The essential desire to swaddle--to protectively wrap what we hold precious--manifests itself in many ways: A mother sweetly tucks a fuzzy blanket around a baby. A mimicking toddler bundles up a teddy bear in an old T-shirt. A cell phone user slides a Nokia 5150 snugly into a padded tapestry slipcase emblazoned with images of galloping racehorses. So how does that basic swaddling instinct develop into an impulse to create accessories for inanimate objects, I ask my friend Renee Perry, an evolutionary biologist.
"Swaddling is part of the nesting instinct," she explains. "When something is dear to us and vulnerable, we want to keep it safe and warm. Decoration and elaboration are adaptations that display visible signs of worth. Now that cell phones have become appendages and are considered essential, they're looked after and outfitted in new ways."
While considering the curious human propensity to accessorize inanimate objects, my friend lets her impressive scientific methods slip and nearly misses an obvious metaphor. "I do understand the function of a tea cozy to keep the teapot hot," she observes. "But why are so many tea cozies shaped like chickens?" And then the delayed Eureka! occurs: the nesting instinct, of course.
In the small village on the east coast of Scotland where my mother-in-law lived during the last 10 years of her life, tea cozies are commonplace, and cell phones, until recently, rare. My mother-in-law plied her deft needlework talent in making tea cozies and knitting drawstring bags for holding hot water bottles. Although she wasn't prone to the handicraft hysteria that drives people to crochet hoop skirts for toilet paper rolls or shroud doorknobs with doilies, her projects did have an inventive streak to them: at breakfast, boiled eggs appeared wearing little ski hats and a favorite beach rock, working in-house as a doorstop, was covered in a tiny hand-knit sweater. Although Mum never made jaunty caps for Big Bertha golf clubs--plenty were available for sale in the nearby town--or tailored a pouch for a Motorola StarTAC, I'm sure, if asked, she would have gladly whipped up a smart little techno tutu.
For the vast legions of cell phone users with swaddling urges, it's never been easier to keep personal phones safely and stylishly under wraps. When Joni Blecher, senior editor for the Web site CNET Wireless, posted a feature last December that highlighted "50 Chic Cell Phone Cases," she broke down the cell phone fashion groups into Executive Unisex, Sport, Gen Y, For Him, and For Her and presented a range of products from rugged no-frills nylon and Velcro belt-hangers (http://www.goincase.com) to Nicole Miller's Drawstring Diaper Backpack with detachable phone case, changing pad, and dirty duds pouch (http://www.nicolemiller.com).
Coach Leather Goods (www.coach.com) aims to create an insta-classic, a cell phone case that erases any memory of the object's geek ancestry (isn't a cell phone case really just the cosmopolitan cousin of the plastic pocket protector?). The Coach cases--in wool tartan, logo-ized jacquard fabric or basic black leather--ease into the accessory lineup with brisk American assurance and style.
An innovative attitude infuses the design philosophy at Lancel, the venerable French luxury goods company. Founded in 1883, Lancel prides itself as "always in tune with the times and responsive to the evolution of a society in flux"; their fine leather Elsa cell phone holders, naturellement, are elegant and refined (available through http://www.noixdarec.com/html).
For the more Gore-Tex and Cordura-inclined crowd, there are numerous options. Mike Sandman, the self declared "Telecom Expert" of Chicago, offers a sturdy phone holster complete with a "Police Style Belt Clip originally designed for Inside the Pants." Good news for the Sansabelt wearer: You can now carry your phone and forget the belt (http://www.sandman.com).
The Boulder Bag company (with a trademarked motto: "Built Rock Solid") offers a heavy-duty nylon and steel phone holder, a look that would complement any hammer holster (available at http://www.contractorstools.com). And, for the whole-Earth aficionado, Artisan Gear in Vermont has created a 100% hemp canvas case with a waterproof lining (http://www.artisangear.com).
But cell phone cases, of all things, needn't be burdened with earnestness or industrial-strength demands. Consider Hello Kitty phone cases available in loads of cheap and cheerful pastel plastics and the always-popular animal prints. Contact the Sayuri Silk Company (http://www.sayuri-silk.com) and order a miniature kimono lined in satin to swath your Ericson R280LX.
"Cell phones are really adult pacifiers," observes a curmudgeonly and happily phone-free friend. "Why do grown-up people have to hang on to them every minute?"
At the whimsical but chic boutique Suss (pronounced "Seuss," 7354 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles,  954-9637), owner-designer Susanne Cousins has established a weekly introductory knitting class. In just one session, you can learn to make a pattern and knit your own cell phone cover. A blankie for a cell phone--now there's a completely cozy idea.