Showing posts with label Fashion Fads. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fashion Fads. Show all posts

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grunge Style and Fashion

Note: This post mainly details the look of grunge, not the music. Stay tuned for more in-depth grunge music posts at some later date.

In every decade, for all squeaky clean bubble gum pop actions there develops an opposite and angstier reaction. It's a law of subculture physics. Mainstream culture is simply too narrow and too goody-goody to encompass the whole of the youth population. The 70s gave us hippies, the 80s punk rock mavens, and the 90s bore us the Generation X-level gloom of grunge. Youth culture can not subsist on good clean fun alone; it needs an introspective core to lend some much-needed depth and idealistic values to the mix.

Does that mean we'll look back on emo kids in twenty years and appreciate their wealth of feelings and eye-obscuring well-sculpted haircuts? Maybe. Only time can tell the youth subculture story for the ages. When we're in the midst of a movement, it's tough to imagine the cultural impact it will have on our retrospective summary of a decade. In the early 90s, grunge was just a burdgeoning lifestyle movement that endorsed limited showering. We could not have known at the time that it would have the iconic impact it did on the face of an era.

The Pacific Northwest was a fitting setting for the rising music subcultural movement; rainy Seattle weather provided an appropriately gloomy backdrop for the angst-ridden alternative lifestyle. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden released records with a unique and distinctly resonant sound. The grunge movement was borne of a blended puree of idealism and cynicism, encompassing the themes of Generation X disillusionment with societal norms. The Seattle Music scene provided a showcase for the encapsulation of youth subculture burnout, giving voice to artists outside of the mainstream.

Like all pure, genuine social movements, it wasn't long before The Man found a cunning way to capitalize on the rise of Grunge culture. It's the ultimate irony of alternative youth culture: it rises through sincere and meaningful expression, only to be diluted into a marketable, packageable blurb for distribution. Grunge was a lucrative business; much to the chagrin of Grunge scene musicians, their music skyrocketed to popularity in conventional circles. While these artists rose to fame for their elucidation of their innermost alienation and disillusionment, suddenly their music was playing on a top 40 station and their faces were adorning concert t-shirts.

Since I am by no means a music expert and was a mere nine years old at the height of the grunge scene's popularity, I won't pretend to have a comprehensive knowledge of the nuances and subtleties of Seattle Sound. I'm far more qualified to outline the Grunge fashion that filtered down into mainstream society. We may not have been great thinkers and expressionists, but we could rock a mean flannel. Inasmuch, retailers could charge a hefty price in their principle-free exploitation of interest in Grunge culture with their shameless marketing of items like these:

Plaid Flannel

Possibly one of the most recognizable and iconic of grunge influences, plaid flannel became a staple in both male and female early 90s' wardrobes. Optional but suggested: flannel worn open over grungy tee shirt. I would also accept "worn around the waist."

Thermal Tops

Seattle weather can get pretty chilly, so for practicality's sake a thermal shirt provided Grungy youth with some much needed warmth. This was far less practical in cities like LA and Miami, of course, where the wearer usually sacrificed a great deal of literal sweat in the name of alternative fashion.

Combat Boots

It's hard to clomp around angstily without the proper footwear. Clunky, heavy boots fit the bill, hindering the element of surprise in any attempt to sneak up on people.


For warm days when clunking around just wouldn't do, there were Birkenstocks. After all, who espouses free expression and independent thought better than the Germans? No one, that's who.

Wool Caps

Hot or cold, wool caps were more of a statement piece than a practicality. Even respected designers began sending their models down the runway with unkempt hair tucked under ski caps, though their motivation may have been tied to the savings in hairstylist costs.

Torn Jeans
Ripped Jeans Pictures, Images and Photos
How is anyone going to know that you don't care what you're wearing and that you're above superficial wardrobe selection unless you carefully choose a garment to express that sentiment? Torn jeans frequently topped off grungy ensembles, indicating the general apathy associated with the movement. Take that, society! Our jeans are well-ventilated and anti-mainstream culture.

Similarly, non-clothing fashion assimilated accordingly to sufficiently match our dirt-spackled wardrobe. Your grunge look just wouldn't be complete without:

Greasy, stringy hair

No grunge look worth its weight in hair oil would hold its own without an unkempt mass of dirty, stringy hair. Men and women alike hopped on the greasy hair bandwagon, abandoning showering in favor of a more in-your-face, anti-hygiene look. The fad grew out of Grunge musician's genuine angst and apathy, but it gave the rest of us an excuse to be lax in our showering schedules.

Questionable Facial Hair

A scraggly beard could serve as a major credibility booster for your supposed anti-society attitude. It wasn't a necessary element, but the presence of some ratty facial hair could probably help your cause in establishing yourself as legitimately grungy.

Grunge as a youth subculture ran far deeper than the fashion it inspired, but this highly visible representation played a major role in propagating the trends worldwide. For those of us not lucky or adolescent enough to rebel against anything, Grunge style allowed us to express ourselves in an allegedly unconventional way. Everyone else may have been doing it, but magazines and TV were telling us it was the way to be alternative, hip, and anti-mainstream. They would know, right?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not So Functional 90s Fashion Trends

We may not all be slaves to fashion, but at one point or another most of us are guilty of following the crowd. Whether we're trend dabblers or wanted in six states for crimes of fashion, many of us gave in to the glittering allure of certain fads for no reason other than that everyone else was doing it. These fashion statements did not generally jive with any normal rhyme or reason of functionality; everyone else was simply jumping off that bridge and we decided we might as well take the plunge ourselves.

Everything is clearer in retrospect, so it's tough to admonish our former selves for not having the good sense to realize these trends were bad ideas at best. Fashion and trends are not about utility and function, of course, but these items are fairly high on the list of unjustifiable offenders. There remains no real solid explanation for their existence other than that magazines and stores told us they were worth sacrificing scarce allowance money. If we can't defend their usefulness, we may retrospectively embrace their complete lack of function.

There are many, many totally non-functional 90s fashion items to choose from, but here's a selection of some of the least defensible. If you wish to plead your case condoning their existence, feel free to use the comments section as an issues platform:

Tearaway Pants

Okay, fine, I admit these aren't completely without their merits. To professional athletes I imagine there was some millisecond saved when coming in from off the bench. For everyone else out there, these were generally inexcusable. These pants were held together not by stitching and solid fabric, but rather by well-ventilated snap buttons running down the outside of either leg. While it is something of an innovation to be able to remove your athletic pants in one single well-coordinated motion, it is not a necessary function by any means.

Shirt Ties/Clips
This may not be the authentic product, but it's the best Google Images has to offer. Plus, doesn't it make you want to get some for your next 80s/90s Halloween costume? Those things are sparkly to the max...and apparently "80s to the max" too

There are truly no excuses for these; they serve no purpose whatsoever, nor is the look particularly flattering. For some reason, though, it was all the rage in the late 80s and early 90s for young girls to clip or tie their oversized t-shirts on one side. I'm only telling you this because I've finally come to terms with the ridiculousness of it all, but at one birthday slumber party I had kits for each girl to paint and decorate her very own shirt clip. Humiliating, I know, but I'm willing to take one for the team in the name of exposing key shirt clip evidence circa 1994.


If you're playing tennis, I'll grant you this one, but if you're just looking for the comfort of shorts with the dressiness of a skirt you have no excuses for humoring that whim by wearing this garment. From the front, a skirt. From the back, shorts. If you're not in an athletic situation, it's not a particularly flattering look to sport (some pun intended) a hybrid skort-shorts. In typical 90s clever coinage, we called them "skorts" but we may well have labeled them "fashion mistakes." Off the courts, there are no situations where it's necessary to be wearing one outfit from the front and another from the back, period. The built-in shorts with a full-around skirt cover is a little better, but it's all relative in non-functional skort territory.

Giant Platform Shoes

I blame the Spice Girls for making these seem so darn appealing. In reality, they were impractical, cartoonish, and a bit dangerous. We started off in familiar territory with sandals and dress shoes, but things quickly escalated to a red-alert level when shoe companies started throwing these platform soles on sneakers. For that, there is truly no defense.

Fleece Vests

Don't you ever get really cold in the general torso area, but your arms remain comfortably warm? Well, have I got the product for you! Complete with its own insanely irritating Old Navy television commercial theme song, polar fleece exploded onto the scene in the late 90s in a major way. These vests were particularly popular, proving that many of us are willing to sacrifice arm comfort in the name of fashion. Stores marketed these as utilitarian and outdoorsy, but unless you're participating in a cold weather activity that requires exceptional arm freedom, these things are not exactly the most useful of warming winter garments.

Mini Backpacks

What, you've never had the urge to carry around a receptacle that holds approximately three nickels, a stick of gum, and a handful of M&Ms? That's a totally legitimate haul warranting a bag of its own. We all know how tough it is to hold an incredibly small quantity of items in our hands, so when these mini-backpacks cropped up in stores we were all too eager to hop on the scaled-down container bandwagon. They were sort of cute, yes, but usefulness was not high on their list of positive qualities.

Scrunched/Slouchy Socks

It's not so much that the socks themselves serve no purpose, but rather that the style in which we preferred to wear them was moderately mind-baffling. The scrunching served no real need outside of an alleged aesthetic purpose. It was simply the preferred style of sock self-expression. Why buy short ankle socks when you can just buy enormous tube socks and scrunch them into a fold-ridden mass? It's an airtight defense for slouchiness.


Coveralls may be functional in a manual labor slash farm hand type situation, but they serve no real protective purpose in everyday suburban civilian life. If you have no use for that hammer hook on the back, you probably could have just made do with a regular shirt-and-slacks combo. Just saying.

We may claim the primary purpose of clothing is purely functional: to cover our nakedness and protect us from the elements. Somewhere along the way, though, we've evolved a sense of crowd mentality that works against our primal instinct to wear things that serve some purpose. We may not be able to defend our past fashion choices, but at the very least we can laugh at them. A lot. Really. These are just terrible. Commence mocking.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Only a few days left! Don't forget to entire the Children of the 90s Ultimate Nostalgia-Fest 2010 Giveaway! It's open until Wednesday, February 17. Click here to see rules and enter for your chance to win some fun Goosebumps, BSC, Magic Eye, Lisa Frank, Pete and Pete, and more!

Even before they were harping about online predators, Dateline NBC had me terrified to leave the comfort of my own home. With their multi-part series on the dangers of 90s raves, I was almost certain that someone was going to randomly usher me into an abandoned warehouse against my will, stick an ecstasy-laced candy pacifier in my mouth, and subject me to endless hours of pulsating techno music and seizure-inducing light shows. You know you're growing up in pretty cushy conditions when your most major fears revolve around involuntary attendance at a wild underground party.

Other generations have all the luck. Their subcultural miscreants were usually tied to some sort of ideological principles. You know, peace, free love, that sort of thing. It's almost as if the preceding counter-cultural movements took all the good visionary underpinnings and we were stuck sorting through the remnants bin. Our take on rebellious youth culture amounted to Seattle Grunge culture and Euro-techno ravers. We may not have been as idealistic as the hippies who came before us, but it could have been worse. After all, we could have been pseudo-intellectual fake glasses-sporting ironic t-shirt clad hipsters.

There were some vague alliances between rave culture and principles, but the connection was fuzzy at best. At its heart, rave culture represented the happy-go-lucky invincibility that characterized the 90s. You know you're getting older when you start drawing broad metaphors between youth culture and the state of the economy, but it's an aging leap I'm willing to make. Raving was youth culture in its purest, least dilute form: wild, irresponsible, and generally under contempt of adults everywhere.

Many of us may have been too young at the time to be a driving force in the rave scene, but that wasn't about to stop us from defiantly sucking our pacifiers in homeroom. Rave trends quickly disseminated from underground phenomenon into mainstream fashion statements. While the raw ingredients undoubtedly varied from rave to rave, here's a rough recipe for a legitimate 90s raver.

Abandoned Warehouse

What's a party without a proper venue? By proper venue, of course, I mean a sketchy abandoned space that may or may not have once been some sort of industrial storage facility. As many of the early raves were a sort of impromptu underground effort, any old enclosed area would have to do. Raves were by no means limited to these settings, but there was a certain charm to illegal party squatting. Or at least that's what I gathered from my avid viewing of numerous multi-part Dateline NBC undercover exposes. They made it seem like every abandoned warehouse in the country was packed fire-code defiantly full of sweaty, effervescent teenagers.

Light Show

If you're going to party straight through to the wee hours of the morning, you've got to have some sort of visual stimulation. Laser light shows were a signature rave feature, with brightly colored strobe-like flashing creating a uniquely headache-inducing effect. I had to settle for my cheaply imitative Nickelodeon brand laser light how generator. I had the power to turn my basement into a wild party light-flashing party scene, but unfortunately I was only 10 at the time. The closest I was coming to raving was chugging a bottle of Surge and nursing a ring pop.


This was one of those inexplicable trends that caught on in a big way despite a total lack of purpose and functionality. Our parents spent months coaxing us off these damned things only to have us pick up the habit again 15 years down the road. I'm still not completely clear on if the pacifier had any sort of representational meaning or if someone just thought it might be fun to start selling them as necklaces to teenagers. Either way, these things were everywhere.

Candy Rings/Necklaces

The more I look at it, the more it seems like ravers all had some sort of serious oral fixation. The ecstasy could only make everything all the more delicious, so it was probably a good idea to keep some highly portable snacks on your person at all times.


They're sort of like your own personal laser light show. If you get bored with whatever lights the party coordinators are flashing, you can always wave your glowstick super quickly in front of your face. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the drugs probably enhanced this experience somewhat as well.

Ecstasy and/or Cocaine

Speaking of mood-altering substances, 90s partiers weren't really the depressant type. Leave the mellowed-out drugs to the peace and free love hippies. Ravers needed uppers to maintain a decent level of prolonged hyperactivity. If you've got to flail wildly in a warehouse with only the aid of glowsticks and laser light shows to keep you awake, you probably needed a little something to keep the edge on.

UV Facepaint

Again with the glowing. It's a pretty safe bet to say if it glowed, ravers wanted to slather their bodies in it. I suppose it's a bit hard to see in a darkened warehouse, so any light source is much appreciated.

It's odd to think of raves as retro, but countercultural phenomenons tend to age quickly. While in the 90s raving seemed edgy and dangerous and unspeakably modern, in retrospect it loses a bit of its luster. Not literally, of course. I imagine that UV facepaint bonds to pores for life.It was a pretty wild ride while it lasted, but for now we'll just have to relive the experience (or vicarious experience) through the magic of memory. So grab your glowsticks, pop in a pacifier, and beware the judgmental Dateline undercover reporters; it's rave reminiscing time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

No Fear

Have you ever been sitting in your doctor's waiting room admiring his framed inspirational posters and thought to yourself, "Hey, I could really go for this as a T-shirt, only with an angry spin"? Well, have I got a brand for you. For those among us who felt the need not to impose our trite tidbits of sports-minded wisdom onto the general public, No Fear clothing was nothing short of a godsend. Finally, here was our chance to make our voices heard and let our peers know that they need not fear hockey or snowboarding.

The 90s marked the beginning of the fascination with so-called Extreme Sports, which were classified as "extreme" largely on the basis of their high risk of fatal injury. Sounds fun, right? We all seemed to think so as we sat glued to our televisions fascinated at the death-defying antics of professional skateboarders and their ilk. The No Fear brand capitalized on the rising interest in Extreme Sports, channeling its invincible and ambivalent spirit with its existential slogans.

Of course, most of us were too young to see it that way. We weren't out to debate Camus' influence on our sportswear choices, we just wanted to be cool. According to the rising No Fear brand, what was cool was an aggressive, nihilistic outlook on life. While the brand produced both adult and youth apparel, it was always more unsettling to see a kid sporting a shirt with the phrase "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." For one, the punctuation is pretty questionable. Is this the level of comma misuse we want to bestow unto our children?

Created by race car driver Brian Simo and friends in 1989, the No Fear brand quickly ascended to popularity in the early-to-mid 1990s. Most of the shirts offered up semi-inspirational sports quotes with a sole focus on winning, defeating others, never losing, and...well, you get the idea. According to No Fear, even coming in second was a sure sign of longstanding failure. These sentiments were a far cry from the touchy-feely "At least you tried!" attitudes of today. According to No Fear, there was no trying, only winning. That sounds like a pretty healthy attitude, right?

No Fear presented a very machismo-esque black-and-white view of the world, mainly that our self worth hinged on our ability to shoot baskets or make game-winning goals. Self-proclaimed macho sportsmen took to the streets in No Fear-adorned pickup trucks and SUVs, proudly displaying bumper stickers or over-sized decals. This practice declared your extreme, anti-establishment, tough-guy attitude. Everyone knows that an obstructed view through your rear window is for pansies.
The problem with the No Fear message was that it wasn't really a message at all. People quickly bought into the notion as some sort of ideology to live by, but it was really just a gimmick to sell some crappy athletic t-shirts. "No Fear" wasn't a way of life or a religion. Truthfully, "No Fear" wearers were probably most afraid of outing themselves as fear-mongering frauds. The false bravado of the t-shirt just hid the ultimate fear of failure. Plus, it made them look like a total tool. I mean, really. Just awful.

No Fear shirts quickly became the daily uniform of many boys and young men, or at least when their Stussy and Mossimo shirts were in the wash. These shirts were arguably a step above the "Coed Naked" and "Big Johnson" t-shirts, but not by much. For bonus points and to achieve the 90s athletic apparel trifecta, a guy could even pair their No Fear shirt with Umbros and a Starter Jacket. It may not have been pretty, but dammit it was stylish.

It wasn't long before the moral-minded knockoffs started rolling off the copyright-infringing assembly lines. Just like the innumerable "Got Milk?" parodies, many religious organizations began parodying No Fear's signature t-shirts and replacing the win-at-all-costs aggressiveness with faith-friendly slogans. Seemingly overnight we were seeing these well-intentioned knockoffs everywhere; phrases like "Fear God" and "No Fear, Got Faith" were popular variations. The producers of these shirts meant well, I'm sure, but the overall effect was less than desirable. After all, the only thing worse than wearing a No Fear shirt was wearing a parody No Fear shirt.

The brand's popularity peaked in the mid-90s and the craze quietly petered out. People soon found new, similarly tool-ish decals to pollute their rear window views, and No Fear seemed to fade into relative obscurity. While once you couldn't turn a corner without being bombarded with No Fear's single-minded message of winning and defying society, it seemed everyone's shirts had quieted down considerably. Clothing no longer spoke to me about my growing sense of failure and inadequacy; it was all drowned out by the far more upbeat ads for Gap khakis and Old Navy fleece vests.

It appears No Fear is still churning out t-shirts, but their current style offerings look like a poor man's Ed Hardy. That is, a watered-down version of the Jon Gosselin-patented douchebag-at-a-distance identification system. To put it another way, our over-tanned pals on Jersey Shore would look right at home fist-pumping at the club in any item from the present-day No Fear line.* So, like the shirts say, have no fear: these babies are here to stay.

*Depending on your penchance for trashy reality TV, the above comparisons could yield disgust or could go over your head entirely.

Friday, January 1, 2010

In the Meantime, Please Enjoy this Classic Post: Slap Bracelets

Fear not, loyal readers. Children of the 90s will be back in full force next week. I'm sure you're all aquiver with excitement over that one, but you'll just have to contain your glee until Monday. See you there.

Repost Disclaimer: Children of the Nineties is currently in recovery from the New Years festivities. In the meantime, please enjoy a pre-scheduled classic CotN repost from earlier this year. As I only had three or four readers at the time, it's probably (okay, almost definitely) new to you.

Slap Bracelets

Violence as fashion. It's a novel concept, or at least it was in the early nineties. Imagine, never again having to deal with the insurmountable challenges of securing a traditional bracelet to your wrist! Despite the fact that slap bracelets served no practical purpose and actually caused a moderately tragic number of injuries, we consumed them all the same. Slap bracelets were beloved by children and teenagers not just for their fashion credentials but also for the perceived danger we were warned of by parents and teachers. Slap bracelets may have seemed like the most minor type of rebellion, but they possessed the unmatchable allure of the forbidden fruit.

School principals sent strongly-worded letters home with students, urging parents to restrain their children from coming to school armed with these spring-loaded metal-lined deathtraps. The cheap cloth cover often strained under the force of the metal beneath it, poking out in an admittedly dangerous fashion. However, we weren't about to side with The Man and agree to the ban. We were passionate about our right to wear our day-glo green and zebra-striped wrist weapons, regardless of rampant urban legend-based rumors warning of slit wrists and burst arteries.

Slap bracelets were so much more than tacky arm candy. They worked as catapults, slingshots, and all-purpose weapons. And how cool to slap on a bracelet with a satisfying smack! There were endless ways to work these babies. Four at a time! Long-distance slapping! We just couldn't resist. Sitting there in class, how could you just leave this mind-bogglingly entertaining device to lay dormant? So it would be crack (flatten), smack! (slap on), over and over again until you'd earned yourself a trip to the time-out corner.

Slap bracelets have made a few minor comebacks in the last decade, but nothing on par with their original popularity. Stripping these delightful devices of their contraband qualities, slap bracelets became plastic-spring laden, pvc coated advertising devices. Sure, we were willing to acquiesce a bit in our day...give us a dinosaur slap bracelet with ruler markings down the side and we'll concede to its minor educational value. These days, slap bracelets are being used as cheap ploys to encourage kids to wear some company's logo around like a walking (gesturing?) wrist billboard. There's even been word of physics teachers using slap bracelets to teach functions of potential energy curves and states of stability, but it's almost too frightening to verify.

So let us remember slap bracelets as they were, before the world insisted on infusing some sort of subliminality to their existence: violent, neon-hued, and pure wrist-smacking fun.

Check it out:
The dark side of a slap-happy fad
US consumer panel warns of injury from slap bracelets

Thursday, December 17, 2009

90s Hair Trends

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:

The Rachel

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.

Butterfly Clips
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.

Bra-Strap Headbands

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:

Hi-Top Fade

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.

Rat Tail

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.

Okay, this may be a pretty exaggerated example, but it is pretty awesome

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.

Bowl Cut

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.

Bleach/ "Tips"

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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Glamour Shots

Note: I don't actually know any of the lucky stars of these Glamour Shots portraits, we were simply introduced through our mutual friend Google Images. If any of them are of you, well, then...I'm sorry. On so many levels.

It's always been a dream of mine to shell out fifty bucks for some underpaid mall clerk with three weeks beauty school experience to JonBenet Ramsey-ify me for photographic posterity. Call me sentimental, but I just can't think of any way I'd rather be remembered than wearing a feather boa, my wash-out perm blowing in the wind machine-generated breeze. In soft focus, of course.

In the 80s and 90s, Glamour Shots photography studio franchises were cropping up at malls across the country. Glamour Shots studios convinced us that all we needed to infuse a little glamor into our lives was a string of fake pearls, a cowboy hat, and a blurred camera lens, prompting women everywhere to whip out their faux leather checkbook wallets for a piece of the action. There was just something inexplicably irresistible about the opportunity to appear back-lit in an off the shoulder sequined gown.

The Glamour Shots experience was intended to make everyday average women feel like models at a photo shoot. For some clients this was more of a stretch than others, but our chipper mall stylists were more than up for the challenge. After a few hours in hair and makeup, anyone could look fabulous. Or at least that was the idea.

Unfortunately, this notion worked far better in theory than in practice. The studio's main clientele was made up of middle aged women, most of whom sought to take some non-racy but nevertheless boudoir-esque photos for their husbands. Glamour Shots took a distinctly one-size-fits-all approach to their model-style photo shoots, meaning their stylists were probably only trained in a single technique.

That must have been the case, as I'm not quite sure how else you could account for the sweeping uniformity of looks for Glamour Shots clients* nationwide. There were a few not-so-secret ingredients that formed the underpinnings of every Glamour Shots session throughout the decade, the most obvious of which was the enormous mall hair. It shouldn't have come as such a surprise considering the shoots did indeed take place within the confines of a mall environment, but I doubt any of these housewives went in asking for the Tiffany.

The next ingredient in our Glamour Shots recipe for alleged success was the ubiquitous presence of all things sparkly. Be it enormous earrings, a sequined jacket, or a bedazzled headpiece, each Glamour Shots studio followed the mantra of shiny equals universally flattering. It's a well known fact that not every woman is meant to wear a gold lame gown. When paired with oversized glasses and a portly figure, these dress-up implements could be more of a curse than the gift they'd claimed to be on the certificate in your Mother's Day card.

The final and most critical element of any Glamour Shot worth its weight in retouching equipment was the almighty signature pose. Aside from the usual hand-shelf-chin-support pose we saw at photography studios everywhere, we had some distinct poses that were pure GS through and through.

There were a few poses in particular that these studios were especially partial to, most often the over the shoulder smoldering gaze. Again, while this may have been a prime way to showcase the aesthetically pleasing attributes of an actual fashion model, it had a uniquely comical effect when applied to your grandmother.

The over-the-shoulder smolder

The head tilt was another popular choice, giving the subject a look somewhere between deep thought and mild confusion:

The Head Tilt

And of course, our classic "grab-part-of-your-shirt/feather boa" pose:

The Jacket Nabber

In the luckiest of client cases, you may have been subjected to all three, also known as the Triple Crown. Okay, I just made that up, but it would have been a totally apt descriptor in its time. I'm standing behind it. Actually, I'm crouching behind it in a three-quarter profile with a half head tilt, but same difference.

The holy grail of Glamour Shots posing: with our pose powers combined, who knows what we might unleash in this smirking housewife

As children, many of us begged tirelessly for our own opportunity at being shot glamorously, and many of our parents were wise enough to deny us this fleeting pleasure. The desire for these photos peaked right about at the same pubescent time as the height of adolescent awkwardness, meaning these photos would be a testament to our largest glasses and most prominent acne.

Especially in the midst of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, it was considered less than good form to doll up your daughter in all the finery mall photography studios could muster, particularly if they involved a sparkly cowboy hat of any kind. Pageant moms may have embraced the opportunity with open arms, but these over done-up preteens were at best unsettling to the general public.

Cute kid, or future Enquirer cover? You decide.

For those parents who gave in to their teenage children's whinings for Glamour Shots, congratulations. Your scrapbook contains the ultimate blackmail tool against your child. Daughter forget your birthday? Time to take out that scanner and release these bejeweled cowboy hat-tipping beauties into the Facebook wild. There is probably nothing in the world more certain to humiliate them than an unwelcome trip down a softly focused memory lane paved with sequins and hot rollers.

To my loyal readers, I pose to you** the following challenge. If any of you (or your briefly glamorous family members) ever had Glamour Shots taken, I implore you to email them to Please, sacrifice yourself on the altar of shame and allow others to join in your humorous commiseration. I promise to give them the ultimate Children of the 90s mocking treatment and to open it up to reader votes for the best Glamor Shot. I might even throw in a prize. So get to it, children of the 90s. Track down those embarrassing mall studio photographs, throw 'em on the scanner, and let the fun begin.

*Now known as "victims"
**Get it? Pose?

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