"Welcome to PopcornShirt.com!" reads the strange website I stumbled upon during a nostalgia-fueled Google search. "Our popcorn shirts are the perfect item for the fashion conscious woman! Great for travel, and flattering on everybody, the popcorn shirt comes in many styles. From the button down cardigan for a night on the town to a spaghetti strap camisole for lounging around the house, this shirt is the perfect addition to any woman's wardrobe."The perfect item for the fashion conscious woman? This is not at all how I remember popcorn shirts. The popcorn shirt — also known as the bubble shirt, origami shirt, crinkle shirt, or "those weird tiny shirts that stretched out from the late '90s/early 2000s," which is how I referred to them before Google reminded me of their truth — is a strange animal. You'll never find it on a list of 37 Wardrobe Staples Every Thinking Woman Should Own — no, it's a relic from 2001-ish that's been popping up on thrift store racks, and little else, for the past decade. No one seems to know when or how or why the popcorn shirt was invented; it just sprang into being at mall kiosks around America sometime during the era of boy bands and Y2K panic. Nothing, and I mean nothing, says "Throwback Thursday" like a good old bubble shirt beauty shot.
Image: @lizliz20/Instagram (let it be known that this #TBT was taken RIGHT BEFORE AN 'NSYNC CONCERT).
Popcorn shirts were the ultimate It item for the tween set right around the turn of the millennium. They were characterized by a super-stretchy "bubble" texture that was actually kind of unflattering despite the fact that one size fit all. Maybe it was something about the little pointy bumps that stuck up all over your torso. Anyway, they were light as a feather, and whatever sins of bulkiness and ill-fitting stretch they may have committed on our tween figures, they made up for it by being one of the coolest one-hit-wonder ideas ever. Bubble shirts were available in an overwhelming range of colors, patterns, and even cuts. There were bubble cardigans for the moms who wanted in on the trend, and bubble spaghetti strap tanks for the girls whose dress codes weren't as strict as yours. If you got really lucky, you could even find a long-sleeved version, to make sure every inch of your upper body was covered in stretchy, popcorn-textured goodness.
Image: popcornshirtwholesale.com, where you can currently buy 12 bubble shirts for $75.
Yeah, bubble shirts were definitely more of a conceptual item than a practical one. What they represented was invention, progress, the ability of Modern Man to make things deceptively tiny. What they actually were, in real life, was just a questionable fashion choice.
Where's the bubble shirt today, you ask? I'm happy to inform you that it's still around and ready to be worn to the next 'N Sync reunion concert:
According to Instagram, piles of popcorn shirts have been spotted at Walgreens stores around the country, "as seen on TV" (and sell at the low low price of 2 for $10 — what a steal!). There's also a thriving retro bubble shirt scene on Etsy, where you can find everything from an authentic '90s rainbow version to an adorable bubble shirt covered in roses.
I'll be honest, the bubble shirt looks so wildly retro now that it's starting to get a little bit cute again. After all, when an adult wears a bubble shirt, it's basically a crop top — and everyone knows how trendy crop tops are right now. Popcorn shirts may have screamed "tween" and also "save the world from fashion missteps" in their heyday, but dare I suggest that they've become — if not cool, than kind of charming again?
Main Image: Etsy