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26 playground crazes and fashions from schooldays in the 1990s
The 1990s might not seem like the ‘old days’ yet, until you realise it started almost a quarter of a century ago – scary thought isn’t it?
Here we take a nostalgic trip back to the decade of the Spice Girls, Friends and Jurassic Park for a look at the playground crazes and fashions that swept the nation.
If you’re a child of the 90s – or a parent of a child who grew up then – you’ll undoubtedly remember a lot of these fads.
Use the comments box at the bottom to tell us which of these crazes were your favourites, and any we’ve missed off.
1. Slap bracelets
Slap bracelets were essentially flat, flexible stainless steel layers covered by fabric or plastic which, when slapped onto someone's wrist, forced the bands to fire into a curve that fitted snugly around the wearer's forearm. Simple yet effective, they were jewellery - something rather frowned upon by teachers (read: necessary) at school.
2. Reebok Pump
Going head-to-head with Nike Air Max's continued success since the late 1980s, Bolton's very own Reebok developed the Pump range of trainers. It was the first shoe to have an internal inflation system, which was based in the tongue and allowed them to fit more comfortably around the feet. However, it was very much the preserve of rich kids - the high price tag made it extremely sought-after, yet rarer than Nike's best-seller.
3. LA Gear/Lights
As an almost-exclusively 90s brand, LA Gear rose to fame with US celebrity endorsements, crossing the Atlantic to find a place in the playground. While the overall brand was relatively well-received, it was the LA Lights range that attracted young teens the most. Every time a step was taken, pressure made the shoe light up. It turned heads and opened wallets, but the brand's brief fame didn't stave off bankruptcy in 1998.
4. Monster in My Pocket
Carrying the torch alongside many other monster-based plastic toy lines in the 1990s, Monster in my Pocket's line-up offered softer and more pliable figures than its rivals. These were pushed by Pizza Hut, Shreddies and Frosties in the early 90s, backed by a range of stickers, trading cards and even a board game.
5. Tattoo necklaces
Tattoo necklaces were intricate fabric patterns that could be worn around the neck, giving children the feeling they were all grown-up and challenging society itself. Matching bracelets and rings were also created, and played into more alternative individuals into rock music and darker clothing.
6. Yikes! pencils
"They write like other pencils but they make you go Yikes!" said the adverts. This was solely due to the fact that they were brightly coloured, notably in the wood that surrounded the graphite. Despite them literally only being a pencil with new hues, a mass marketing campaign pushed them into the pencil cases of thousands of British kids.
Arising from similar games played in 17th-century Japan and early 20th-century Hawaii, the Pogs brand was a modern adaptation of this simple stacking game. Schoolchildren towered their cardboard pogs - printed with the most 90s-style graphics you'll still see to this day - and used a "slammer" to scatter the discs. Those that laid face up were theirs to keep (if traditional rules were followed). With sets dedicated to anything from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Jurassic Park to Christmas and Cadbury's, they were supremely collectible - but a flash in the pan in terms of popularity.
8. Polly Pocket and Mighty Max
Girls and boys alike were targeted in the early-90s by these ultra-portable, intricate miniature play sets. These bright plastic offerings featured a simple clam-like design and put Polly and Max in a range of overtly gender-based situations, from sleepovers and salons to fights to the death with the Nuke Ranger and Zomboid (we'll let you guess which character did what).
RL Stine's range of teen horror novels can be credited with making reading very cool in the playground for a few years in the 90s. Over 60 titles were released between 1992 and 1997, including the particularly famous Night of the Living Mummy, Say Cheese and Die, The Haunted Mask and Welcome to Camp Nightmare. Everyone had two or three; their neon, cartoonish front covers are forever burned into the minds of their readers.
10. Naff Co 54 jackets
Naf Naf, a French clothing company, had a remarkable amount of success in the UK with its iconic black bomber-style jacket. Featuring a blocky, multi-coloured "Naff Co 54" logo stitched on the back, it wasn't a particularly attractive offering - but boy, was it popular.
Walkers Crisps introduced something rather fantastic to playgrounds around the country in the mid-90s, yet they were only a rebrand of something released just a few years earlier. Tazos were essentially Pogs with notches around the edge, allowing them to interlock; designs started with a Looney Tunes range in 1994, leading to Walkers multipacks being ransacked on supermarket shelves. Later, a Star Wars collection was released, complemented by a collection book. Getting all 50 was a chore, but if anyone asks why the 90s led to a spike in childhood obesity, this school craze can certainly be factored into the phenomenon.
12. Coin/medal collections
Coins were repurposed in the 90s to become so-called "medals", once again bidding to become collectors' items in playgrounds across the UK and beyond. Luckily for some coin producers, they were desirable. The most famous set was the one inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which came with its own cardboard frame, though another series of note - the England Euro 96 squad set - also managed to land thousands of schoolchildren with beautiful footballer faces immortalised in metal, such as those of Martin Keown and David Platt.
13. Funfax/Spy File
After Filofax thoroughly cornered the business market, it shifted its corporate intentions to a new audience: schoolchildren. Its creative minds developed Funfax, a wacky, multi-coloured personal organiser that included calendar essentials alongside quizzes, stickers, jokes, wordsearches and much more. The Spy File venture followed, allowing kids to learn simple tricks and become a budding secret agent, complete with a stick-on moustache that promised to fool nobody.
14. Jelly shoes
Why have regular shoes when you can have brightly-coloured, squidgy plastic ones instead? Many girls couldn't find fault in this logic in the 90s, and bought so-called jelly shoes in their thousands. Sometimes glittery and often see-through, jelly shoes regularly adopted a strappy sandal style, though often didn't last long; they reminded youngsters that leather is used on shoes as much for durability as for fashion purposes.
15. Corinthian figures
While football stickers, coins and trading cards were popular throughout the decades, one sport-related item that can be solely anchored to the 90s was Corinthian's line of football figures. Typified by their huge heads and undersized bodies, these statuettes were extremely sought-after and regularly traded. While many children of the age may not remember that goal by Les Ferdinand, they'll never forget the plastic figure of him they had sat on their shelf at home.
Seen by many as the biggest school craze of all, Tamagotchis really hit the heights of ubiquity in the UK around 1997. These small keyring-sized gadgets allowed schoolchildren to manage the lives of a pet, from feeding and exercising them to cleaning up after they did their dirty business. The aim was to keep one alive for as long as possible; anything over a week was a stretch for most kids. Eventually banned from plenty of schools around the world, Tamagotchis would go on to inspire all kinds of modern console and mobile games; these little toys did, however, offer simplicity that is somewhat unmatched by successors.
17. ‘Popper’ trousers
One day, someone woke up and decided that trouser legs needed buttons all the way up the outside of each leg. The novelty value of these jogging bottoms - particularly those made by Adidas - appealed to 90s kids, and yards were soon filled with these often-garish ‘poppers’. One sharp tug was all that was needed to reveal someone's full leg; exposure aside, the massive gaps in the fabric between each button meant they were very much an item only truly suitable for warmer climes.
18. Hubba Bubba
Juicy Fruit and Wrigley's Spearmint were popular additions to any school-goer's pocket, but the sickly-sweet and bubble-friendly Hubba Bubba range of chewing gum ruled the roost. From Cool Cola to Atomic Apple, the flavours packed a punch, and could be delivered to the mouth in regular pieces or via the much-desired bubble tape dispenser the brand later became famous for.
19. Trouser skirts
Trouser skirts are pretty simple: they layered skirts over trousers. They were purely a style statement, worn by countless schoolgirls in the 90s. Nobody knows why, and they were soon (thankfully) consigned to attics and charity shops.
20. Kappa jackets
While the popularity of the Adidas tracksuit jacket was indisputable among children of the 80s, they were not as seemingly omnipresent as those made by Kappa in the 90s. The logo - showing the silhouette of a man and a woman sat back to back - was often partially covered to highlight something rather blue, playing to the humour of the schoolchildren that wore them.
21. Crazy Bones
Combining the rules of knucklebones with the plastic single-coloured charm similar to the likes of MUSCLE, Crazy Bones were yet another collectable monster franchise that kids traded at school. Spanish creators Magic Box also made sure there were rare ‘wanted’ figures to drive up demand; it paid off, and millions were sold in the UK alone, though this led to plenty of banning orders being decreed by head teachers around the country.
22. Alien birth pods
Offering the somewhat questionable combination of slime and a simple walkthrough of the birthing process, these alien pods were a strange yet alluring product that allowed schoolchildren to squeeze an extra terrestrial's belly to force three baby aliens into the world. Enough said.
23. Pokémon cards
Pokémon's huge popularity on TVs, Game Boys and N64s was not just complemented, but galvanised by, the trading card phenomenon in playgrounds. Taking on rules similar to fellow card game Magic: the Gathering yet offering the simplicity of Top Trumps, the game element itself wasn't really played - trading was the main aim for schoolchildren, much like football stickers were in years past. Indeed, real money could be made - Pokémon cards weren't cheap to start with, but rare cards could give a good return on investment. Nowadays, rare and pristine cards often sell for thousands of dollars.
24. Parker pens
All kids used pens at school, but there was no scribing tool classier than the Parker pen. While it certainly wrote with elegance and style, the Sonnet fountain pen in particular brought more trouble than completed essays to the classroom due to its famous cartridge explosions, firing blue ink all over paper, desks, hands, clothing and much more.
25. Casio G-Shock/Baby G watches
Casio's simple digital and calculator watches were highly prized by previous generations, though they had nothing on their 90s successors in terms of style and necessity. The G-Shock and Baby-G watch ranges - rugged, resilient and attractive - graced many an arm at school and, at around £50 each, were seen as quite the luxury at the time. Christmases and birthdays were regularly celebrated with Casio; the company continues to produce them to this day.
26. Tech Decks
Skateboarding was relatively expensive and painful for school-going learners in the late 90s, yet the influence of an emerging skating scene off the back of computer games, such as the much-celebrated Tony Hawk-led series, only pushed kids to explore every avenue of the craze. Tech Decks - skateboards for your fingers - were perhaps the next best thing. Quick fingers could master moves in minutes that would take months to learn on a full-size board, so they took off quickly in classrooms across the UK - accessories and all.
Words and pictures courtesy of Oxford Open Learning, which has produced the Amazing Crazes website looking back in time over five decades to relive the many crazes that graced schoolyards at breaks and lunchtimes - or often in the classroom itself, despite teachers' protestations, remonstrations and repossessions.
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