I’m going to start this post with an apology: I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry for exposing you to a list of the worst smells of the ‘90s. I’m sorry for dredging up sensory experiences you probably thought you had forgotten. And I’m sorry for the unpleasant memories these smells will likely jog in your brain. Because goodness knows I’ve just had the worst flashback ever, and, well… it’s likely that you will, too.
Why did I do this to myself? And why I am subjecting you to it, as well? Well, Gentle Readers… I’m honestly not all that sure. I think it might have something to do with that whole reasons-‘90s-nostalgia-is-overrated thing I brought up earlier this week: If we remember only the good things about a period of time, then we run the risk of erasing the bad things about them — and if we do that, then we’ll never learn from our mistakes. While terrible smells of the ‘90s aren’t quite as high stakes as, say, terrible sexist moments of the ‘90s, it’s still worth reminding ourselves about the little things. For every root beer Lip Smacker, there’s a musty old polar fleece vest.
These ‘90s smells? I do not miss them one bit. Despite the unpleasantness associated with them, though, I’m glad I have those experiences tucked away in my memory banks. They taught me some valuable lessons — from how to deal with jealousy to the importance of exercising moderation.
1. Inflatable Furniture
Fun to have; not so fun to sit on. Or smell. Because it made the entire room smell like cheap plastic. Blech.
2. Cafeteria Smell
For a place that was meant to encourage us to eat, the smell of your average school cafeteria was rather nauseating. I’m not sure exactly what it was that turned my stomach so badly — a bunch of smells that should never be mixed all tossed up into one noxious cloud? The scent of industrial cooking equipment? Frozen pizza crust? — but whatever it was, it resulted in me losing my appetite the second I walked in the door every. Single. Day.
3. The Dum-Dum Pops Your Teacher Taped To Your Best Friend’s Spelling Test When They Scored 100 Percent And You Didn’t
Spelling tests giveth and spelling tests taketh away.
4. An Overabundance Of Dep Hair Gel
It even smelled crunchy.
5. Too Much Drakkar Noir
Drakkar Noir was first launched in 1982, so I’m admittedly not totally clear on why it was so popular in the ‘90s; either way, though, it had such a huge list of notes that I suspect my aversion to it had something to do with it all just being Too Much. According to Fragrantica, the top notes included rosemary, artemisia, lavender, basil, lemon verbena, bergamot, and lemon; the middle notes included coriander, carnation, cinnamon, juniper, and jasmine; and the base notes included leather, sandalwood, fir, amber, patchouli, oak moss, vetiver, and cedar. That’s a whopping 20 notes overall, and not all of them sound like they should be smooshed up against one another.
6. Middle School Dances
Mostly because middle school dances combined both Dep hair gel and Drakkar Noir in terrifying quantities. Add to that the smell of pre-teen desperation, and, well… goodness knows what it was like for the parents who had to chaperone those things.
7. Pop Secret Pop Qwiz Popcorn You Left In The Microwave For Too Long
I don’t particularly like the taste of popcorn, but I love the smell. I do not, however, love the smell of burnt popcorn — and burnt Pop Qwiz was even worse.
8. Handi-Snacks Cheese
I just can’t get behind processed cheese spread. Give me a quality block of smoked gouda, though, and we’re good.
9. That Awful Cough Syrup Your Mom Gave You When You Were Sick
I suspect this one might vary from person to person, but for me, it was a toss-up between Robitussin and that weird “bubblegum-flavored” nonsense that tasted and smelled like anything but bubblegum.
10. Polar Fleece That Was Past Its Prime
All things fleece were super popular in the ‘90s, but I would argue that the Had To Have It items were long-sleeve pullover jackets and zip-up fleece vests. They were great when they were new; after you’d worn them for long enough, though, they started to lose their cloud-like softness. Worse, though, was the way they trapped scents: If you wore them out in the rain a lot, they gradually developed a weird, musty sort of smell that no amount of machine washing could get out.
11. Dodge Balls in Gym Class
Particularly when you got hit in the face with them.
12. Scented Crayons
Scented crayons just didn’t quite get the job done in the same way our beloved Mr. Sketch markers did. The waxiness of the things got in the way of the scent, which could result in some pretty weird combinations.
13. Rubber Cement
Headache city. No wonder schools started switching almost exclusively to Elmer’s non-toxic school glue.