My childhood babysitter—a cigarette-smoking cool girl—had the ultimate symbol of teenage independence: her own phone line in her bedroom, and a phone shaped like big red lips.
In the heyday of phone popularity, you could get one shaped like nearly anything—Garfield, a hamburger (notably used by the title character in Juno), or a duck like in Jersey Shore. Yes, it quacked.
Just as your poster-adorning walls were an extension of your aesthetic, phones like these allowed you to further express yourself. I like to think that lip phones walked so that early cell phones—which could be housed in Britney Spears cases decked out in charms—could run.
Picture this: you're a teenager trying to have a private phone call but your family's corded phone was attached to the wall in a common area. You'd duck into another room, extending that curly cord to its limits. Sure, that doesn't seem that pleasing now that we can take our phones wherever we want, but it was, at one time, part of growing up. Nostalgia doesn't always make sense.
Of all the phones mentioned, this corded phone might seem the least interesting. But models like this were in nearly every house for a while, probably hanging in the kitchen. Bonus points if yours had a rotary dial.
You might be noticing a theme here, but there's something about the analog experience—especially the ability to end a conversation by firmly hanging up—that can't be replicated by a cell phone. Although I prefer the mid-century handsets like those on most rotary phones, which are heavy and thinner in the middle, the feel and shape of this handset is very '90s. Plus these phones often came in interesting colors like sage and dusty rose.
The cell phone's evolution was quick, and filled with interesting and unique signposts. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X—think Zach Morris—was released to the public in 1983. It cost $3,500. Then came flip phones, indestructible Nokias, and BlackBerries with slide-up keyboards. But the reigning champ of mobiles within youth culture was the Sidekick.
The Sidekick's keyboard didn't slide up. The screen swiveled 180 degrees and locked into position with a springy click, exposing the keypad beneath. You could get on AIM ... from your cell phone! As Complex expertly outlined in 2015, the Sidekick was promoted by celebrities and heavily appealed to teenagers, so it quickly became the epitome of coolness. I've already mentioned phones being a symbol of cool—and if you were wondering, my first cell phone was a TracFone that looked like an oversized pink Jelly Bean and ate through its expensive minutes. I was not a cool clear phone girl or a Sidekick kid. But I am an adult who writes about these devices as my actual job, so maybe I win.
Phones are so intertwined with human behavior that countless toy phones exist for those who are too young for the real thing.
I had many fake phones, including the Barbie Super Talking Phone With Answering Machine that came with cassette tapes with recorded messages. Just like real phones allowed me to connect with friends and grow as a person, each toy phone represented a different stage in my life. One Christmas, I thought a purple Barbie cell phone I found under the tree was a real cell phone, and I ran through my house screaming with the plastic brick still in its impenetrable packaging. My mom had to tell me it was merely a toy, though the sadness only lasted a minute. Real or fake, Barbie has been a friend of mine through all facets of my life.
The coolest toy phone I had? Well, it was two phones connected by a long wire. They could be placed in different rooms so two people could use the handsets to talk to each other, like a set of walkie talkies. You can still buy a similar version.