Remember when you had to page your friends on their beepers with a special code instead of texting them? Or when you’d run to the store to see if they’d gotten the latest shipment of Beanie Babies? For everyone who grew up in the 1990s, these things were a normal part of life. Read on to find out all the other ways to tell if you’re a ’90s kid at heart.
There were plenty of toy crazes in the ’90s but Beanie Babies took the phrase “obsession” to a whole other level. These soft and cuddly playthings inspired Beatles-level riots in customers desperate to get their hands on the latest, rarest and most sought-after designs.
Limited edition styles, a constantly evolving hang tag and other marketing-savvy choices are what fueled the Beanie Baby boom; once a design was sold out, it wasn’t coming back, leading collectors to view them as much as investments as a cute gift for their niece or nephew. So don’t feel bad if you thought your collection was going to pay for your retirement — so did everyone else.
Every Christmas, there’s a toy that you (or your kids) simply must have, and in 1998 that title went to Furby, a freaky, furry robotic toy that was supposed to interact with kids and eventually learn to communicate with them. Never mind that it looked like it should have been starring in its own horror movie franchise, á la Child’s Play.
After selling almost two million units over Christmas that year, Furby became a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Similar to Beanie Babies, Furbies came in a variety of different colors and styles, and collectors drove up the price for the most desirable designs. In 1999 alone over 14 million were sold, making it one of Hasbro’s most popular toys ever.
If you ever shed a tear when your Tamagotchi died because you forgot to feed it, you’re definitely a ’90s kid. These brightly colored toys from Japanese company Bandai were pretty much the coolest thing you could have in 1997 and with sales in the tens of millions, they foreshadowed an entire generation of digital pets and interactive gaming.
The premise was simple enough Just hatch your pet and take care of it (the name Tamagotchi is a mashup of the Japanese words for “egg” and “watch”) by making sure to feed it, play with it, and even clean up after it. Either they’d thrive under your careful attention or, as was more often the case, wither away from neglect; the choice was yours.
Bath & Body Works
Country Apple. Cucumber Melon. Plumeria. Chances are that if you grew up in the ’90s, you called one of these classic Bath & Body Works fragrances your signature scent; the mall retailer was one of the biggest brands of the decade and many teenage girls’ first experience with fragrance and body care.
B&BW, as it’s affectionately called by customers, was a go-to gift in the ’90s for birthdays and Christmas (or any occasion really) because of their enormous selection and variety of scents – there was literally something for everyone. And they didn’t just stop at body lotion and body wash; there were scented candles, body sprays and hand soaps to round out your collection.
One of the surest signs you’re a child of the ’90s is if you can recite the entirety of Hocus Pocus from start to finish. This 1993 film about a trio of Salem witches who are accidentally set free on Halloween was considered a flop in the theaters but is now a bona fide cult classic.
And just how did that happen? Cable TV. Just a few years after it was released, Hocus Pocus went into heavy rotation on Disney and ABC and an entire generation grew up watching Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker terrorize Salem every day after school. I put a spell on you, indeed.
Why scented markers? Why not? Back when decorating your textbooks’ brown paper bag covers were a thing, scented markers were an essential component of any well-stocked pencil case. And if you had an older brother or sister in the ’90s, you probably borrowed their markers until you could get your own. And there was only one brand to get – Mr. Sketch.
The starter pack came in four colors and was the perfect introduction to the wide world of scented markers: cherry (red), banana (yellow), mint (green) and blueberry (blue). If you were feeling really spendy, you could go for the eight pack, which turned banana into lemon and added grape (purple), licorice (black) and cinnamon (brown).
Amongst ’90s kids, the name R.L. Stine carries nearly the same weight as Stephen King does for adults. His iconic Goosebumps series was a staple of school book fairs around the country and almost single-handedly responsible for introducing a generation of kids to the spooky pleasures of a scary story.
Stine published his first novella, Welcome to Deadhouse, in 1992 and eventually wrote more than 60 titles under the Goosebumps banner before ending the series in 1997. Kids loved the scary but relatable stories that often involved clueless adults and creepy monsters and especially the iconic covers to titles like Night of the Living Dummy and Chicken Chicken.
Here’s the secret about Pogs, those brightly colored cardboard discs that were everywhere in the mid 1990s: no one knew what to do with them. Did you just collect them? Did you throw them in the air and scramble to catch them, like 52-Pickup? And just why were they called Pogs, anyway?
It turns out that Pogs were named after a brand of fruit juice and were just a commercial variant of an older game that originated in Hawaii called Milk Caps, where you and another player stacked your caps (or “pogs”) and took turns knocking them down with a heavy disc called a “slammer.” The game was reintroduced in the ’90s and quickly became a global sensation.
In the 1990s, buying your first pair of Doc Martens was as much a teenage rite of passage as getting your driver’s license or seeing your first R-rated movie. For decades they’d been a hit in Britain with punks, goths and other fashionable subcultures, but in the 1990s they turned into an essential part of the homegrown grunge movement.
Whether you wore a 10-eye black boot or a pair of burgundy Mary Janes, Docs and their distinctive yellow stitching came to symbolize a youthful, rebellious spirit that resonated with teens from Seattle to Boston. The scruffier and dirtier they were, the better, with every crack, rip and stain marking them as uniquely yours.
Here’s to all the Friday nights spent browsing through the racks at Blockbuster Video and picking out a movie based on the cover art alone. It seems quaint now, in an age when hundreds of thousands of movies are available at the push of a button, but renting movies from Blockbuster is one of the most iconic ’90s experiences ever.
The first Blockbuster store opened in Dallas, Texas, in 1985, and by 1990 it was so successful it had purchased a smaller rival chain and expanded nationwide. But its success with VHS rentals didn’t translate to the newly emerging DVD market and by 2013 the now-bankrupt company closed its few hundred remaining stores.
No back-to-school shopping trip in the 1990s was complete without a Lisa Frank notebook or folder, or at the very least a lunchbox or stationary set. Her brightly colored, wildly imaginative designs were de riguer amongst elementary and middle school students and came to define the neon-animal aesthetic of the decade.
From neon-spotted puppies to rainbow-colored tigers, her whimsical designs inspired legions of devoted fans even as Frank herself remained a notoriously private figure. She’s since branched out to release a limited edition pair of Reebok sneakers and is reportedly in talks to create a movie based on her colorful creations.
Legends of the Hidden Temple
Though it was only on the air from 1993 to 1995, Legends of the Hidden Temple looms large in the minds of ’90s kids as one of the greatest game shows of all times. Who didn’t dream of correctly answering one of the Questions of Knowledge, or successfully completing the labyrinthine final Temple Run?
The show was a smart mix of historical information and nonviolent challenges, a rarity in kids’ game shows (plus the Indiana Jones-inspired set design was just plain cool!). In its last year on air, it even won a CableACE award for Best Game Show Special or Series, so can Netflix or someone else please bring this back?
Baby. Scary. Sporty. Posh. Ginger. They ruled the world in the 1990s as the best-selling female pop group of all time with songs like Wannabe, which was a number one hit in over 30 countries and remains the all-time best-selling single by an all-female group (try saying that three times fast!).
The Spice Girls inspired a devoted fan base thanks to their catchy songs, idiosyncratic personalities and eye-popping outfits, like Geri Halliwell’s iconic Union Jack dress at the 1997 BRIT Awards. They were cool, funny and all about “Girl Power,” which was just about as perfect a ’90s slogan as you could dream.
Only ’90s kids know the joy of spotting Waldo, a bespectacled time-traveler with a penchant for red and white stripes, in the depths of one of English illustrator Martin Handford’s incredibly amusing and detailed pictures — and the pain of failing to find him at all. Such was the simple but addictive power of Handford’s wildly popular Where’s Waldo? Series.
The first Waldo (or Wally, as he was known in his native England) book was released in 1987 but by the time Where’s Waldo? In Hollywood was published in 1993 he was a genuine worldwide sensation. When fans couldn’t get enough of the original series, there were plenty of activity books, animated TV shows and video games to explore.
Combining the latest fashion trends and cool celebrities with in-depth features on everything from drug abuse to a day in the life of Miss America, Sassy was the coolest magazine around. And if you didn’t have a subscription, chances are you knew someone who did and would gladly share their copy.
Sassy was the wise older sister you never had, the best friend you could share your deepest secrets with; nothing was too embarrassing or too weird for editor Jane Pratt and her staff of talented and deeply empathetic writers. And by the time the eight-year-old Sassy published its last issue in 1996, the influential magazine had come to define an entire generation.
Who knew that a show about toddlers, told from their point of view, would become a cultural touchstone for millions of kids (and some adults too)? But Rugrats, which debuted on Nickelodeon on August 11, 1991, combined great writing with a talented voice cast that brought the adventures of Tommy, Chuckie, Angelica, Phil and Lil to life.
The misadventures of Tommy and the gang were a staple of after-school Nickelodeon programming, and the success of the show after just a few seasons helped lead to theatrical movies, one-off specials, and a whole host of Rugrats-related merchandise. For the die-hard fans, there was even a five-season show, All Grown Up!, that followed Tommy and his friends as adolescents.
Milky Gel Pens
Like scented markers and Lisa Frank notebooks, milky gel pens were an absolute must have during the ’90s. They came in tons of different colors and styles to suit whatever mood you were in and looked so cool even if all you were doing was writing a note to your best friend during homeroom.
The seemingly infinite variety of colors made picking just one impossible, which is why the pad that most stores kept nearby so you could try them out was usually filled to the brim with multicolored doodles and scribbles. And then you got into the metallic and glitter category, which opened a whole new door to colorful creativity.
Butterfly Hair Accessories
If you had to sum up the ’90s in one animal, butterflies would be pretty close to the top of the list. One of the most iconic accessories in the ’90s were butterfly hair clips, which could sometimes look like the actual insect but also referred to any style hair clip with a butterfly-style closure.
There were tons of ways to wear them but one of the most popular ways was to take a few strands from the front of your face, twist them and then clip them together in the back for a ’90s take on a fairy-tale look. Add in a daisy choker and some glitter lip gloss and you were ready to take on the world.
There are lots of bands you could argue defined the ’90s – Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Spice Girls, just to name a few – but it’s almost impossible to talk about the music of the era without mentioning ‘NSYNC, whose chart-topping success gave the world a boy band rivalry for the ages and of course, Justin Timberlake.
In the ’90s Orlando, Florida, was the epicenter of the boy band craze and ‘NSYNC harnessed the power of catchy pop songs and intricate choreography to become one of the biggest acts on the planet. Their sophomore album, No Strings Attached, sold over two million copies in its first week and inspired future generations of karaoke singers with the single Bye Bye Bye.
The ’90s gave us arguably one of the best pop rivalries in music history with Backstreet Boys versus ‘NSYNC and which side you came down on said just as much about you as it did about the music. But BSB, as they were affectionately called by fans, had a slight edge in being the first group on the block and undoubtedly helped pave the way for Justin and Co.’s later success.
The group formed under the direction of manager Lou Perlman (he later worked with ‘NSYNC but parted ways before they hit it big) and were already a huge hit overseas when they released their sophomore album, Backstreet’s Back, in the U.S. in 1997. They’ve since sold over 100 million albums worldwide, landed a Las Vegas residency and even co-headlined with NKOTB.
Snapple was more than just a drink in the ’90s; it was a way of life. There was something so simple about their slogan, “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth,” not to mention the fact that the company enjoyed one of the most popular and iconic ad campaigns of the decade with the introduction of “The Snapple Lady” in 1992.
Remember her, sitting at her desk answering supposedly real letters from real Snapple drinkers? It was charming and a little different, just like the facts that were included on the underside of every bottle cap. Sure, not all of them were true, like the one that incorrectly stated the average American will eat eight spiders a year while sleeping, but hey, it got you thinking.
The ideal school lunch for a ’90s kid was a turkey and cheese Lunchables followed up a package of Dunkaroos (unless you were really lucky and your mom had bought you the kind of Lunchables that already came with a dessert). Dunkaroos were a magic combination of cookie and frosting that was so simple yet so incredibly satisfying.
The popular snack was introduced in 1990 and quickly became one of the biggest food trends of the decade with kid friendly flavors like chocolate cookies with vanilla icing and chocolate chip graham cookies with rainbow sprinkle icing. Plus, the accompanying ad campaign, which featured an Australian-accented kangaroo (voiced by future Hedwig and the Angry Inch actor John Cameron Mitchell), had one catchy jingle.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Even if you weren’t into video games in the ’90s, you still probably played Sonic the Hedgehog at a friend’s house – that’s how big the game was. Sony created the anthropomorphic character as their answer to Nintendo’s Mario and quickly found itself in control of an entire media universe centered on the spiky speedster.
As of 2011 the series had sold over 89 million physical copies, launched numerous sequels and spin-off games, and become every bit as iconic as the one starring the little red plumber guy. The gameplay was simple – just run super-fast and collect as many rings as you can – but so engrossing and challenging that literally anyone could play and they did.
“The truth is out there.” If that slightly spooky tagline rings a bell, you definitely scared yourself silly watching The X-Files, which premiered in 1993 and dominated the decade with stories of government conspiracies, alien abductions and a will-they-won’t-they vibe between FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).
The sci-fi series, which ran for nine seasons before ending in 2002, could be as funny as it could be creepy and struck a chord with audiences in the alien-obsessed ’90s (it was a Very Big Thing). The show proved so popular it even spawned two theatrical movies and a 2016 revival starring Duchovny and Anderson.
Along with Sassy magazine, this was one of the most important pieces of mail any ’90s teen could receive. You could spend hours browsing its eclectic mix of tiny polo shirts, plaid golf pants and teeny-tiny chokers until you knew the name and price of every single item and coveted every single one.
From its extremely ’90s penchant for random capitalization to its refreshingly unpretentious models, Delia’s was the arbiter of cool teenage girls and young women who didn’t want to look like everyone else. The company, which was founded in New York City in 1993, had several profitable years before being sold in 2003. It recently re-emerged as an online retailer targeted toward millennials and Gen Z.
Beverly Hills, 90210
When it premiered on Fox in 1990, Beverly Hills, 90210 was such a hit it took critics and executives by surprise – who knew a soap opera aimed at teenagers and young adults could be so popular? But in retrospect, the show was destined to be a pop culture phenomenon, from its catchy theme song to its then-unknown cast that looked like they stepped out of the pages of Tiger Beat.
Initially, the show centered on the culture shock of siblings Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) as they try to transition from life in Minnesota to Beverly Hills. But the show, which eventually ran for 10 seasons, quickly leaned into its soapier aspects and tackled everything from drug abuse and homophobia to domestic violence.
Before there smartphones or WhatsApp, there were beepers. Or maybe you called them pagers. But whatever you called them, these portable messaging devices were just about the coolest thing you could have as a teenager in the ’90s, especially when you and your friends discovered the thrilling secret world of beeper codes.
Some of them were pretty universal, like sending “143” to your boyfriend or girlfriend, which meant I (1) Love (4) You (3), or “121” to your best friend as a way to signal you need to talk. There were more elaborate ones too, like “07734,” which reads “Hello” upside down and was therefore extra cool.
Sure, there is no way any of the characters on Friends could afford those luxurious Manhattan apartments while working as a coffee shop waitress or a struggling actor. And for a show set in one of the most diverse cities on the planet, there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in the cast.
But you still watched every episode of Friends, which was the defining show of the ’90s and turned its then-unknown cast into some of the biggest stars in the world. The show was so popular that Jennifer Aniston’s signature layered shag, known simply as “The Rachel,” was copied by women everywhere. Can you a name another show that could do that?
The ‘S’ Sign
Learning how to draw this pointy, graffiti-inspired S sign was practically mandatory for anyone who grew up in the ’90s. No one’s really sure where it came from or how it got started, but it’s almost beside the point – it’s just super fun and easy to draw and looks really cool.
Maybe you had an older brother or sister who showed it to you, or you asked some friends at school. Textbook covers, backpacks (yes, drawing on backpacks was a thing), school bathroom walls – no place was safe from this hypnotic sigil that’s one the most iconic (and least understood) ’90s fads ever.