The ’90s might not seem like they were that long ago, but the numbers don’t lie. At the time of writing it’s 2020, which means that 1990 was 30 years ago. But rather than worrying about how old that makes us now, we want to reminisce on all the nostalgia, trends and fads that made the decade what it was. And here are 40 of our favorites.
40. TLC wearing Tommy Hilfiger
Established in 1984, Tommy Hilfiger really took off in the hip-hop decade of the 1990s. Trailblazed by Britney, Destiny’s Child and other ’90s icons, Hilfiger quickly became the go-to brand for R&B artists, their fans and streetwear aficionados. TLC, for instance, showed up to support the brand at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards in 1995 by flaunting these classic colorful drawstrings.
39. Beavis and Butt-Head sweeps America
The ’90s saw the rise of the iconic MTV cartoon Beavis and Butt-Head. It delighted Generation X and disgusted their adult counterparts – specifically, those of the conservative variety. The show starred two teenagers obsessed with beautiful women and TV, but detractors tried pinning violence among the country’s youth on the mature cartoon. In the end, though, the show ran for four years and became a phenomenon in its own right.
38. The first Harry Potter book hits the shelves
It’s hard to imagine a world without the Harry Potter universe. As of 2018 more than 500 million of the wizard-centric books had been sold globally, and the seven-part series is available in 80 different languages. But in 1997 the story began literally and figuratively after the first book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released.
37. Thermocolor fabric heated up the fashion industry
A clothing company called Generra began dipping shirts in a dye called thermochromic leuco. This is a temperature-sensitive pigment that allowed the garments to change color when they are warmed up. So, standing in the sun or placing a hand on one’s top could start the hue-changing process. It was cool, of course, until people realized that washing their tees in hot water ruined the effect. But by 1992 – one year after the fad caught on – Generra had gone under.
36. Jamie Lee Curtis spews True Lies
This picture is jam-packed with ’90s goodness. Firstly, we have Jamie Lee Curtis re-enacting a scene from the hit 1994 movie True Lies. The flick became the third-highest-grossing movie of the year – raking in more than $375 million worldwide. Curtis won a Blockbuster Award for favorite actress in an action film for her part in the movie. And that reference is super ’90s, too; the video rental store peaked during the decade and disappeared in the 21st century.
35. Spice Girls supporting dial-up internet
Of course, nowadays it’s hard to remember a time before Wi-Fi. But those of us alive in the 1990s will recall the sound and speed of dial-up internet very well. And the Spice Girls were apparently keen to try the now old-school technology themselves. This picture shows them at AOL’s headquarters in New York City, where they got to test out some very retro-looking computers.
34. The rise of grunge
Nirvana’s meteoric rise to fame came unexpectedly, but their style of music and dress became popular with the masses. The grunge movement encompassed angsty, guitar-heavy music, as well as a uniform of combat boots, flannels and an aesthetic akin to that of a blue-collar worker. And all of that rose to prominence during the 1990s.
33. Super-sizing became a thing
In 1992 McDonald’s began offering super-size fries and soft-drinks –massively indulgent portions which remained on the menu for 12 years. After that, the brand opted to remove its super-sized selections to maintain a healthier menu, but it’s fun to reminisce on the enormous portions provided in the 1990s.
32. Paula Abdul endorses LA Gear
We know Paula Abdul as a dancer, pop songstress and judge on American Idol. But the “Straight Up” singer also had her hand in endorsements, and she made a lateral move from the pop-and-dance scene into sportswear. Here, Abdul poses with the LA Gear products that she threw her name behind in the 1990s.
31. Clueless, the book series
Most of us who grew up in the 1990s will remember the cult-classic 1995 film Clueless. And you may also recall that a TV series based on the movie came out afterward. But many may not know that it also spawned a series of books – unless, of course, you were a bona fide ’90s girl. You might want to read up and re-watch the flick, too, since Paramount Studios has announced that a remake could be in the works for 21st-century viewers.
30. Sending the kids to school with Lunchables
The invention of Lunchables came out of desperation – Oscar Mayer needed to get rid of its excess bologna, which had begun to fall out of favor with American customers. So, the company repackaged the lunchmeat into the grab-and-go lunches for kids that were meant to be fun for them and convenient for parents. And the brand has stuck around for more than 30 years – in spite of its unhealthy reputation.
29. Wearing outfits backward like Kris Kross
Rappers inspired plenty of fashion trends in the 1990s. But arguably the genre’s most bizarre contribution to clothes came from a rap duo called Kris Kross. The young pair went through a brief phase of wearing their outfits backward, and their fans followed suit for a brief time in 1993. If you can manage to button shirts and pants this way, then you should be proud to rock this ’90s trend – no matter what year it is.
28. Now That’s What I Call Music! hit the shelves
It might be hard to remember a time when you couldn’t download your favorite songs directly from the internet. However, compensation for this came in 1998 with the release of Now That’s What I Call Music! – a compilation of the hottest songs of that year. Furthermore, the company still releases these albums; as of 2020 we’ve reached the 83rd iteration and counting.
27. Internet as programmed by a floppy disk
America Online (AOL) once reigned supreme as the nation’s top dial-up internet provider. In fact, it was so popular that by 1999 the company had a valuation of a staggering $222 billion. Early web users could download the software to roam the web with an AOL floppy disk. Eventually, though, they moved onto CDs before we all switched to broadband and Wi-Fi.
26. Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry teaching us Microsoft Windows 95
In 1995 Friends was third on the list of the United States’ top-rated TV shows. As such, stars Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston were apparently enlisted to teach us all how to use the then-new PC software called Windows 95. A few of the videos – yes, on VHS – are still for sale online.
25. Teenage boys clamoring to wear extra-wide JNCO jeans
Brothers Haim Milo and Jacques Yaakov Revah invested $200,000 in their new take on denim, and it turned to be a shockingly successful gamble. The brothers designed jeans with legs between 20 and 36 inches wide. Yes, they were baggy and teens of that decade dug them. Furthermore, by 1998 the JNCO brand was raking in $186.9 million in sales.
24. Jonathan Taylor Thomas and a Fighter video game
In the 1990s Jonathan Taylor Thomas ascended to heartthrob status thanks to his flouncy golden hair, raspy voice and role on the sitcom Home Improvement. Before walking away from the spotlight at the end of the decade, though, he won our hearts once more when he appeared at children’s charity Starlite Foundation’s carnival in Santa Monica. Here, Thomas poses at the 1990 event with his very own Fighter video game – a must-have toy from the era.
23. The advent of the teen drama
Not all of the trendy ’90s TV shows cultivated an adult audience. Instead, this decade saw teen-centric programming make its way onto screens more so than ever before. The soap opera Beverly Hills 90210 gave way to future hits in the genre: including The O.C. and One Tree Hill. Teen comedies became a thing, too, with shows like Saved by the Bell holding up as 1990s pop culture perfection.
22. Working out with Mark Wahlberg
Actor Mark Wahlberg has made a name for himself on the silver screen and even earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in 2006’s The Departed. Long before that, though, his career was on an entirely different trajectory. Wahlberg helmed his eponymous hip-hop group: Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. And he starred in VHS fitness videos under that moniker in the 1990s, too.
21. Gangsta rap goes mainstream
Of course, hip-hop music flowed long before the 1990s. Its roots trace back to the urban culture of the ’70s, and the following decade saw more commercial rappers break onto the charts. But it took several more years for so-called “gangsta” artists – whose music had more edge – to reach an equally wide audience. Eventually, the likes of Snoop Dogg, NWA and Tupac sold millions of records in the 1990s as the genre took off.
20. Kate Moss rules the runway – and raises a conversation
Those before her weren’t necessarily average-sized women, and neither were the catwalkers by her side. But Kate Moss headlined the 1990s era of incredibly thin supermodels – weighing in at approximately 100 pounds. As such, some denounced the snapshots of her gaunt frame and claimed that they glamorized starvation or even weight-loss caused by drug use.
19. The Real World graces screens for the first time
“This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…” Most fans of MTV in the 1990s could probably recite these lines to this day. They were part of The Real World’s tagline – a reality show that first aired in 1992. The program brought together 20-somethings from different backgrounds to see how they managed to get along under one roof. And the show continues to entertain audiences to this day.
18. The rise and fall of Orbitz soda
The idea for Orbitz is still just as crazy now as it was in 1997. The fruit-flavored beverage contained colorful gelatin balls floating in it, which made it look like an ingestible lava lamp. Unsurprisingly, this strange soda didn’t catch on, and the drink disappeared a year after it hit the shelves.
17. Billy Ray tops the Billboard charts
Mariah; Whitney; Spice Girls; Backstreet Boys. The list of the top-selling artists of the 1990s contains plenty of names you’d expect to see. But 1992’s victor – Billy Ray Cyrus – might come as a bit of a surprise. The country singer won the year with his record Some Gave All, which moved 4.7 million units in the United States.
16. Breathe easy at an oxygen bar
We breathe in oxygen 24 hours a day, but plain old air wasn’t enough for health-minded people in the 1990s. Instead, they started oxygen bars, where they’d breathe in pure air to boost concentration, fight stress and soothe hangovers. Celebs bought into the trend, too, with the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson outfitting their homes with oxygen chambers for deep breathing.
15. Jim Carrey and the Toy Story guys at the Oscars
The year 1995 was a great year for movies; Jim Carrey starred in two films of note: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Batman Forever. On top of that, the first-ever Toy Story movie hit theaters, too. And its main characters ended up on stage at the 1996 Academy Awards with none other than comedian Carrey, who probably made everyone laugh as he played with the Buzz and Woody figurines.
14. Britney Spears had a Britney doll
The team at Play Along Toys came up with the brilliant idea to make a Britney Spears doll for the masses. They spent millions on getting the toy to market, and it finally arrived in 1999. The entire project was an ambitious one – especially considering it was the company’s first-ever product sold to the masses.
13. Jeff Bezos bet on books – and won
Internet software used to come to us on floppy disks and after logging on, we could shop on Amazon for two things: books and music. Yes, that’s how the online retail giant got its start. In this shot we see Jeff Bezos grinning with a CD and a pile of books, and he probably had no idea that within a few decades he’d become the richest man in the world.
12. Crystal Pepsi
In the early 1990s people began equating the healthiness of a beverage to its color – and this meant brown sodas simply wouldn’t do. So, Pepsi launched Crystal Pepsi in 1993. It tasted like cola but had the clarity that customers craved – or, so it had once seemed. As it turned out, though, they didn’t really want to drink the stuff, and Crystal Pepsi vanished from the shelf just like the color from its carbonated base.
11. The Power Rangers were seriously popular
Hollywood’s biggest stars have left their handprints in the cement outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for decades. We’re talking icons: including John Wayne, Sidney Poitier, Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner. The fact that the cast of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie had the same opportunity is a testament to just how popular the show was – especially in the 1990s.
10. Friends forever, thanks to the 1990s
It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without Friends and the countless quotes from the show that we repeat ad nauseam. But its most memorable moments didn’t become part of our lexicon until after its first episode aired in 1994. Plus, the show’s cast of then-relatively unknown actors became household names, and we laughed along to their antics for a decade.
9. At one time, you couldn’t just Google everything
Sergey Brin and Larry Page had much simpler goals when they launched Google in 1998. The pair had developed the search engine to serve Stanford’s website; the site’s address was once google.stanford.edu. Of course, it grew to be a huge global tech company. But it all started out of a garage, and all thanks to a request from a California-based university.
8. 98 Degrees showing off their Beanie Babies
Ty Warner created Beanie Babies and came up with a winning formula to stoke demand for his bean-filled animals. He’d discontinue specific characters, thus driving demand – and prices – for particular creations. As a result, Warner became a billionaire thanks to his business model. And his products even ended up in the hands of popular boy band 98 Degrees, who formed in 1996 and went on to sell ten million records.
7. Video rental stores prepare for the VHS release of Titanic
Titanic was the highest-grossing film of the 1990s by a long shot. Indeed, its $1.8 billion earnings nearly doubled the profits of second-place movie: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. And Titanic spurred equally as much fanfare when it came out on VHS. The Blockbuster manager shown here had 250 copies available for rent and nearly 100 that customers could purchase. Apparently, she opened the store at midnight for those eager to watch it at home ASAP.
6. RuPaul rises to the top
RuPaul’s rise to fame was an unexpected one, and it all started in the 1990s. Specifically, 1993 saw his single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” getting major airtime on MTV. The tune charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and made the drag queen into a major star. He went on to become the face of MAC Cosmetics the following year and began hosting a talk show on VH1, too.
5. Love Apple? Thank Microsoft
It’s hard to believe now but, at one time, Apple needed money. Specifically, in 1997 the company was on the brink of bankruptcy until Bill Gates stepped in to save his rival and friend: Steve Jobs. The Microsoft founder announced that his tech business would pitch in $150 million to keep its competitor afloat – a valiant move that stoked the fires of innovation in both companies for years to come.
4. Fubu sportswear, as seen on streetwear fashionistas
Daymond John started Fubu in 1992, and the entrepreneur envisioned a hat-centric company as he began his business in Queens, NYC. However, the brand – which stands for “For Us By Us” – quickly grew to encompass head-to-toe streetwear. Indeed, those who partook in the casual, cool style couldn’t get enough of Fubu in the 1990s.
3. “Macarena” becomes an international dance craze
No doubt many reading this would be able to dance along if we were to blast Los Del Rio’s hit song “Macarena.” The tune stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for seven weeks, and it still plays at weddings, school dances and sports matches the world over. Perhaps the best part of the story is that the band who sang the tune had put out more than 30 albums of traditional Spanish music before the Macarena craze spread across the globe like wildfire.
2. Sending IMs was the original texting
Nowadays, a simple text would suffice if you wanted to contact a friend. But things were a bit more complicated in the 1990s. You’d both have to be logged into a messenger service and connected to the internet to catch up. Or, others could find an online chatroom where you could strike up conversations with strangers – a favorite pastime of ’90s kids, for sure.
1. Baywatch beat the odds
You’d recognize the bright red swimsuits anywhere, but Baywatch almost didn’t have the chance to become a cultural phenomenon. The show was canceled after its first season – that is, until its star David Hasselhoff pushed it into syndication in 1991. From there, audiences the world over fell in love with the re-runs, and the show went back into production. More than one billion people have tuned in to watch the show, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, and the program aired until 2001 in 142 countries at its peak.