It's always tough to judge a trend outside the context of its time. When it's current, it seems the hippest, most innovative idea any of us have ever seen. In retrospect, though, we've just got to wonder what exactly was going through (or in this case, on top of) our heads when we bought into these fads.
In the case of these hairstyles, hindsight really is 20/20. What seemed so stylish at the time inevitably ends up looking dated and at times, ridiculous. When your grandkids are mocking you in your yearbook photos forty years down the road, gently remind them that these looks were the height of style in our day. Just don't be surprised if they still make fun of you for your rat tail. You kind of deserve it.
For the Ladies:
Was there a female alive in the 90s who didn't want this haircut? Jennifer Aniston's hair quickly became an iconic 90s hairstyle, prompting women everywhere to ask their stylists to recreate her famous shaggy layers. It looked great on 20-and-30-somethings, but it was certainly an odd look for anyone outside that age range, especially children. It's just sort of unsettling to see this adult on a kid, though it didn't stop me from coveting my classmates' mature-looking Rachel cuts.
Mall Bangs or Leveled Bangs
A carryover from the 80s, mall bangs were a staple for anyone possessing a hair dryer, a round brush, and a gallon-sized jug of hairspray. These babies were poufed to the max and often featured strangely separated strands. Some bang-wearers took the look to the next level (literally) by establishing a bi-level bang that required not one but two rounds of styling to give each level a different layer of volume.
These ponytail accessories were everywhere in the 90s. Retailers even sold matching scrunchies with their outfits so we could put together a coordinated look. Isn't that thoughtful of them? I distinctly remember owning a Limited Too outfit that included a matching scrunchie, and it was unacceptable to wear one without the other. Scrunchies were composed of oversized tubular pieces of fabric "scrunched" around an elastic band. The boldest among us even attempted multiple scrunchies in a single hairstyle by segmenting their ponytail into a number of elastic-separated bunches. Extra credit for wearing it with a velvet headband.
This one's been around for awhile, but young girls in the 90s were especially prone to its wrath. It seemed like a good idea at the time: your mom wouldn't let you dye your hair, so why not just spray a few hazardous chemicals in and do it the natural way? Sounds harmless enough. Girls seeking sun-bleached locks turned to Sun-In only to have their blond ambition crushed by the appearance of a splotchy orange tone. You could always pick out the girls who'd experienced unfortunate Sun-In "incidents"--they were the ones with the glowing hair.
You'd think hair dye had was a recent innovation given the way it caught on in the 90s. There were two parent-shocking routes you could pick: a flat goth black (with matching inch-thick eyeliner) or a rainbow of colors usually only found in a Lucky Charms box. In middle school, I longed to dye my hair pink. I was certain that was my ticket to hair nivana. My parents only let me get the comb-in kind supplemented by generous wandings of hair mascara, but it just wasn't the same.
For some reason in the 90s, we just couldn't leave well enough alone. We simply weren't ready to go out unless our hair was jam packed with, well, stuff. All sorts of strange hair gems and metal fittings popped up at Claire's and The Icing, but none were quite so ubiquitous as the colorful butterfly clip. The tactic with these usually involved a semi-circular face-framing configuration that ultimately required a virtuous level of patience. The key was to get just the right amount of hair twisted under each butterfly. The whole ordeal made you look like you coated your hair in honey and were attacked in a butterfly garden enclosure, but dammit, it was popular.
Why, oh why would anyone think it acceptable to wear a discarded part of lingerie on your head? We wouldn't show up to junior high with panties in our hair, so why were bra straps an acceptable hair ornament? These caught on in a big way for reasons we may never understand. We have the salon at Bumble and Bumble to blame for this trend catching on in a big way.
For the Guys:
There must have been a memo sent out one day informing black men everywhere that Jheri curl was out, geometric hair was in. How else to explain the sudden switcharoo? The look entailed shaving the sides of the head and leaving all of the volume up top. It was a style some people carried better than others. If you were a rapper, you could certainly pull it off, you could even throw in some shaved zig zags for good measure. My personal favorite variation was "the gumby" which gave your head the illusion of being shaped like our favorite claymation friend.
When we run out of new hairstyles to premiere, apparently we go pretty far into the back-catalogues. In this case, all the way to ancient Rome, mimicking the style of Caesar himself. George Clooney on ER helped to pioneer the trend by looking dreamy even with the straight short horizontal fringe. It was also a good look for those who had thinning hair, because the pushed-down front helped mask that effect.
This one always came off looking like a horrible mistake on the part of the hairdresser, which wasn't always a fair assessment. It was actually a horrible mistake on the part of the person sporting the look. Whoever thought it was a good idea to leave a single lock of long hair in the back of a closely cropped 'do has some serious explaining to do. In every school, there was that kid with the rat tail. It was something of a mystery. Had the boy requested it? Had the parents suggested this? Did they just watch too much professional wrestling? We may never know.
In the 80s and 90s, a group of misguided beauty school dropouts joined forces to unleash the ultimate trashy haircut: the mullet. It had popped up a few decades before, but it didn't have bonafide widespread appeal until the 80s and early 90s. The idea was short ("business") in the front, long ("party!") in the back. This, of course, flattered no one. The mullet wasn't just for men, either: some ladies jumped in on the action as well. There are still some diehard mullet throwbacks out there. You can usually see them on the Maury show.
Grunge, unfortunately, was just what it sounded like. Yes, we got some good music out of it, but as the name implied, it was dirty. Grungy hair was greasy, stringy long locks meant to convey your angst and apathy. Why do you think they wore so much flannel? It wasn't just an unwavering love of plaid, it was for its superior absorbency.
Also known as a Mushroom Cut, the bowl cut was very popular among young males in the 80s and 90s. It looked like the stylist had overturned a bowl on your head and shaved everything that stuck out underneath. Younger boys tended to wear them Beatles'/Moe from Three Stooges' style with a straight across cut, while teens often parted theirs into two distinct hair curtains.
It seemed half the guys I knew transitioned straight from the bowl cut into the spikes. The style required a staggering amount of hair gel to pull off the gravity-defying height favored by boys and young men. The popularity of this look ebbs and flows, but it's certainly not dead: just catch an episode of MTV's Jersey Shore. It's not just a situation, it's the Situation.
Sometime around Eminem's rise to fame, guys everywhere thought it would be a good idea to knock off his signature style. Not everyone's cut out to be a blond, and it showed. The bright blond hair definitely stood out in a crowd, but probably not the way the bleacher had intended. If you weren't quite ready to commit to the full-on bleach job, you could also isolate the tips of your hair and give them a little boost. It was hideous, yes, but at least you could just chop off your unfortunately-hued spikes.
These may not have evolved into classic looks, but it was the hairstyle hand we were dealt. Not every era can be full of timeless style. It's tough to imagine future historians waxing poetic about our choice to wear bra straps on our heads, but dammit, we're standing behind it.