In 2013, more than 80 million people wore yellow Livestrong bracelets on their wrists. Sure, a certain percentage of the profits went to charity — that was the appeal in wearing them, after all — but the yellow rubber band also birthed a competitive set of overpriced, for-profit bands of the same ilk. Today, the Livestrong fad is long over, but one rubber-band bracelet continues on, despite the fact that it can be found in abundance (and ostensibly for free) in every produce section of every grocery store in the country — the purple asparagus rubber band.
Asparagus rubber bands are among the few remaining commercial goods that exist without any kind of branding. People only know them by their purple hue and consistent, unrivaled quality rubber from whence they came. And it’s been that way since at least 1949, as evidenced by this ad in the Hartford Courant (these days, of course, you can buy bundles of rubber bands advertised as being of the “purple asparagus” variety on Amazon):
If the purpose of fashion is to communicate something about oneself to the outside world, the purple rubber band says much, much more than whatever designer bracelet is fashionable at any given moment. Beyond the immediate inference that your urine must stink, the purple rubber band on your wrist communicates that you’re clearly a health-conscious whiz in the kitchen (asparagus is, after all, the healthiest vegetable). Not only that, but that you march to the beat of your own drum, too. (On the flip side, commercial bracelets communicate that you’re a sucker for trends, as well as a paypig to the bloodsucking fashion industry, praying the $30 woven hemp on your wrist makes up for your lack of personality.)
To this end, Shelby, a 29-year-old in Indiana, recalls once meeting a guy who didn’t stand out at first. But when she saw the purple rubber band on his wrist, she was immediately more attracted to him. “More attracted than I would have been had he not been wearing it, at least,” she tells me. “A date showing up with an asparagus rubber band on his wrist instantly gives us something to talk about.”
Shelby is no stranger to wearing the purple rubber band herself, and points out that not only is it “super comfortable,” but its established utility carries over to the wrist as well. “They’ve been very helpful when I was struggling with compulsive behaviors and self-harm,” as snapping the band on her wrist brought her back to the present moment.
From a historical perspective, people “have long used packaging as clothing or accessories when materials were in short supply or too expensive, such as the case with feed sacks,” fashion guru Sara Idacavage explains. Admittedly, though, that isn’t the case here. “People aren’t using the rubber bands because they lack other materials, so I guess that’s a bit of a stretch — no pun intended,” she adds.
Basically, asparagus rubber bands are so immune to becoming a trend that there’s no historical precedence to which they can be compared.
Such is the reason David Crabb, a 45-year-old author in L.A., has been sporting them since growing up as “a goth/alt queer kid in Texas during the 1990s.” “Look, I live in L.A. and frequent all the hippy-dippy boho shops that sell expensive crystals and ‘mood stones.’ And yes, I’ve been known to wear a bracelet of over-priced pebbles in hopes of warding off the evil eye or attracting wealth and creative inspiration,” Crabb tells me. “But if you’ve seen one rock bracelet, you’ve seen them all.”
“The thing about those asparagus bracelets is that nothing else looks like them,” he continues. “I’ve got several bags of Staples-brand office rubber bands, and none of them are that pale matte purple. None of them are that precise thickness and texture.”
In short, purple asparagus rubber bands are one-of-a-kind. “They’re just the right circumference for the wrist, and they’re thick enough to not break like other rubber bands,” Crabb says. “They also show a kind of thriftiness that, for me, is rooted in my 1990s high school/college days as an alt kid who loved dusty old thrift stores and ‘new’ Smiths albums that had actually come out five years earlier in the U.K.”