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The claw clip’s comeback

How ’90s nostalgia fueled the trendy return of a drugstore hair accessory that never really fell out of use.

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Two claw clips, one blush pink and one alabaster white, against a pink and white background.
The claw clip has us, the mid- to long-haired people of the world, quite literally in its grip.
Getty Images

Welcome to Noticed, The Goods’ design trend column. You know that thing you’ve been seeing all over the place? Allow us to explain it.

What they are: A type of hair clip, identified by two rows of pronged “teeth” that clamp down like a claw into the wearer’s hair. Also referred to as “jaw” clips (to which I say: tomato, tomâto). Typically made from metal, plastic, or cellulose acetate — a synthetic material that is biodegradable — and sold in many prints (tortoiseshell, checkerboard, alabaster), sizes (a three-prong mini or a “big effing clip”), and shapes.

Where they are: In drugstores, department stores, and vintage stores. On trendy fashion and accessory sites, like Shein, Urban Outfitters, Madewell, or Machete. Likely featured in your favorite ’90s flick or 2000s-era television show, worn by actresses like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Julia Roberts. Aniston’s character in Friends is perhaps the most popular ’90s-era claw clip reference today: While all three women sported claws sometime during the show, Rachel Green’s messy claw bun remains a style flashpoint.

The claw clip might have humble drugstore roots, but today, prices can range from $6.99 for a multicolored pack of five (Amazon) to a $78 handmade couture piece (France Luxe). These clips have been publicly spotted on the heads of Insta-famous celebrities, fashion models, and social media muses, like Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber, Hailey Bieber, and Blackpink’s Jennie, but the claw is, perhaps, better worn by everyday people. It’s a versatile accessory; celebrities and normies alike have worn it out for errands, while strolling around town, or in a mid-afternoon Zoom meeting (guilty!).

The claw clip has us, the mid-to-long-haired people of the world, quite literally in its grip. Even Harry Styles has been spotted with mini claws on his hair… and clothes? (It remains to be seen whether Styles will introduce shaggy-haired men to claw clips; God knows they need it.) There are claw styling tutorials all over YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, and Instagram, and a bazillion types of claw clips in the Etsy and Amazon product jungle to match: squiggly claws, open shape claws, translucent claws.

Claw clip buns and up-dos, it seems, are the 2021 iteration of mid-2010s Tumblr’s messy bun craze. On Twitter, the clip itself is a sort of niche meme. Girls joke about being in their “claw clip era,” while acknowledging that it’s pretty basic to be enthused about a ’90s trend. Yet the claw might outlast its faddish reputation, like the once-controversial scrunchie, to be appreciated for its functionality.

Why they are everywhere: We are in the midst of a years-long feedback loop that is hellbent on resuscitating 1990s and 2000s trends; colloquially, it’s referred to as “Y2K fashion.” See: low-rise jeans, baby tees, sweater vests, baguette bags, scrunchies, and, of course, claw clips.

The claw clip, like many other turn-of-the-millennium trends, didn’t necessarily fall out of use. It just fell out of fashion favor, because very few famous and beautiful people were consistently sporting them. (At last count, Ashley Olsen was seen with a chic mini-claw in 2016, and Paris Hilton wore one to a 2010 party for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.) Some women have said they were made fun of for wearing claw clips in the 2010s before the trend’s recent resurgence. But even after their Y2K heyday, claw clips were a mainstay on the shelves of local Walgreens and Targets across the country. They were worn by women who sought out their beauty and hair needs at the drugstore, instead of department stores like Nordstrom or Barneys.

For as long as I can remember, my mom, who is in her 50s, would purchase a pack of plastic jumbo claws every few months, and proceed to misplace or break them. Claws aren’t the most durable hair accessory on the market. Women with curly and thick locks have struggled to find sturdier clips, since most were designed for thinner hair textures. Claw clips might look threatening, but they are more fragile than they appear. After years of observing my mother twist her hair into a floppy rooster tail bun around the house, the claw appeared to serve a utilitarian purpose, not an aesthetic one. But its current relevance, at least among the young and trendy, seems to be predicated on its visual appeal.

The claw’s comeback can be directly traced to fashion designer Alexander Wang, who reminded the fashion world of the clip’s existence in his fall 2018 show. Models walked the runway in large chrome silver clips with Wang’s name stamped on the clasp. It was Wang’s take on the 1980s power executive look, according to the show’s lead hair stylist, Guido Palau: “It’s corporate and kind of smart in a way … Also, you’ve got to remember, lots of girls probably don’t remember what the banana clip is. [Teenagers] don’t know it has a funny connotation to it. They may just think it’s super cool to do that in their hair.” (Palau mistakenly referred to the claw clip as a banana clip, which predates the claw clip.)

Bella Hadid was seen wearing Wang’s silver claw months later, which was, in hindsight, the start of her ongoing relationship with claw clips (among various other Y2K trends). Soon, models and influencers in Hadid’s orbit, like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber, were seen with claw buns around town, and that was enough for fashion and beauty magazines to declare: The claw clip is back.

Bella Hadid is wearing a plaid suit and an orange claw clip.
Bella Hadid’s ongoing three-year relationship with her claw clips suggest that the accessory might outlast the trend cycle.
GC Images

“I think it coincided with the slicked back hair trend, which looks very good with a sleek giant clip,” said Maddie Borish, who oversees product development at France Luxe, a hair accessories brand. “A lot of major celebrities, like Bella Hadid, were going for that look. And then with the whole work-from-home aspect, I think people gravitate to jaw clips because it stands out, and it’s a fun accessory that makes you look more put together on Zoom calls.”

The claw clip is a relatively modern hair accessory, considering how humans have a centuries-long history of adorning our hair, whether it be for decorative, functional, or cultural reasons. France Luxe has sold claw clips since its inception in 1997. While Borish couldn’t name a single person or brand responsible for the claw’s ’90s-era claim to fame, its design was likely inspired by the 1980s banana clip — a long double-sided comb that secures the wearer’s hair into a ponytail. (The claw clip and its older sister, the banana clip, seem to be derivative of an ancient accessory: the decorative hair comb.)

These clips were first produced toward the tail-end of the 20th century. It was a ripe time for the hair accessories market, from sparkly barrettes and butterfly clips to scrunchies and headbands. It was, according to one Elle article, the golden era of Goody, the American brand found in most drugstore beauty aisles. Goody’s ubiquity was largely predicated on improvements in technology that made it possible for hair clips to be mass produced and sold at relatively low prices. Manufacturers were also experimenting with new materials like celluloid, plastics, and other synthetic fibers for hair ties.

And Goody, to its credit, was one of the first companies that recognized how quietly lucrative the women’s hair accessory market could be. Its first large-scale ad campaign in 1980 was initially met with skepticism. “Although it is difficult to believe, there is a category of unadvertised, inexpensive, mass-scale women’s products in a world where shampoos, cosmetics, deodorants, and fragrances are all promoted with millions and millions of dollars’ worth of advertising,” wrote the New York Times. These plastic clips and pins may be inexpensive and commonplace, but their sheer accessibility made them essential beauty tools for the modern American woman.

Despite the bevy of patterns and designs available on Etsy and Amazon, most claw clips aren’t made to last. They serve a temporary, functional purpose in our busy lives, a plastic beauty tool cheap enough to lose and small enough to be carelessly squished at the bottom of a tote bag. The claw clip is trendy again, but what does that really mean in a world with fewer and fewer universal trends, where casual fashion is, in part, determined by algorithms? Perhaps it’s a sign of our collective nostalgia of a more eventful pop culture period, or simply a desire to adorn our hair with beautiful, frivolous things. Whatever it is, let’s hope the claw is here to stay.

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