If you grew up in the '90s like I did, you enjoyed a charmed childhood, indeed. But while there were plenty of legit toys, gadgets, fads and fashions to keep you entertained back then, there were inevitably also an abundance of '90s gimmicks you were totally into. You know the type: The ones you blew your hard-earned dollars on that perhaps weren't quite as magical as you'd been led to believe (although, real talk, you're only just now realizing this). Don't feel bad — we all fell for them.
The reality is that '90s kids made plenty of questionable decisions during the decade when it came to how we spent our time and our allowance and/or babysitting money. We saved up for Moon Shoes and then proceeded to hop all over the yard with what were essentially tiny trampolines strapped to our feet. We nearly (accidentally) decapitated our friends firing off water rockets. The fact that we fell for a gimmick here or there could almost be considered a good thing — those gimmicks temporarily distracted us from the potentially face-breaking activities we so loved to indulge in back in the day.
So since we did ultimately make it out of the decade intact and have the opportunity to get wiser as we grew up, let's reminisce about some of the gimmicks we couldn't get enough of in the '90s.
1. Mail Order Music Clubs
To be clear, companies like Columbia House and BMG were around for decades before the '90s. But it was '90s kids who really sunk their teeth into the premise that for only one penny — ONE PENNY, YOU GUYS — you could get eight CDs sent straight to your door. Never mind the fact you had to sign up for auto shipments and pay shipping and handling fees, or that you were an unemployed 14-year-old lacking who was just pumped to score TLC's new CD.
2. The Easy-Bake Oven
Despite promos touting perfectly petite-size brownies and mini-muffins, everything I created using my Easy-Bake Oven came out looking like brown glass. Curious. Even little girls who loved baking eventually gave up on this puppy. And while I'm on this rail, can we talk about what it was we were baking? I've never since come across a brownie recipe that doesn't require milk or eggs.
3. Reebok Pumps
If you were lucky enough to snag a pair of Reebok Pumps, your social standing was secured for the entire school year.Did that little pump in the tongue really do anything other than make you seem way cooler than you were? Probably not, but it sure did make you feel frickin' baller. Reebok actually still offers this "technology" today — the ZPump features pumps on the sides, as opposed to the tongue — and, yep, they're just as gimmicky as ever.
4. Hypercolor T-Shirts
Now here's an '80s invention '90s kids really ran with. Manufactured by Generra Sportswear Company, Hypercolor shirts contained a thermochromic pigment that changed colors when either color or warm. And boy did we love these trippy Ts back in the day! Unfortunately, it was a torrid, short-lived affair — one wash later, and these shirts were nothing more than a mess.
5. 3D Puzzles
In the mid '90s, you couldn't swing a devil stick without hitting a 3D puzzle book. Everyone who was anyone carried one around, stopping at intervals to stare at intently until the 3D secret hidden in the pages came to life. Or, if you were anything like me, which they stared out for hours on end waiting for the gosh dang sailboat to show up. Maybe I'm colorblind ... or something.
6. Mood Rings
Like Hypercolor shirts, mood rings relied on a thermochromic element for their magic. In mood rings, this element was a liquid crystal that changed colors depending on the temperature of the wearer's finger. Of course, we didn't care about any of that scientific mumbo jumbo at the time — we were just amazed when it shifted color, especially when we could use it to justify a particularly foul mood, as in, "Watch out! My mood ring has been stuck on black all day."
A '90s phenomenon, this toy featured a mommy dog who was preggers. When you purchased the pup (mine was named Popcorn), you didn't know how many puppies she had in her belly — but you knew it could be up to five, aka the "motherload." Ultimately, you gave your precious companion the equivalent of a crude c-section and plunged your hand in her plush uterus to deliver the cuddly puppies. And since kids are hardwired to believe more is better, the letdown when your dog only delivered two puppies was palpable.