How Has Vaping Fashion Changed Over the Industry’s First Decade?


It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of vaping during the industry’s first decade as a mainstream concern. There was a time when smoking was incredibly fashionable. Movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart and models like the Marlboro Man helped to ensure that. By the time the e-cigarette was invented, though, smoking couldn’t possibly have been less fashionable than it had become.

Vaping, on the other hand, has become fashionable in its own way. For some, a vaping device is like a badge of honor signifying the end of one’s dependence on tobacco. For others, vaping has evolved into a counterculture movement all its own, in which people have replaced the physical rituals of smoking – playing with a lighter or tapping a pack of cigarettes against one’s hand – with new rituals like performing vape tricks or tinkering with atomizer coil designs.

While it’s fair to say that vaping is unlikely to become as mainstream an activity as smoking once was – nor should it – it is fashionable among those who do it, and vaping fashion has certainly changed over the past ten years.

Let’s explore that evolution.

E-Cigarettes Mimic Tobacco Cigarettes

The earliest e-cigarettes copied the appearance of tobacco cigarettes, right down to the devices’ activation lights simulating cigarette embers. The manufacturers of “cigalikes” copied tobacco cigarettes for two reasons. The first reason was because they assumed that’s what smokers wanted.

The second reason was because it was the best way to market the devices. It might be difficult to believe today, but there was a time when many smokers weren’t yet aware of the existence of e-cigarettes. Smokers would see those early cigarette-shaped devices on store shelves, and they’d automatically have a basic idea of what they were. The cigarette shape helped e-cigarettes gain an early foothold in the market.

Looking back, it’s interesting to observe the marketing techniques used by e-cigarette brands during those early years. Early e-cigarette packages sometimes tried to suggest the look of popular cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Dunhill, and every model who posed with an e-cigarette tried to evoke memories of Lauren Bacall.

Cigalikes still exist today, but you’ll rarely find them outside of convenience stores. Dedicated vape shops like E-Cigarette Empire seldom carry cigalikes because they don’t work well compared to modern vaping devices.

Hobbyists Advance the Technology and Fashion of Vaping

For the first several years of vaping, the only mass-produced devices were cigalikes and simple vape pens – and none of those devices worked particularly well. Members of the vaping community took it upon themselves to advance the state of the art by designing and producing their own devices at home.

Hobbyists were the first people to build vape mods using the now-ubiquitous 18650 battery, and the devices that they built were the world’s first “mechanical mods.” A mechanical mod is a simple switch-triggered mechanism that runs directly off of a battery’s power and contains no internal electronics.

The mechanical mod proved to be the perfect platform for further development, and for a while, the hobbyist vaping community provided ample support for several successful small businesses that produced mechanical mods. High-end mechanical mods were lovingly produced from materials such as stainless steel and various hardwoods, and the best devices often cost hundreds of dollars.

The pinnacle of vaping fashion during those days was the “hand check” photo on Reddit or one of the Internet’s many vaping forums. People who spent upwards of $300 on their high-end mechanical mods naturally wanted to show them off – but the days of selling metal tubes and wooden boxes for that kind of money were numbered.

Mass Production Takes Over

The factories in Shenzhen, China are well-oiled machines that can develop, prototype and produce almost anything at the drop of a hat. They can also produce near-perfect copies of existing products, as the world’s many owners of $20 “Rolex” watches and “Louis Vuitton” bags will attest.

Many of today’s top vaping product manufacturers got their starts by producing cheap clones of expensive mechanical mods. The best clones were just as good as the products they copied, and while many vapers weren’t particularly happy about the idea of buying knockoffs, they purchased the clones anyway because they couldn’t afford to buy the authentic devices.

As the years went by, the Chinese clone makers began to invest their profits into the development of original products. The products improved in quality and reliability extremely quickly, and before long, the Shenzhen factories had legitimate technological leadership in the vaping market.

The signature fashion image of the middle years of the vaping industry’s first decade is probably that of a bearded vape dude blowing a room-filling cloud. For a period of about three years, you couldn’t visit a vape shop’s website without seeing a bearded stock photo model chucking vape clouds. We should all be thankful for the fact that the bearded vape dudes are mostly gone today.

Vaping Fashion Looks Forward by Looking Back

At each major point in the evolution of vaping fashion, the vaping industry picked up millions of new users via some major change in design or technology. Many of the existing members of the vaping community, meanwhile, continued to use the same products that they’d always used. Cigalikes, mechanical mods and mass-produced mods still have their fair share of users today.

Until the late 2010s, however, many smokers were still waiting for someone to release a vaping device that truly resonated with them. That device finally arrived in 2015 in the form of the JUUL and the many other pod-based vaping devices that soon followed.

The pod vaping trend proved that what the vaping industry’s early manufacturers thought – that most smokers wanted small and convenient vaping devices – was true all along. The earliest cigalikes were successful in terms of being small, but they failed on the convenience aspect. Pod systems, on the other hand, delivered exactly what smokers wanted.

Entering the third decade of the 21st century, the signature images of vaping fashion have begun to change. The vaping device itself has become commoditized and has faded into the background.

Whether the device in question is a pod system or an advanced mod, the vaping devices of today are fundamentally the same as the devices from a few years ago. People no longer find it necessary to show off their latest purchases and rarely buy new devices except when the devices that they own stop working. It’s an interesting development for an industry that was once so focused on visual appeal – and it could be a sign that the next big development in vaping is just around the corner.

Written by Megan Taylor
Megan is a beauty expert who is passionate about all things makeup and glam! Her love for makeup has brought her to become a beauty pro at Glamour Garden Cosmetics.