Symbols of the 90s

Symbols of the 90s



When I think of the 90s, the first thing that comes to mind is Will Smith wearing zubas in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire. I think this is because zubaz show how the 90s was inflected by the 80s, and rather than having their own distinct aesthetic, were kind of just an awkward puberty of style.

(But also, “Now this is a story all about how/ My life got flipped-turned upside down/ And I liked to take a minute just sit right there/ And tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air ….”)

Vonda Shepard

I highly doubt a popular, witty, smart, progressive show in this decade would ever feature a constant soundtrack by a heartfelt piano-playing woman crooning, “I’ve been searching my soul tonight.” But Ally McBeal pulled it off in the 90s – I remember jamming out to this album with my mom in our minivan. The success of Vonda Shepard tells us two things about the 90s:

1. They were totally sincere.

2. The ideal “strong woman” archetype back then was an earnest singer-songwriter. Thus Alanis, Fiona Apple, Ani DiFranco, Sheryl Crow – even Celine Dion. In the 2000s, the strong woman archetype became more of the sexy ass kicker, a la Uma Thurman.

The Spice Girls

The Spice Girls’ origin story involves a want ad that read, “WANTED: R.U. 18–23 with the ability to sing/dance? ” This happened the same year that Kurt Coban killed himself, which means that 1994 is probably the year when bands forming organically and playing their own instruments gave way to manufactured, preteen-targeted pop. Not that I’m hating; I promised my childhood best friend that I would shoot her if she ever stopped liking The Backstreet Boys. Let’s hope she still does.


The 90s were a flurry of toy fads – Beanie Babies, pogs, Furbies, etc. but Pokemon seemed to have the longest lasting relevance. Probably because they symbolize a couple things:

1. US pop culture becoming obsessed with Japanese pop culture.

2. Toys as media franchises – video games, TV series – there was even a Pikachu pedometer, which I totally had.



Under Wikipedia’s page about the 1990s, it has a Literature section which lists only the Goosbumps series, reading, “From July 1992 to December 1997, sixty-two books were written by R.L. Stine and published by Scholastic for the Goosebumps series. The series was very popular amongst pre-teens and older children, and as of 2008, the series had sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.” To be fair, they do have a list of books in the 90s and I’m not seeing anything particularly memorable.

Orbitz drinks and Stuffed Crust Pizza

I’m sure there were some wacky diet trends in the 90s – low fat diets, what noobs – but it was also an era of innocence about our indulgences. We got creative with them, putting weird balls in our soft drinks and cheese in our crust (!!!) – locavores, vegans and cholesterol rates be damned. BRB, hungry.

Monica Lewinsky’s Purses

She sucked the president’s dick, but we still liked him – he was a good president. Did we like her? We weren’t sure, but we did allow her to manufacture her own line of purses. Feminism was still sticky (!) in the 90s, but the old principle of fame is fame reigned supreme.

Ski Free

This is what I did with my computer for the majority of the 90s.


The 90s were  oddly identity-less. After the coke and gleeful tackiness of the 80s, people didn’t have much to do other than try to have sincere feelings and spend lots of money. The 2000s had cool stuff like iPods; they really felt like the future. The 90s weren’t quite there. But hey, at least Seinfeld was good.

Becky Lang was always Sporty Spice in her designated Spice Girl dance reenactments