Carry your keys on them, attach them to your belt loop, use them to harness a slightly-too-large pair of jorts, wear them as earrings or on a necklace — you can do anything you like with this summer’s ‘It’ accessory.
In case you know these dinky little handymen by sight rather than name, they’re carabiners. A tool traditionally used in climbing to link one item to another or attach oneself to a rope, you’re now more likely to see them hanging off a pair of distressed Dickies, attached to a Miu Miu miniskirt, or dangling from a dainty Missoma chain.
Carabiners didn’t always have the cool status they have now. Sure, dads who shop in Mountain Warehouse on the weekends have long coveted the snazzy snap clips, but that was hardly a solid endorsement until recently, when we all started dressing like middle-aged men attending a barbecue.
Like most streetwear trends, they featured in high fashion first, then filtered down onto the streets of Hackney, Deptford, and Peckham, or any other trendy London neighbourhood that has queues outside sandwich shops.
Designer and fashion commentator Daylan Mollentze explains: “They’re often used [in high fashion] to juxtapose the materials against the hardwear. A lot of it is piggybacking on the success of Heliot Emil and Chopova Lowena, who have been using carabiners as accessories for a few years now.”
Danish brand Heliot Emil’s use of carabiners is most prominent in his accessories, including handbags that repurpose the clips as handles, belts that use carabiners as their clasps, phone cases, and keychains — one of the most common ways of introducing the carabiner into your daily wardrobe. Meanwhile, London-based label Chopova Lowena harnesses the carabiner’s, well, harnessing power to suspend the material of their skirts from a matching thick belt, as seen on singers Rosalia and Dua Lipa.
It isn’t just on the catwalks that we’re seeing carabiners any more — though Marc Jacobs, Peter Do, and Christopher Kane have all used them in recent collections — they’re in the queue for your local coffee shop, and attached to stylish dogs’ collars in the nearby park. To put it simply, they filter down from high fashion easily because they’re inexpensive and in tune with the “gorpcore” street style of the moment, where activewear brands like Arc’teryx, North Face, and Salomon are all the rage.
“It definitely plays into the gorpcore thing,” says the admin of Real Housewives of Clapton, an Instagram meme account that chronicles the habits of trendy Londoners, “but also has a connection to the ’90s aesthetic — think of chains attached to wallets.
“There’s also a utilitarian edge that’s coming though quite strongly,” they explain. “Outdoorsy survival shows have been big all year round and as the waterproof, high-tech wave starts to retreat, we are left with the basic and most distilled versions. A carabiner feels like a pretty nice way to signify this.”
And just as the mainstream borrows from high fashion, it often borrows from queer culture, too. The carabiner was once a subtle signifier of someone’s sexuality — particularly among lesbian or bisexual women — but has now been spread amongst the masses. As Refinery29 writer Cassie Doney wrote last year, “The functional yet fashionable carabiner, which to me is a subtle indication of my sexuality and an expression of gender presentation, is to most people just a convenient way to carry keys.”
Carabiners still maintain their queer roots in certain ways — a trendy accessory of the festival crowd this summer has been the merchandise of queer DJ Romy, originally from the band The XX, who released her own pair of vivid green and pink carabiners bearing the phrase “Love Her” (which is also the title of one of Romy’s songs) on the exterior.
Whether it be functional, fashionable, or to send signals to those you love, the carabiner is without a doubt the It accessory of the summer, so get clippin’.