apple headphones that are currently on sale for just $7 from Noel Leeming, it prompted a surprising comeback for wired headphones, with TikTokers claiming they were “retro” (met by the collective groans of millennials). However, even I was influenced, pulling out my wired headphones and realising how reassuring it was that my headphones were indeed plugged into something tangible, and not operating by the pure sorcery that comes from using Bluetooth, wireless technology.

Earlier this year in an interview for Paris Vogue, 90s style icon and gen-exer Victoria Beckham pulled out of her handbag two nostalgic bits of technology: A digital point-and-shoot compact camera and a pair of Apple wired headphones.

The trend has seen a groundswell of people online dedicate mood boards around a “retro” headphone.

When TikToker @thedigifairy noted some of her favourite It girls such as Bella Hadid and Zoe Kravitz wearing their wired headphones, she commented, “We love when celebrities act like humble peasants,” while an Instagram account called Wired It Girls is continuing to gain popularity, dedicated to the growing movement for nostalgic technology.

As an extension of the 90s and Y2K fashion renaissance that seems to be a continuing thread of inspiration right now, with everyone from Diesel to Beyonce tapping into their archives of late 90s and early 2000s fashion, the sentiment has extended to the current trend for headphones popularised during these eras, particularly large headphones that serve as quasi-headbands.

In 2000 with the arrival of the new millennium, the trend for futuristic-inspired fashion and technology created an aesthetic now described by a new generation online as Y2K cyber core: Glassy, glossy, metallic surfaces and textures.

Aaliyah’s ‘We Need a Resolution’ video from 2001 captures the retro-futurism of the early 2000s, complete with oversized headphones.
Aaliyah’s ‘We Need a Resolution’ video from 2001 captures the retro-futurism of the early 2000s, complete with oversized headphones.

These days, Lily Rose floats between her Apple wired headphones and a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones in an icy grey colour that retails around $600. They’re the type of earphones that look like they could have been taken from the cover of a chillout compilation album from the 2000s.

They are the type of headphones that dominated that afternoon in Newmarket — large circumaural headphones or full-size headphones, with circular or ellipsoid earpads that envelope the ears. Some were actual vintage headphones, others were some of the more cutting-edge options available on the market right now with the kind of technological advancements you would expect from headphones that cost more than $200.

Large headphones exist in a time now where we’ve had to succumb to the needs of a digital world, and for some trying to keep up with the relentless pace, large headphones signal to everyone else around you the desire to be left alone.

The growing success of the gaming industry is another form of virtual escapism from reality, and a pair of oversized headphones is an integral part of that immersive experience. As technological advances with spatial audio take us closer to the AI-generated worlds we’ve created for ourselves, the desire for quality headphones is a necessary investment in fully enjoying this experience, or at least to better understand them.

A guest wears over-ear headphones during the Paris Fashion Week menswear shows. Photo / Getty Images
A guest wears over-ear headphones during the Paris Fashion Week menswear shows. Photo / Getty Images

When it comes to style and aesthetics and whether giant headphones are a trend with some staying power, the key here is to balance out the look with one that is equally low-maintenance. It’s the reason why it works particularly well with “clean girls” — a scraped-back bun is the perfect base for large headphones, for example.

But to find real inspiration for how to make a pair of oversized headphones work with a look, you only have to go back to basics and see the parade of models off-duty in between shows during the recent European Fashion Week circuit to get a sense of how to style them. A sense of nonchalance helped reinforce the message to street-style photographers that they had interests outside of fashion too, like listening to the new Mitski album or the latest podcast from the Economist. Headphones are now the equivalent of reading Proust backstage at a fashion show — they signal to everyone at that moment that even in this chaotic and sometimes superficial world, they’re tuning out with a pair of headphones listening to something far more interesting than the present reality; the irony of tuning out in order to tune in is a main character’s raison d’etre, after all.

5 cool over-ear headphones to shop right now

There’s a range of cool oversized headphones that do double duty in providing you with good sounds as well as keeping your hair intact on a windy day. While there are so many wireless over-ear headphones on the market to consider, I’ve also included a handful of wired-only over-ear headphones for audio purists to consider.

Apple AirPods Max

Apple has long cornered the market for its simple minimalist design aesthetic while providing cutting-edge technology everyone can enjoy and use. Available in a range of colours, this sky blue pair makes a convincing case for working well with everyday wear, particularly if you’re someone who likes to wear a lot of blue denim. The spatial audio capability is unparalleled, while the comfort of the cushy pads makes this one of the easiest, and lightest headphones on the market. $999 from Apple.com and all good technology retailers.

Sony Wireless Noise Cancelling headphones

Another sleek headphone is this option from the tech behemoth, specially designed to enhance noise cancelling, especially in low-frequency ranges, helping you enjoy your music precisely without ambient noise. Also available in silver. $446 from Sony.co.nz.

Sennheiser HD 400S headphones

Compact and easy, these are great for travelling with as the headband folds for easy portability on the go. $88 from Harveynorman.co.nz

XCD wired foldable headphones

Featuring swivel earcups, an adjustable headband and an in-line microphone, this coral-coloured headphone set is a break from traditional black or silver. At this price point this is a stylish and affordable option when you need something low-maintenance and easy to use. $25 from Jbhific.o.nz.

Marshall Monitor Bluetooth headphones

Real musos know the power of the iconic Marshall brand from Britain founded in that sweet spot in music history, 1962. This update on its classic headphones features Bluetooth technology, providing 30+ hours of exceptional audio quality on a single charge. Stylistically, what’s not to love about its retro styling? Black vinyl, brass accents and the embossed Marshall script maintain the brand’s iconic legacy and contribution to music. $389, from Rockshop.co.nz.

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