Growing Up ‘90s: Struggles, Trends, Fashion and Fun

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:31:34 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/IMDb

Growing up in the ‘90s meant baggy clothes, grunge rock, mix tapes and many other trends that would seem weird to today's generation. The decade led to some incredible memories for the kids who were lucky enough to experience it all firsthand.

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The ‘90s were filled with great TV shows and movies, neon colors and plenty of things Gen Z youngsters would never believe today. Check out these ‘90s trends and the fun they brought to the game. Think you will recognize them all? Take a look and find out!

Magic Breath Made the Game Work

Ah, the original Nintendo with Super Mario Bros., the game we all thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sure, other cool games came along, but Mario was the bee’s knees for the longest time.

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Photo Courtesy: Emilio/Flickr

Back then, the controllers were always wired, so we sat on the floor right in front of the TV. Unless your system was brand new, you had to take the game out and blow off the connectors occasionally to make it work. There was no saving back then, so we always got to start right back at the beginning.

Hit Me Back After 9

Cell phones became a little more common in the mid- and late-90s, but there was nothing "smart" about them. If you did have one, it probably looked like one of those pictured here. We spent hours playing "Snake," the only game available on the phones.

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You could call, you could store numbers and — if you had a fancy plan that allowed it — you could text. Most cellular— we used the full name — phone plans gave you 60 minutes a month with free nights and weekends. Remember telling your friends to call you back after 9 p.m. when your minutes were free? Good times.

Rocking the Normal Look

This photo shows you what just about every ‘90s school gym looked like. Graphic tees were a big deal, and it was even better when you had matching shorts. Sweat clothes fit quite differently than we like to wear them now, but they were very comfortable for us.

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Loose jeans with tons of pockets, baseball caps and high top shoes were in style. Mullets and rattails were considered cool hairstyles, and almost all eyeglasses looked alike — none were attractive by modern standards. Also, boys were not afraid to wear a little pink or purple at the time.

Bulky Walkmans Made You Cool

Long before iPods and Sirius XM existed, we had a little something called a Sony Walkman. Those things taught us patience, didn’t they? We had two choices: rewind and fast forward until we found our favorite song or let the whole tape play.

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We walked around with the somewhat bulky things, playing our tapes as long as we could until the batteries started dying, which made the songs play in slow-mo. The foam on the headphones quickly ripped or fell off, but we didn't care. We kept those bulky tape players and headphones until they retired themselves.

Everybody Had a Mix Tape

In the ‘90s, we "downloaded" songs onto cassette tapes. Remember listening to the radio for hours, waiting on our favorite songs to come on so we could record them? Sometimes, kids would leave cassettes recording while they were other places.

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We would play our tapes over and over again until we recorded new ones or eventually wore them out. When the tape would inevitably get pulled out of the cassette, it sparked an instant anxiety attack until we could wind it back in, hoping and praying it wasn’t too crinkled and damaged to work.

Movie Night Was a Treat

A trip to the legendary Blockbuster Video was like a trip to Disney World in the ‘90s. Sure, Netflix and Redbox are comprehensive and convenient, but Blockbuster was something special. We could go in and browse, hoping to find that latest Ninja Turtle or horror movie. We did not have to rush like you often do at a Redbox kiosk.

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If Blockbuster didn’t have a movie in stock, we had to be patient and wait until whoever had rented it brought it back in three days. When the movie we wanted was there, it felt like winning the lottery.

Tied to Your Phone — Literally

Most home phones in the ‘90s were corded and usually located in one of the common rooms of the house. This made private conversations nearly impossible, so we had to come up with code words to talk to friends without parents or pesky siblings knowing what we said.

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If you were really lucky, the cord on your phone was long enough to stretch all the way to another room. The clear phone pictured on the left became very popular because it looked way cooler than the normal beige box phone. Some of them even lit up when they rang!

Crafty Fashion Queens

Let’s just be honest: Both ‘80s and ‘90s fashions included some really fresh looks and some not so fresh looks. We had the M.C. Hammer pants, overalls, tube socks, bright spandex, combat boots, baggy jeans, windbreakers and baggy suits with a tucked-in crewneck underneath.

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Photo Courtesy: Columbia Pictures/IMDb

The cool thing was that pretty much everybody dressed in one extreme fashion or another, meaning no one has room to look at old photos and make fun of anyone else. A lot of great movies perfectly depict ‘90s fashion, but the three that pop to mind first are The Craft, Clerks and Friday.

Hit Me Up on My Pager

Once upon a time, cell phones were nonexistent. (Let that sink in for a minute, Gen Z!) In the early ‘90s, some people had them, but they were rare. If we needed to make a phone call away from home, we had to drive around to find a payphone. Then we paid a quarter for a few minutes of talk time.

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Some kids had pagers, and if someone wanted to contact them, they would call the pager. The owner of the pager would see the number and call that person back, sometimes from a payphone. Communication was definitely not as simple as today. Bonus points for that improvement!

A Portable Bestie

The original Nintendo game system was awesome, but a lot of kids got even more excited when the handheld Game Boy came out. A pocket-size game system that you could carry with you everywhere you went? Yes, please! A portable way to keep yourself occupied at the doctor's office or on road trips? Amazing!

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Trust me, in the ‘90s, there was no online bill pay, so errand day lasted forever. True, the graphics of the early Game Boy certainly didn’t compare to those of today, but that device was the ever-present best friend of many kids.

Best Afternoon TV Shows

After-school TV was all that and a bag of chips back in the day. Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Doug, The Power Rangers, All That and Clarissa Explains It All were just a few of the popular options. Nickelodeon had kids all over America wanting to get slimed or even dig in the giant nose.

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Photo Courtesy: @The90sLife/Twitter

And don’t forget Kenan and Kel, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Rugrats and so many others. The bad part? There was no pausing TV and no DVRs to instantly record at the time. If you wanted to watch something, you had to be in front of the TV when it came on or set up your VCR far in advance (because it took forever!).

Get Off the Phone! I Need the Internet!

Today, almost half of all internet users will move on if a website page doesn’t load in about two seconds. Virtually no one waits longer than 10 seconds. In the ‘90s, connecting to the internet was never that fast.

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You could literally start the connection process, grab a snack and work on your homework or other tasks while you were waiting. Listening to the dial-up sound was annoying, but it actually got worse. You couldn’t use the phone and the internet at the same time — seriously.

Casual Female Fashion Statements

Denim was a big part of fashion in the ‘90s, but these ladies are showing off a few others as well. Patterned sweaters were extremely popular, as was wearing a turtleneck underneath those sweaters. This is how many people dressed during cold weather.

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Photo Courtesy: Lix/Flickr

Our ankles still froze, of course. Most pants weren’t quite long enough, so the breeze blew right up the legs. The short bangs are also representative of the times, just like the cute ponytail and the hair that is pulled halfway back. Makeup at that time was either extreme or nonexistent.

Denim Galore

Denim was a huge part of the ‘90s — denim jeans, denim jackets, two-toned denim, button-ups with denim patches and even denim purses. There were also denim dresses, denim overalls, ripped denim, denim hats and denim shirts. Some people even wore a denim jacket over a denim shirt.

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And, of course, Jennifer Aniston kept the trend alive with her denim vests and other pieces. Denim really was everywhere. While we did see a lot of baggy denim, you can see from this picture that tight denim jeans were popular among men and women alike.

‘90’s Texting

Passing notes in class or in the hall between classes was the ‘90s way of texting. We would write to a friend in one class and pass the note in the hall. Then, he or she would read it in the next class and write back, and the cycle would continue. Sometimes, we would have five or six notes in play at a time.

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We had to be sneaky, though. If we were caught, some teachers would make you read the note out loud. That happened to go directly against the "For Your Eyes Only" policy. How rude!

Ugly Toys

The ‘90s saw the rise of (creepy) troll dolls. Everybody loved them. They were the cutest yet ugliest toys. The hair was colorful and awesome, and they had some cool outfits. The jewels in some of their bellies were pretty fun too.

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However, those faces were just weird when the lights were turned on. Imagine when they were turned off! Well, let’s just say these dolls were not something you wanted to wake up next to in the middle of the night. Waking up to those beady little eyes would be enough to give anyone nightmares.

Ugh, As If!

One ‘90s movie had everyone "totally buggin'," especially teen and tween girls. Clueless came into our lives sporting the ever-fashionable plaid craze, slip dresses and a long list of popular hairstyles. Every girl wanted to be rich-girl Cher, played by Alicia Silverstone, but the awesome cast didn’t stop there.

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Along with others, Stacey Dash, Paul Rudd and Brittany Murphy all delivered excellent performances. Although the movie didn’t invent the phrases, it definitely popularized "As if," "Whatever," and, of course, "Totally Buggin’." It was an awesome movie for girls in the ‘90s.

Saturdays Were the Best

We all looked forward to Saturday mornings, and not because we got to sleep in. Saturdays were actually the one morning that we looked forward to waking up early because that’s when the best cartoons were on TV.

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Photo Courtesy: @The90sLife/Twitter

Looney Tunes, Duck Tales, Chip and Dale, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Darkwing Duck, The Smurfs, Freakazoid, Goof Troop, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, Dexter’s Laboratory and Tom and Jerry were just a few of the greats. We would sit in front of the TV with a bowl of cereal until they ended, and then we went outside to play.

Awesome Lunch Sets and Snacks

Everybody knew that a lunchbox with a matching thermos was absolutely necessary for a kid in the ‘90s. You just couldn’t be cool without a set. Some of the common ones were The Little Mermaid, Barbie, Snow White, The Muppet Show, Beauty and the Beast, My Little Pony, Ninja Turtles and Fraggle Rock.

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Also important was what was inside the lunchbox, and that doesn’t mean a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We had Fruit Gushers, Shark Bites and Fruit Roll-Ups to brighten our day. Some of us had Fruit by the Foot, which seemed to be about 3 feet longer back then.

A Fresh Taste of Horror

If you were a middle school kid in the ‘90s, you read Goosebumps. It’s just what you did. A few years ago, a movie based on the author and series was produced, but '90's kids got the first taste of this delightfully creepy storytelling. It was certainly a different type of series than anything we currently have.

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R.L. Stine published a total of 62 books in the ‘90s, and almost every young person read every single one. We then moved onto his Fear Street and Point Horror series, which happened to be a bit more chilling and "grown up" than Goosebumps.

I Know My Future — Want to Know Yours?

Every '90s kid had psychic abilities — or so we thought. We would play silly things like MASH, where you could easily predict things like who your future spouse would be, where you would live, how much money you would have, the type of job you would have, and, of course, how many kids you would have.

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This beauty here in the picture worked just as well. By choosing between the colors, numbers and other options, you could find out all about your future. We all believed it would come true, of course (not).

The Prince Was Here

Everybody in the '90s knew the intro to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, whether they wanted to or not. First of all, it was a hilarious show, and Will Smith’s frequent inability to hold back his smile made it even better.

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Second, music back then — yes, even intros — was just too catchy to ignore. It was surprising if you knew someone who didn’t know the lyrics to every Will Smith, Aaliyah, Spice Girls, Ricky Martin, No Doubt, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC song. And the few songs named here barely scratch the surface.

Striped Goodness

Fruit Stripes Gum, a.k.a. "zebra gum," was absolutely delicious — for about 10 seconds, anyway until the flavor was gone. You could chew the whole pack of 17 pieces in an hour or less if you were so inclined, just to keep the flavor going.

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Still, it had a cool package and even better-looking sticks of gum. It came with zebra stripes painted on. Even better was that the gum came with temporary tattoos in the pack. Fruit Stripes Gum was originally launched in the ‘60s, but it built a real cult following among '90's kids.

Growing with the Stars

Long before they were the acting successes they are today, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio were like all newcomers trying to make it in Hollywood. They all started acting in the ‘80s, so kids who were born in the early ‘80s and grew up in the '90s have been with these boys from the start.

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In fact, some of the movies that really made them big household names are from the '90s. Depp’s Edward Scissorhands was released in 1990. Pitt’s Seven was released in 1995, followed by Fight Club in 1999. DiCaprio’s Titanic was released in 1997.

Just Rewind the Tape, Please

When we rented movies from the video store, they were on videotapes. Just like cassette tapes, you had to manually rewind them. Imagine the disappointment when after waiting patiently for weeks to rent a movie, we put the video in and discovered it was at the end of the tape.

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We then had to wait another five minutes for it to rewind and then sit through several minutes of previews. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. It was a happy day when video stores started fining folks who did not rewind the videos before returning them.

Merry Christmas, You Filthy Animals!

If you did not grow up watching Home Alone, you really missed out on something special. This was one of the greatest movies as a kid. It was funny and heartwarming, but also hilariously awesome watching Kevin take down those burglars.

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Anyone who sees it now sees the old clothes, the old hairstyles and the old home décor. The '90's kids, though, lived it first-hand, so we can relate completely. We had some of that same décor, some of that hair and most definitely some of those clothes — and we loved it!

I Really Like You!

Dream Phone was a game introduced by Milton Bradley in the early '90s, and every girl either wanted it or had it. Truthfully, it was a lot easier playing the game than dealing with real boys at the time.

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Here’s how it worked: You dialed one of the boys on the cards with your dream phone, got a clue about your secret admirer and worked through the clues until you figured out who it was. It was kind of like playing Guess Who but for young, hormonal girls — and with a phone, of course.

Oh, That's Just My Beeper

For those kids who weren’t old enough or lucky enough to have a real beeper in the '90s, we had the "Bubble Beeper" — gum in a container that was shaped like a beeper. Everyone knew what they were, but that didn’t stop us from trying to play them off as real beepers.

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We all felt cool walking around with our gum clipped onto our pants, our overalls or our purses. Some kids would even color their Bubble Beepers black to look even more like a real beeper. Those were the days!

Are You Listed?

Remember when the only "Contact List" was the one you wrote down on a sheet of paper? Well, '90's kids definitely do. There was no "Hey, text me, so I can get your number." Nope. You either memorized it or kept up with that slip of paper.

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There were also no Google searches for businesses. We had the phone book. No clue what that is? It was an alphabetical list of everyone in the area who wanted their number listed, along with local businesses listed in yellow pages in the back of the book. If we wanted a number, we searched through the book or called 411.

Developing Disappointment

90s kids did not have digital cameras or smartphones with cameras. We had disposable cameras that came with a certain number of shots, usually around 24 or 27. We would snap away at everything, including ourselves — no, the modern generation did not invent selfies.

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When we had snapped all of our shots, we would take it to the store to have it developed. About a week later, the photo prints would be ready. It was at that point that we would find out the pictures we were so excited about did not turn out well at all.