The tiny clothespin, a humble crafting staple that rose to cocktail accessory stardom, has lost its tenuous clamp on the garnish A-list after a decadelong career.
Fame found the tiny clothespin late in life, after a long string of dead-end jobs. In a 2019 interview, the tiny clothespin described its early career as “stagnant and transient, often degenerate,” and recounted appearances in Jo-Ann Fabrics, Michael’s and sometimes Target. “It was always the same thing. A homemaker, decorating for a family-to-be, waltzes into my aisle, looking for something quirky, something adorable ... and invariably I’d wind up going home with them. We’d have fun hanging photo prints on decorative twine, and pinning cute notes to a kid’s sack lunch, but that kind of thing never lasts—I’d always end up in the junk drawer.”
It was in the late aughts that the tiny clothespin overheard an IKEA cashier in Brooklyn mention a “loaded bloody Mary” she’d had the weekend prior: The classic brunch cocktail was garnished with two hamburger sliders, a jumbo prawn, 14 olives, a slab of honey ham, six Tater Tots and a large soft pretzel, all speared through with a hunting arrow and perched on the lip of a pint glass. The maximalist display inspired the tiny clothespin to capitalize on what had often been considered its greatest weakness: the low tensile–strength spring holding its two halves together.
“When the zeitgeist goes too extreme, you know it will overcorrect,” said the tiny clothespin in a 2018 interview with TIME. “I knew that correction would be toward minimalism.”
Soon, the tiny clothespin began marketing itself toward creative cocktail designers looking to class up while paring down. “The idea was so sexy,” said Zelda Wingarten, former head mixologist at craft cocktail bar Pin Up Babe in Atlanta. “The tiny clothespin was like the ant of garnishing tools: so small and elegant, but mighty enough to hold a basil leaf to a highball glass rim so precisely. Amazing.”
By 2017, the tiny clothespin was showing up everywhere, Austin to Asheville, Singapore to Rome. Packs of 50, 100 and sometimes 1,000 tiny clothespins enjoyed top-shelf storage at fine drinking establishments. The tiny clothespin was suddenly the “it” cocktail accessory, the poster child for a progressive garnish method dubbed “aroma posturing,” wherein fragrant citrus peels and herbs were lightly fastened to a cocktail glass exactly at nostril level.
As the tiny clothespin grew in popularity, so too did the variety on offer. Plain hardwood gave way to a rainbow of fine metals—brass, silver, even platinum—employed in five-star establishments in Saudi Arabia and Tokyo. The zeitgeist had found the tiny clothespin.
As demand for the diminutive accoutrement grew, unchecked ambition reared its ugly head. The tiny clothespin insisted upon dramatic production increases and hired an undisclosed Silicon Valley firm to develop Tiny Clothespin: The App, whose development reportedly cost upwards of $3 million. (The product was never released.) To maintain market value, corners were cut elsewhere: materials.
“One word: microplastics,” remarked noted climate activist Don Norton. “Tiny clothespins made of plastic—they end up in landfills, then in fish. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cocktail garnish as much as the next guy—you know, like sliders on Bloody Marys—but this is unsustainable.”
As the cheaper plastic iterations began appearing in airport bars, Applebee’s and exurban cocktail parties, public displeasure turned to vitriol and prominent cocktail enthusiasts released statements shaming the tiny clothespin’s increasingly shoddy performance. In late 2019 a slew of viral memes spoofed the environmental impact: In one, an anthropomorphized Earth, having stepped on a tiny plastic clothespin, grabs its throbbing foot and screams, “This is worse than stepping on a LEGO!” By that point, an interest in maximalist garnish had been renewed, cocktails blooming with all means of flora and fruit. The pendulum had definitively swung back.
In the end, the pressure became too great. The tiny clothespin snapped.
Citing exhaustion, the tiny clothespin disappeared from the cocktail scene for a six-month ayahuasca and silent yoga retreat, after which it gingerly returned to public life—and its roots. Now semiretired, the tiny clothespin has reunited with the shelves of craft stores and big-box retailers everywhere, albeit in smaller numbers and more sustainable materials.
The tiny clothespin is survived by Wes Anderson production design, wedding receptions planned pre-pandemic (bastion of nonrefundable décor deposits) and mini binder clips.