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How to Wear AirPods and Not Look Like an Idiot

Randolph Giuliani wearing Apple AirPod headphones. Photo: Twitter.

At its best, wearable tech can make you look and feel more connected. But at its worst, it gives the impression that you’re completely out of touch. Last week, former mayor Randolph “Rudy” Giuliani demonstrated how easy it is to fall into the latter category when he was photographed wearing his Apple AirPod headphones upside down.

The image of Giuliani, which was first shared on Twitter by political reporter Joe Perticone, quickly went viral. It struck a chord with New Yorkers in particular because it reminded us just how much of a doofus our former mayor can be. But I also think it unearthed to a deep, unspoken fear that we, too, look like doofusses when we wear Apple AirPod headphones.

When I texted the image of Giuliani to a friend, he said he’s resisted buying AirPods for exactly this reason. In fact, when a family member recently offered to buy them as a gift, he declined for fear that they might make him look “stupid.”

Since Apple revealed its AirPod headphones in September of 2016, aesthetic comparisons have been drawn to electric toothbrush heads, Q-tips, and antennae. A co-worker even went as far as describing them as looking like “big sperms” in her ear. These are just some of the excuses people give not to buy them — along with the idea that they’re somehow easier to lose than the alternative, which I still lose all the time.

Perhaps the real reason we’ve resisted Apple AirPods (besides their prohibitive cost of $160) is that they’re different. We don’t like change — especially when it comes to Apple upgrades. But we’re starting to warm up to them. Over the past year, the headphones have slowly become more and more popular, and therefore less stigmatized. Diana Ross wears them. Jonah Hill wears them. Kristen Stewart wears them. Despite my one friend’s stubbornness, they also sold out over the holidays.

When you ride the New York City subway today, you can spot a noticeable fraction of passengers wearing AirPods, too. In fact, those not wearing them today are perhaps the ridiculous-looking ones. Which begs the question: Are Apple AirPods finally cool?

To get a sense of how New York’s toughest critics currently feel about AirPods, I spoke to a bunch of commuters on the subway during rush hour. (That is, when they didn’t use their headphones as an excuse not to talk to me.) Read what I learned below.

Name: Halimah Mumford
Age: 24
Occupation: Pret a Manger employee

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
About a month ago.
Were you nervous at all about wearing them?
A little bit, particularly because I have small ears. I was scared that they would fall out and that I would lose them.
Were you worried at all about people making fun of the way they look?
No. They’re trendy and cool.

Name: David Kelly
Age: 51
Occupation: VP of investment banking

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
Last September.
You’re the first person I’ve seen wearing black ones.
They’re customized by this company called BlackPods. My brother got them for me.
And how do you like them?
I like them! They’re for a very specific purpose: I wear them when I’m commuting or when I’m at work taking calls. I have a different pair of headphones for when I work out, because I feel like I’ll lose these.
Do you think the look is sleeker for work?
Yeah. I used to not like the look, but I’ve grown accustomed to it because I’ve seen more people wearing them. It’s common to see people at work using them to take calls.

Name: Jon Gedney
Age: 26
Occupation: Series development, MTV

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
Yesterday, actually.
What made you take the leap?
I’ve always hated the wire experience and I believe in a wireless future. When I worked out, they always got in the way. I needed to be un-tethered.
Did you have any concerns before you bought them?
I’ve always had a concern about the radiation being so close to my head. As well as whether or not the NSA can tap into my Bluetooth headphones. But it’s just one of those things where the convenience outweighed all of those very-real concerns [laughs].
Have people made fun of you for wearing them?
Not yet. I was more making fun of myself for having the wire ones. I felt so archaic.

Name: Claude Hector
Age: 36
Occupation: Custom suit-maker

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
About a year ago.
That’s pretty ahead of the trend. Did you get any push-back from your friends?
No, mostly because I’m usually pretty dressed up in like, a fedora and a suit. So, more people comment on the clothes I’m wearing than the AirPods.
I noticed how well-dressed you are. Do you think AirPods are chicer than the alternative?
Yeah, that’s why I stopped wearing the ones with the wires. I make suits for a living, so having wires dangling on a fitted suit was super annoying.

Name: Alexander Sycheuski
Age: 29
Occupation: Sales manager

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
About six months ago.
How do you like them?
I love them. They’re the best headphones I’ve ever tried.
Did you have any concerns before you bought them?
I was afraid I was going to lose them, or that the battery life wouldn’t be very good.
Do you like the way they look?
It’s not really about the style, for me. It’s more about the fact that they’re tiny and no one can see them. I can wear them with a tie or sweatpants. They’re universal. I have the wireless Beats headphones, too, and it’s not the same. They’re more of a statement accessory.
So you don’t worry about people making fun of you?
It doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t like them. It matters if I like them. They’re for me.

Name: Taylor Kyle
Age: 27
Occupation: Hairstylist

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
On Valentine’s Day — my boyfriend got them for me.
How do you like them?
I love them. I don’t think I would have bought them for myself (they’re a little expensive), but they were a great gift.
Were you self-conscious about wearing them at all?
My curly hair covers them up, so a lot of times people don’t even know I’m wearing them.
Have you had any issues with them at all?
They do get wrapped around my curls sometimes, but they’ve only fallen out once.

Name: Jake Sweitzer
Age: 22
Occupation: Georgetown University Student

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
Ten minutes ago at the Apple Store.
Oh! No way. What made you buy them now?
I actually just bought them for my girlfriend for her birthday yesterday, and I was jealous that she had them and I didn’t [laughs].
I noticed that you’re wearing a suit and tie. Do you think they look better with your outfit than the alternative?
Yeah, definitely. I was actually just at a job interview. They’re sleeker and they look more high-tech. New technology is always sleeker.

Name: Josh Geller
Age: 42
Occupation: Lawyer

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
A few days ago.
What made you take the leap?
I was seeing everybody wearing them. Ugh … And I thought they looked kind of wack. But then then I kept reading reviews about how they were so good. And then someone was like, “Don’t you hate fumbling with the cord?” And I was like, I guess I do? I’ve got my bag. I take my kids to school and they grab it…
What made you think they looked wack?
The protrusion. And people having them in all the time and talking on their phones seemed kind of annoying.

Name: Joline Braun
Age: 21
Occupation: Fashion model

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
In November.
How do you like them?
I like them a lot. But sometimes I feel very anti-social because people don’t see that I’m listening to music.
Do you feel like the look is more fashionable than the alternative?
I don’t like how they look with my earrings; now my earrings don’t stand out. But it does make you look more sleek. Some people wear those Bluetooth hoops and I think they look terrible.
Have you ever lost them?
Yes. Or, I thought I lost one of them. Two months later, I went to do laundry and I found it at the bottom of my laundry bag.

Name: Bryan Wolff
Age: 27
Occupation: Copywriter

Photo: Emilia Petrarca

When did you buy your AirPods?
After the last keynote, which was in September or something.
How do you like them?
I’ve probably sold them to ten of my friends.
What do you mean? Are you dealing AirPods?
No, no, no [laughs]. I’m not on that New York hustle, yet. I’ve convinced ten of my friends to buy them. They’re one of my favorite products. I’m actually in an AirPod group chat, no joke.
Wait, a group chat exclusively for AirPod talk?
Yes, I actually saw the Mayor Giuliani thing through the group chat. [Ed. note: The group chat was once named “AirPod Money Gang.”]
How many people are in the chat?
Five. It was six before we kicked one person out for returning their AirPods because they didn’t fit their ears.
Incredible. I’m so glad I stopped you.

How to Wear AirPods Without Looking Like an Idiot