From Pogs to Fanny Packs, here are some of the most popular 90s fads that were cool at the time, but definitely aren’t now.
The 1990s was both a strange and exciting decade. It gave birth to new music genres like grunge, hip hop, and rave. Brought new technologies to the masses, including cable TV and the World Wide Web. Popularized a variety of fashion choices including flannel shirts, overalls, mom jeans, and Doc Martens. But like most decades, the 1990s was full of silly fads.
As bulky 1990s technology, like cell phones and the Palm Pilot, became mainstream, people needed somewhere to put it all (chargers too). Out of necessity, the fanny pack, a purse that buckles on to your waist was born. Fanny Packs were very popular in the early 1990s with both men and women.
But the only people still wearing Fanny Packs today are mostly tourists. If you want to spot a fanny pack in the wild, try visiting Times Square or various landmarks in Europe.
Both grunge music and grunge fashion were huge in the 1990s. Nirvana‘s album Nevermind, and especially their song “Smells Like Teen Spirit“, single-handedly changed music forever. The song’s incredible popularity instantly destroyed the hair metal genre, made flannel shirts cool, and made Seattle the new focus of the music industry. Most grunge bands didn’t make it past the 1990s, but several bands, including Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, are still popular and touring today. Although Pearl Jam has successfully outlasted the 1990s (they even have their own satellite radio station on Sirius XM), grunge fashion has not. Save your flannel shirts for yard work.
Downloading Songs From Napster
Before Sean Parker was the first president of Facebook and the driving force that took the company from a college project to a real business, he was the co-creator of Napster. While still teenagers, Parker and Shawn Fanning created Napster in 1999. Much to the dismay of the record industry, the pier-to-pier file sharing service allowed users to freely share mp3s. It was wildly popular and grew to 10 million users in under a year.
However, Napster had a lot of forces working against it. The service was quickly littered with spyware, malware, and poor quality mp3 files. Finding the free music you were looking for was often a major hassle. And if policing files on Napster wasn’t enough of a headache for Sean Parker, every major record label, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and bands like Metallica, all filed lawsuits against the service. But ultimately, the fall of Napster can likely be attributed to iTunes. Apple found a way to make buying music easier than stealing it.
Beanie Babies are nothing more than small stuffed animals filled with little plastic pellets, or “beans”. But Ty, Inc., the company behind Beanie Babies, created artificial demand for its products by purposely limiting supply, under-delivering on store shipments, and purposely discontinuing popular products. Guess what, the strategy worked. At the height of the 90s Beanie Babies craze, there was a cutthroat purchasing frenzy, fan clubs, fan websites, and even dedicated magazines for collectors.
The limited supply and high demand even spawned a 3rd party market. In the 1990s, collecting Beanie Babies was seen as a practical financial investment. However, demand for the vintage plush animals has waned drastically over the years. Many recent Beanie Babies eBay auctions haven’t yielded either the buyers or the prices collectors had hoped for.
By 1997, Ty, Inc. had distributed over 200 million Beanie Babies around the world. In 2019, it was reported that H. Ty Warner, sole owner and founder of Ty Inc., was worth over $2 billion dollars.
The Rachel Haircut
After Friends debuted on NBC in 1994, it quickly became one of the highest-rated shows on TV. The show was responsible for starting several fashion trends including the “Rachel Haircut“. Everyone wanted their hair to look like Jennifer Aniston‘s character on the show, Rachel. At one point in the mid-1990s, millions of American women all had a variation of Rachel’s haircut at the same time.
Furby, the robotic owl-like hampster toy, first debuted in 1998. It quickly grew in popularity and in 1999 it was the hottest toy of the holiday shopping season. Over 40 million Furbys were sold while the toy was in production. 14 million of those sales took place in 1999 alone.
What made Furby so appealing was that it appeared to learn English. Initially, the toy only spoke its own language, Furbish, when you first took it out of the box. But over time, it started to add English words to its vocabulary. As interesting as it might sound, the toy was only fun for a few days. After that, most kids were done with their Furby. How do you say sell me on eBay in Furbish?
Gel Pens are writing utensils that use ink pigment suspended in water-based gels. They were first invented in the mid-1980s by Sakura Color Products in Japan, but gained popularity in the United States after Crayola created their own line of gel pens.
Crayola took the Japanese gel pen concept and made it more appealing to American children by adding metallic sparkles and fluorescent colors. The strategy worked, and gel pens became one of the biggest 90s fads that we still remember years later.
Bleached Hair & Bleached Tips
Bleached hair was strangely popular, especially with guys in the 1990s. Using blonde hair dye to get bleached tips or spraying peroxide into your hair was very common. The fad even continued into the early 2000s. It’s almost impossible to watch an episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore without seeing someone with bleached tips.
If you weren’t into grunge or hip hop in the 1990s, then you were probably a big fan of boy bands. Backstreet Boys, New Kids on The Block, ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, and New Edition are just a few of the annoying boy bands that topped the charts in the 90s.
In the late 1990s, an “oxygen bar” fad swept across the United States and Canada. Customers could choose an oxygen flavor (scent) and enjoy the “healing benefits” of oxygen for around $0.50 – $1.00 per minute.
Proponents of oxygen therapy claim that the treatments help improve health, remove toxins, relieve stress, boost energy levels, promote relaxation, increase concentration, ease allergies, and even cure headaches and hangovers. Popular 1990s celebrities like John Travolta, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, all reportedly owned special oxygen chambers at their homes. Actor Woody Harrelson even opened his own short-lived oxygen restaurant called O2 in West Hollywood.
Budweiser’s Wassup Commercials
Barely making the cut for this list, Budweiser first debuted their Wassup ad campaign in late December 1999. The series of ads featured a group of friends who always answered their phones or other communications devices, like door intercoms, with the phrase “Wassup!” The memorable, but annoying commercials lasted several years before being phased out.
Russ Troll Dolls
Before Trolls (2016) was a hit animated movie starring Justin Timberlake, it was a 90s toy fad. Troll Dolls were little plastic figures with silly looking faces and long colorful hair created by a toy company called RUSS. Russell Berrie (1933-2002), the founder of Russ Berrie & Company, built his toy empire from a small garage in New Jersey in 1963 to a powerhouse brand delivering $285 million in sales revenue in 2001. Although RUSS produced several other popular toys, including Fuzzy Wuzzies and the Bupkis Family, nothing else came close to the popularity of their Troll Dolls. Rare Troll dolls still sell for up to $500 on eBay. But similar to Beanie Babies, is anyone really buying?
In addition to flannel shirts and saggy pants, overalls were also one of the popular 90’s clothing fads. Hip hop artists would frequently only buckle one shoulder strap or wear their overalls with a belt and let the front flap hang out inside out. To make bulky overalls look sexier, women would wear half shirts and expose their midsections through the sides of the overalls. Even alternative and grunge music fans found a way to make overalls match their look.
At one point during the 1990s, just getting your ears or nose pierced wasn’t enough. People experimented with piercing other parts of their bodies like the tongue, eyebrow, belly button, lips, septum, dimple, labret, monroe, bridge and even nipples and genitalia. Ouch.
Extreme piercings eventually faded in popularity like other 90s fads. Today, the most popular piercings are ear, nose, navel, tongue and nipple, in order.
Polly Pocket Toys
Polly Pocket toys are miniature play sets hidden inside themed hard shell cases. Some example cases include cupcakes, backpacks and suitcases. The Polly Pocket sets come complete with small Polly Pocket figurines less than an inch tall and enable kids to have a portable dollhouse-like experience.
The palm-sized fun lasted through the 1990s until Mattel made a hostile takeover of the creator of Polly Pockets, Bluebird Toys. Mattel then made a series of questionable changes to the Polly Pocket product line, eventually alienating fans. Mattel foolishly discontinued production of the play sets and instead decided to focus on just their new Fashion Polly doll characters. As a result, popularity dwindled, and the toy line was eventually cancelled.
NERD NOTE: In 2018, Garrett Sander, the creator of the popular Mattel toy line, Monster High, revived the Polly Pocket brand. Much to the relief of fans, he brought back the play set concept.
In the early 1990s, a teacher named Blossom Galbiso at Waialua Elementary School in Oahu, Hawaii started teaching her students how to play one of her favorite games from her childhood called Milk Caps. The game was a fun way to teach her students math. But since milk is mostly sold in paper cartons today, not in glass bottles, her students looked elsewhere for caps. Their bottle cap of choice was from a Hawaiian juice called POG. Kids would collect and use the POG bottle caps to play Milk Caps and started calling the game Pogs.
As Galbiso’s students grew up and moved to other states, the game traveled with them. In just a few short years, Pogs quickly spread across the United States, Canada, and then the world. But by the end of the decade, this 90s fad had crashed. Several manufacturers of Pogs, including Canada Games, went out of business as demand died off.
Similar to another popular 90s fad, Trolls, Pokemon also got the Hollywood treatment. The 2019 film, POKÉMON Detective Pikachu, stars Ryan Reynolds.
Sagging Pants: Stupid 90s Fads
Is it cold in here or are your pants just pulled down? Probably one of the most ridiculous 90’s clothing fads is sagging. Saggers would purposely pull their pants down exposing their underwear.
While walking home from high school one day, I saw some kids running away from the Police. One of them was a sagger. He barely made it a few steps when his pants fell down to his feet down causing him to trip and fall on the sidewalk. Not only did he get caught, but the Police also had to give him first aid.
90s pop music wasn’t just limited to boy bands. The girls got into the fun too. One of the most popular girl groups of the decade was the Spice Girls. Melanie Brown (“Scary Spice”), Melanie Chisholm (“Sporty Spice”), Emma Bunton (“Baby Spice”), Geri Halliwell (“Ginger Spice”), and Victoria Beckham (“Posh Spice”) dominated the music charts during the 1990s.
Not only was escaping their music almost impossible during the 90s, so was their smell. The Spice Girls released an Impulse body spray in 1997 and teen girls around the world doused themselves with it. In the TV commercial for Spice Girls Impulse spray (~$70 via eBay), the girls walk naked through the streets and everyone passes out. It’s not too far off from reality. The spray was so pungent that I remember it giving me headaches when my friends would wear it.
Even though they only released three albums between 1996-2000, the Spice Girls are still the best-selling female group of all time. The Spice Girls sold over 85 million records in the 1990s but have struggled to match their original success in the years since.
How do you make an annoying some even more annoying? Attach a dance to it. In the 1990s, you couldn’t escape the reach of the Los Del Rio song “The Macarena” and its associated dance. It was truly one of the most annoying 90s fads and guaranteed to be a required group activity at every school dance.
If sound engineers played the song at a stadium sporting event, everyone would jump to their feet and start “doing the Macarena.” Like a joke that won’t stop, decades later, this 90s fad song still pops up in TV shows and movies like Hotel Transylvania 3.
Tickle Me Elmo: 90s Toy Fads
Tickle Me Elmo is a popular toy from the children’s TV show Sesame Street. The toy would giggle when you tickled its belly and then say Elmo‘s catchphrase “Oh boy, that tickles”. Tickle Me Elmo was one of the most popular holiday season toys during the 90s.
But Elmo’s popularity has faded thanks in part to a Sesame Street sex scandal. The original voice of Elmo, Kevin Clash, was accused of sexual abuse. Clash resigned from Sesame Street following the charges.
One of the most popular TV sitcom characters of the 1990s was Carlton Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Played by actor, Alfonso Ribeiro, his character Carlton will forever be remembered for his iconic nerdy dance, The Carlton. The dance is instantly recognizable, even in silhouette form.
High-Waisted Women’s Jeans (aka Mom Jeans)
Are mom jeans 80s or 90s? The answer is, both. High-waisted women’s jeans first started becoming popular in the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the style of jeans really caught on. Thanks to cameos in popular 1990s television shows like Friends and Beverly Hills 90210, high-waisted women’s jeans quickly became very popular with middle-aged American women. The style of pants is comfortable and features a high waist cut above the belly button and has extra space in the leg and crotch. Most styles also featured an elastic waistband.
The term “mom jeans” didn’t completely catch on until 2003 when Saturday Night Live aired the infamous Mom Jeans parody commercial starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Rachel Dratch. The tagline in the commercial was this: “For this Mother’s Day, don’t give Mom that bottle of perfume. Give her something that says, ‘I’m not a woman anymore… I’m a mom!'”