The History Of Every Teen Bracelet Fad

Teen bracelet fads are a bona fide rite of passage for youths. In particular middle school circles, they act as wearable social currency. Just as big game hunters have their taxidermied conquests, awkward teenagers keep friendship bracelets.

While bracelets are an essential accessory for any teen’s outfit, not all teen bracelets are equal. Some bracelets became popular enough to incite a movement, with a couple becoming banned from certain US states.

Teenage jewelry trends are in a constant state of flux, but a few fads irrevocably impact the national dialogue. From Silly Bandz to yellow Livestrong bracelets, numerous crazy bracelet fads garnered attention from adults, which, of course, made them instantly uncool.

1983: Jelly Bracelets Created A Scandal

After Madonna sported several black jelly bracelets, the accessory became an all-out craze. People could wear these plastic bracelets in bulk, but unfortunately, gossipy adults ruined them for teenagers everywhere.

In what was most likely the product of a PTA meeting gone awry, a myth spread about how jellies were “sex bracelets” used by teens at “rainbow parties.” Allegedly, each color symbolized a different sex act performed by the wearer. The media’s moral panic led to jelly bracelets becoming banned in certain middle and high schools, so, of course, the accessories saw increased sales and popularity.

1985: Friendship Bracelets Reigned Supreme

Artistic knot-tying has roots dating back to ancient China, but the friendship bracelets ’80s babies know and love got their start in Central America. The macramé designs comprise tied knots with colorful bits of string. An urban legend states anyone who receives a friendship bracelet must wear it until the threads wear thin and come apart.

Friendship bracelets ruled the early ’80s. In an age of increasing cynicism and the credibility gap inspired by Nixon’s Watergate, they served as a bastion of sincere bonhomie.

The bracelets spread like wildfire at a sleep-away camp, and every craft-savvy babysitter eventually learned how to weave them. Generally, they were symbolic of the undying friendship shared by fashionable tweens.

1988: Slap Bracelets Became Popular, Then Children Got Hurt

Slap bracelets are arguably the cheapest accessory to inspire knock-offs. Created by Stuart Anders, a high school shop teacher from Wisconsin, this million-dollar idea came in 1983 when he was playing with a steel ribbon and realized the metal could curl around his wrist.

The manufactured version featured thin steel covered in fabric (as thick steel could cut through cloth and skin). When Main Street Toy Co. began to sell the bracelet in 1988, Slap Wraps were suddenly everywhere, with cheap replicas abounding.

Unfortunately, some of the more slapdash rip-offs ruined this tween bracelet fad. In 1990, 4-year-old Nicole Tomaso cut her finger on the sharp edges of an imitation slap bracelet, and the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection recalled all knock-off Slap Wraps, prompting officials in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Minnesota to consider similar embargoes.

1995: Lanyards Gave New Life To Bracelet-Making Trends

Fashioned from PVC tubes 80 centimeters in length, lanyards traded in thread for plastic and doubled down on neon color schemes. The trend kicked off in mid-20th century France, where scoubidou or gimp bracelets were synonymous with lanyards.

In America, lanyard culture had a renaissance during the 1990s. Riding the summer camp waves inspired by friendship bracelets of the ’80s, lanyards quickly became a popular craft.

1996: Hemp Bracelets Were Everywhere, Despite Being Sort Of Illegal

A perfect complement to The Grateful Dead’s mass resurgence in popularity, hemp bracelets marked ’90s teens’ return to hippy-dippy greatness. Made from twisted hemp rope adorned with one or more stone beads, people traditionally wore the pieces on their wrists and ankles.

In the ’90s, the US government classified hemp as a Schedule I drug on par with LSD and heroin (based on a ruling made in 1970). While it was illegal to cultivate hemp on US soil, laws regulating the import of hemp and hemp products were more lax, and before long, the market overflowed with these free-spirited accessories.

While hemp’s renegade status may have propelled it into the spotlight, it’s now legal to grow hemp in most US states because of the Farm Bill enacted by President Obama in 2014.

1998: Power Bracelets Were Generically Mystical

In the late ’90s, power bracelets (AKA karma beads) were a physical, wearable representation of the public’s spiritual quest. Allegedly, the beads emanated magical powers which would bestow good luck upon the wearer.

Though many cultures use beads for spiritual purposes, ’90s commercialism synthesized several groups’ beliefs (as evidenced by the variety of Native American, Celtic, East-Asian, and African symbols appearing on the bracelets) into a singular, nondescript mysticism.

Despite its apparent disingenuity, the public flocked to buy power bracelets. In 2000, the The New York Times reported H&M – described as a “cheap-chic emporium” – was selling boatloads of $2 power bracelets promising to protect buyers from evil.

2003: Studded Bracelets Rocked The World

In the early 2000s, to master the grunge aesthetic, any middle-schooler could sport a black t-shirt, their dad’s striped tie, and a couple studded bracelets.

Was this trend birthed from an ephemeral S&M fantasy, or via the overpowering presence of angry metal-heads? Most likely, it was due to Avril Lavigne and her horde of pubescent pop-punk fans.

While the “Sk8r Boi” star may have brought studded bracelets into the 21st century, the accessories date back all the way to ancient Greece and Rome. Historically, dogs wore spiked collars to fend off wolves, a trend continuing through the Dark Ages.

Today, spiked collars’ association with violence remains. In Massachusetts, for example, the law considers them an illegal weapon.

2004: Livestrong Bracelets Were The Physical Embodiment Of Good Deeds

Livestrong bracelets rose and fell with their creator, Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor and disgraced cyclist who lost all of his Tour de France distinctions. After the public learned Armstrong cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs, many felt the golden bracelets were misrepresentations of honor and perseverance.

Armstrong launched his nonprofit in 1997, but the eponymous bracelets didn’t become trendy until 2004. Thanks to a partnership with Nike, the funds from selling over 80 million bands went toward supporting cancer research.

Goodwill aside, the waterproof Livestrong bracelets were a favorite among middle and high school swim teams.

2010: Kandi Bracelets Briefly Took Over

The electronic dance music (EDM) explosion of the early 2010s coincided with the prominent reappearance of a trend once strictly associated with ’90s ravers. For a brief period, every teenager seemed at least mildly interested in EDM, prompting an explosion of tie-dyed bandanas; fuzzy, ankle-length boots; and neon children’s bead bracelets known colloquially as kandi.

Seemingly overnight, kandi was everywhere. Anyone who lived near a Wal-Mart had all the materials needed to craft these bracelets, and it was custom to trade kandi with friends and strangers in the name of fostering memories. Bracelets often featured positive messages relating to rave culture or self-care. Moreover, devout kandi kids enjoyed stringing multiple rows of beads together to create kandi cuffs.

As of 2018, EDM still has a prominent presence at music festivals, but many attendees have cooled out on the classic rave aesthetic.

2011: Silly Bandz Got Banned

Tweens were obsessed with Sally Bandz – most of them rocked curated collections daily. The bracelets were essentially rubber bands reshaped to look like recognizable creatures or objects; teens traded them like baseball cards. Many coveted the animal packs, and it wasn’t unusual to see parents and children donning matching  bracelets.

In 2003, entrepreneur Robert Croak founded Brainchild Products. Three years later, he came across shaped rubber bands while visiting a trade show in China. The concept stuck with Croak, and before the year ended, Brainchild Products set their sights on Silly Bandz.

At their peak in 2008, Brainchild was selling more than a million packs of Silly Bandz a week. Since collecting rare bracelets was a key part of the appeal, tempers ran hot in lunchroom trade circles. Before long, reports began rolling in about Silly Bandz-related fights and theft. This prompted many school systems across the country to ban the eccentric rubber bands.

2013: Rainbow Loom Took The Spotlight

Rainbow Loom kits include a specially designed tool used to weave colorful rubber bands into bracelets. It’s an ingenious product with a personalized, DIY appeal.

Rainbow Loom emerged in 2010, thanks to Cheong Choon Ng in Novi, MI. At first, toy shops were reluctant to stock the product, but Learning Toys Express took a chance in 2012 and ordered 24 Loom kits from Choon Ng. Their gamble paid off, as the kits sold out almost instantly.

By 2014, Choon Ng had sold over 8 million units worldwide, along with 40 million packets of extra rubber bands.