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As the final teens of the 20th century, teenagers in the late-’90s were on the cusp of adulthood and a new millennium at the same time. They were a generation that straddled tradition and technology, making their experiences unlike those of any other group.
If you fall into this demographic, you understand how unique your formative years truly were. You also understand some things that those coming up after you never will.
Curling up with a good read often meant flipping through the pages of the latest “Tiger Beat” or “CosmoGirl” magazine. Whether you loved the fashion tips, pictures of celebrity hotties, or personality quizzes, there was always something fresh and fun to find out about. When you were done reading, you might have hung torn-out pages on your bedroom wall.
No matter if you lived in the boonies or were a city dweller, you could nab the cutest clothes thanks to Delia*s. The direct marketing retailer offered fashion geared toward tweens and teens. The apparel, accessories and even decor items were affordable, making them a hit with parents as well. Nostalgia alert: the brand has made a comeback with retro-inspired pieces such as these, posted on Instagram.
Chokers were everywhere. Cher, Tai and pretty much all the girls in “Clueless” wore one kind or another. The most universal design was the tattoo choker, made of stretchy plastic. Although they were available in all colors, black was definitely the most popular.
Sleek, simple slip dresses were everywhere from the school dance to the red carpet. They could be short, long or anywhere in between. And while you could rock one as-is, were you really living if you didn’t slip one over a basic t-shirt?
Athletic shoes were big in the late ’90s. And by big, we mean thick and chunky. So maybe this representation is a little exaggerated, but the platform tennies and chunky Skechers were definitely in style.
If there was a single pair of shoes that represented teen girls in the ’90s, it would have to be the simple platform slide. Steve Madden’s black “Slinky” seemed to be on everyone’s feet. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you might be pleased to learn that the shoes were re-released in 2017 and are occasionally even available on Amazon.
Cinnamon and raisin sound like ingredients for a tasty breakfast, but many ’90s teens wore hues with these names instead. A range of brown colored the lips of girls with all skin tones, hair colors and fashion styles. The shades could be nearly nude, deep and dark or somewhere in between.
If you weren’t in the mood for full-on lip color, you could keep your lips soft and shimmering with another type of stick. Lip Smackers in a rainbow of lightly tinted shades moisturized your kisser. They smelled and tasted good, too.
It didn’t matter if your coiffure was closely cropped or you had long, flowing locks. You could quickly pretty up your ‘do with some tiny pastel butterfly clips. The more you used, the better it looked.
The toothy headbands encircled your noggin and created a trendy, zigzag style. Well, they did in theory, anyway. For most teens, they either dug painfully into your scalp or slid back throughout the day, causing you to make constant adjustments.
Where was a girl to keep all these beauty accessories? In her Caboodle, of course. If you loved the plastic organizers, you’ll be happy to know they’re back.
Waiting To Get Film Developed
Long before the time of constant selfies, ’90s teens had to make more of an effort to capture memories. Disposable cameras were cheap and easy to use. You never knew what your photos really looked like until you had them developed, but that was part of the fun.
Your home phone was still your primary form of communication, but it didn’t have to be boring. If you had one in your bedroom (some teens were even lucky enough to have their own phone number), a cool style like the popular see-through phone was a win.
Memorizing Phone Numbers
Along with limiting landlines, you had to know how to get in touch with important people. There was no contact list to scroll through. You couldn’t Google a number from your handset. You had to memorize the phone number, look them up in a huge phone book or call 411.
On August 15, 1998, the bright, translucent iMac G3 hit the shelves. The initial model came only in Bondi Blue, named after the color of the water at Australia’s famous beach. If you didn’t have one of your own, you might have used one at school.
They might be lush and natural now, but at one time, actress Drew Barrymore had pencil-thin brows. She was not alone. Most teens (and many women) in the ’90s tweezed until there was nearly nothing left.
You could smear it on, spray it on or roll it on. You might have worn it on your face, your décolletage or even your hair. Body glitter was magic.
The original intention of highlights was to make your hair look kissed by the sun. But in the late ’90s, highlights went hardcore. Thick stripes and streaks lined the locks of girls everywhere.
If you were shopping for bedroom seating as a ’90s teen, you could pick up a chair at the mall (or in a Delia*s catalog). You could even carry it home in your backpack or on the bus. But you had to blow it up yourself.
Hats weren’t just a thing in the ’90s. They were a thing. There were denim hats with fake sunflowers, faux fur bucket hats with wildly-colored animal prints and huge, felt top hats that looked as though they belonged in a Dr. Seuss board book.
Beavis and Butthead might have shown up first, but for ’90s teens, Daria dominated TV screens. Who couldn’t relate to witty, sarcastic, apathetic high schooler Daria Morgendorffer? Even on your worst day, life was nothing close to what Daria and her best friend Jane went through at Lawndale High.
Trendsetters like Gwen Stefani made even shy teens think about adding a bit of bling to their style. Applying bejeweled decals to your face, hands or even around your belly button was a little punk and a whole lot fashion-forward. Or at least, everyone thought so at the time.
Hanging at the mall was a way of life in the late ’90s. Munching hot pretzels with melted cheese, browsing Spencer’s, Claire’s or KB Toys and listening to jams at Sam Goody was the perfect way to spend a Saturday. If your crush happened to be there too, it was even better.
There were no gift cards or online retailers back in the day, so when Aunt Mabel didn’t know what to buy for your birthday, she’d give you a gift certificate. Hopefully it was to your favorite store, but if not, you knew what to do. You went to that store, found the cheapest item possible and cashed out the certificate for the remainder.
Grunge influenced everything in the ’90s, including all your must-have fashion choices. For some teens, flannel pajama pants were meant to be worn. All the time, everywhere, with anything.
In 1994, Calvin Klein released CK One, which quickly became a favorite with teens. One of the selling points of the fragrance was that it was unisex. Other versions were later introduced, but none were as popular as the One.
If you wanted to chat with your friends or make some new friends, AIM was the place to be. AOL’s instant messaging platform was how you talked online in the ’90s. And your away message? It meant something.
Of course, you couldn’t always get on AIM. Even if you had a dedicated phone line for dial-up (lucky!), your sibling or parent might have been using the line (or your family’s only computer) when you wanted it. You had to find something else to do until it was your turn.
If you were into music — and who wasn’t? — this would be a good time to pull out your portable CD player. You could put on your headphones, pop in your favorite soundtrack and turn up the volume. As long as the batteries were good, that is.
Of course, you had to have a place to store and organize your music. Flipping through the plastic pages of someone’s CD wallet could tell you a lot about the person. The Spice Girls, Nirvana and the Backstreet Boys? Sounds well-rounded to us.
If you were a teen in the ’90s, you probably drank Clearly Canadian. Sales in 1993 were $155 million. While the drink’s popularity eventually died down, it returned to shelves in 2017. Whether you were an Orchard Peach fan or a Country Raspberry loyalist, you can get your fix again today.
Blockbuster New Releases
Friday nights in the ’90s meant a trip to the neighborhood video rental store. Teens would browse the walls and aisles with friends or fam, sometimes splitting up to find the flick they each wanted. Of course, you had to add popcorn and those boxes of theater candy. If the sight of this Blockbuster box drums up deep nostalgia for you, you could purchase one on eBay.
Some teens in the ’90s carried pagers. Typically, these devices had plastic cases with belt clips or chains that kept you from losing them. Everyone used codes, such as 911 for an urgent matter, 07734 for Hello and 411 for “Where are you?”
Socks With Sandals Was A Thing
Wearing socks with Birkenstock, Teva, Adidas or Reef sandals was definitely a thing of the ’90s. Whether you loved this trend or hated it, chances are you at least owned a pair of the aforementioned footwear. Good news for those who loved this look: Apparently the socks-with-sandals trend is back. Time to break out those wool socks and Birks!