The best decade to be a child in. Probably.
Ah, the ‘90s, a time when you could be Baby, Sporty, Posh, Ginger or Scary and still be attractive to the boy who sat beside you in History (OK, not really). Anyway, before you were running L’Oreal hair mascara through your locks and wearing combat pants and crop tops a la All Saints, there were at least twenty items that had probably stolen your heart.
1. Clackers. The ‘90s were a simple time, we didn’t have tablets or apps to keep us entertained. The internet wasn’t widely available for us to while away those long, hot summer holidays and so we had clackers. Try and ‘clack’ a rhythm out, how about Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie by Bombalurina? Hanky Panky by Madonna, perhaps? How fast can you go? How slow can you go? Let’s wait a few minutes and let the adults think we’ve stopped. Are they looking relieved? Time to start again! I can’t imagine now being stuck on a plane or train journey with a child who owns clackers…
2. Sweater Shop jumpers (and t-shirts). No matter your age or gender, your parents will have bought you many items from this land of jumpers. The Sweater Shop had two very diverse lines of clothing – the pastel range which featured half-moons, stars or snowflakes. The pastel line often teamed up clashing pastels in diamond patterns or thick and thin stripes together. And then there was the garish but dowdy line. You didn’t know it was possible to be both? Trust me, anyone who ever stepped into a Sweater Shop realised that it was not only possible but a big part of their business plan. Brown and purple Aztec print? They had it, you might even have worn it. Oh, and they seemed to really like boats and compasses too.
3. Friendship bracelets. Forget Loom Bands, we ‘90s girls (and boys) were crafting bracelets to demonstrate our love for each other way back when. The ol’ three string method getting boring? Fear not, there were hundreds of patterns for thicker bands at your local craft store (still no internet).
4. Hypercolour T-Shirts. As kids, we spent days sitting with our hands on our t-shirts or breathing into them just to see the colour change. They were never going to last, though, they were a novelty item that just showed up your problem areas in the heat. If you’re a sweaty person, it’s more than likely your clothes are gonna change colour when you’re hot anyway.
5. Push Pops. Push it for flavour, save some for later. They’re tasty but mainly sticky. Eating a Push Pop on a hot day? Be prepared for every part of your body to be covered in that claggy, syrupy goo – and to find that same gunk dried on all of your clothes months after you last ate the damn thing.
6. Shell suits. Bright colours and shiny exteriors? That’s just what we all wanted from our leisurewear back in the ‘90s. I remember seeing full families wearing all manner of rainbow coloured shell suits. I remember wondering often, even as a child, if they were meant to have clashing colours on the suits. Did someone actually design them to look like that? Did we want them to be fire hazards too? Not really, that was just an inadvertent side effect. Shell suits on bonfire night? Explosive.
7. Pogs. ‘Mum! I need more Monster Munch!’ ‘Why?’ ‘Well, for one they’re delicious but mainly because you get a free Pog in every bag!’ Let’s flip milk bottle caps with crazy characters on them in one of the earliest forms of gambling any of us have ever participated in.
8. Head bags. Enjoy a game of tennis? No? No worries, you can still carry your school books and stationary in this bag designed for athletes to schlep their equipment around in. Get them in a range of pallid colours like lilac, mint green and yellow.
9. Slap bracelets. An early-form of sadomasochism, the ‘slap wrap’ came in a range of lurid colours but none so red as your skin after you’d stood for a few minutes indulging in this fad popular among masochists. They were, however, swiftly banned in schools in an early demonstration of Health and Safety procedure.
10. Point Horror books. Before you got reading lists from teachers or people started being snobby about reading the classics, we young readers were united by Point Horror. R.L Stine might now be famous for Goosebumps but for children of the ‘90s, he was the king of horror. The Babysitter, a precursor to the Scream films in my mind, was probably my favourite.
11. Scraperfoil art. Crap at drawing? Your mum may have bought this for you as a consolation. All you had to do was scrape off the design to reveal Tutankhamun in gold or a penguin in shiny silver. ‘Don’t press too hard, though, ohh… now you’ve ripped it and made a mess of that lovely gift you were going to give to Grandma.’
12. Hats. Now ‘hats’ may seem too broad a term to include in this list. After all, I’m sure fedoras were a staple of a 1950s childhood however, the ‘90s really went for hats in a really big way. Long before Pharrell wore that Vivienne Westwood number, shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Sister Sister and Blossom encouraged us to try out corduroy hats and crushed velvet hats with flowers on them. Thanks to the Backstreet Boys, we thought it was ok to wear caps with the peaks turned up. And don’t even get me started on bandanas…
13. Do the Bartman cassette. When Do the Bartman was released on cassette in 1991, the UK was still five years away from screening The Simpsons on terrestrial TV but that didn’t stop the single, co-written by Michael Jackson, going to Number 1 in the UK charts. I’d never seen the show but that didn’t stop me playing that cassette over and over again, enamoured with the little rebel. By the way, do you know why The Simpsons are yellow? Not because they live near a nuclear plant but because they’re a cartoon (my bad).
14. Denim dungarees. OK, so I never wore them with just a bra like Kelly Kapowski but on a hot, sunny day, what better item to wear on top of your hypercolour t-shirt than a pair of denim dungarees? If you were particularly warm, you could wear the short version although I have seen many people wearing the full-length dungarees during the height of summer. They’re not only fashionable but functional – you can use that pouch in the front to carry stuff like your Walkman and perhaps a Point Horror book. Or maybe a hat.
15. Swingball. Good if you’re an only child, great if you have siblings. Perfect if you have some pent-up anger towards the person you’re playing against. This may be the best game ever for passive aggressive people.
16. Mood rings. Now you may think these two items were girl-centric but you’d be wrong. The boys loved chokers and mood rings but perhaps for different reasons. They seemed obsessed with checking the colour of your ring (ahem) prior to then asking if it was the time of the month. Also, girls liked to use mood rings for three things: 1) Checking their mood as soon as they woke up, before a mood really had a chance to form; 2) Trying to change their mood and therefore change the colour of the ring; 3) As a warning or an excuse for bad behaviour.
17. The Talkboy. Started out as a prop in Home Alone 2 but was manufactured for real following a campaign by fans of the film. It was essentially a tape player but it also had a built-in microphone and the ability to slow or speed up the recording. Want to play tricks on people a la Kevin McAllister? This is the perfect toy for you. Fancy snooping around and recording conversations that weren’t meant to be heard? Go for it! With that in mind, I can only imagine the embarrassment caused to some parents with this particular ‘90s invention.
18. Alien embryos. Kinda educational and also kinda gross. An alien in an egg surrounded by slime which then hatches, that’s what it boiled down to but they were all the rage. They were just the right side of disgusting to be ok with parents while still appealing to kids.
19. James Pond. There are other games that were more pervasive in the 90s but James Pond was a legend. This game – and its sequels – transcended platforms, appearing on everything from Atari to Playstation and everything in between. No matter which console you had, you could help Pond defeat flying bathtubs, walking playing cards and giant frozen hands. Yep, you read that right.
20. Tea dresses and Doc Martens. Thanks to those Sweet Valley High twins and Clarissa (while she was busying explaining it all), many of us ‘90s girls thought we’d pair our granny’s floral tea dress with a pair of clunky Doc Martens – and perhaps throw on a crushed velvet hat for good measure. I understand the dress and boots were meant to demonstrate a dichotomy,where girls could look girly but have a strong core but really, we just looked a clunky mess.