20 Things 90's Teens Might Remember: "Alternative" Edition

So I’ve read a few Buzzfeed/ other internet portals of pop culture “Remember When?” posts lately about "90’s Teens - Remember This?!" that don't gel much with me. Often they are focusing on the lame part of the 90’s, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, tacky fashions, etc, that really don’t chime for me at all. Some of it is to do with trying to mash the 90's all together, when the decade's early part is pretty vastly different from the second half pop culture wise. But also, I think it is partly to do with mainstream pop culture only remembering the things that intersected from what was once quaintly known as “Alternative”. I imagine millennials are writing these, or the 90’s teens who never got beat up or called gay or were latchkey kids or watched Heathers on repeat? Because the lists often feel solidly empty of relatable content to me: like "Yeah I remember that crap, but I wasn't into any of it!"

“Alternative Rock” most of us remember, but “Alternative” was a way of life when I was a teen, a verb we used to describe ourselves both ironically and un-ironically, depending on our teenage mood swings. “She’s so alternative” might be used as an eye roll, as in, she’s dressing like Robert Smith from the Cure all of a sudden when she’s never even listened to anything other than mainstream radio. There was a very big shift my junior year in high school, where the music of the outcasts went mainstream, thanks to Nirvana, and a strange semi-merging of tastes began. Some of my gang of theatre geeks and nerds resisted, others embraced the chance to co-exist with the cool kids, even though they still made fun of us in all likelihood (yeah I was totally the one in the corner of the cafeteria not interacting with anyone unless they were my friend).

Rock and roll had become an equalizer for the 90’s teen, for better or worse, and “alternative” would slowly and surely lose its brief moment of meaning something was not mainstream, that defined us as "different". While of course Nirvana was a BIG thing, these articles and listicles omit all of the great music that led up to Nirvana, from the Minneapolis punk scene of Husker Du and The Replacements, to Boston's The Lemonheads and The Pixies. Basically most of my teenage experience of  90’s culture, thus creating a revision of history (ah the 90’s are history now!) that smooths out the rough edges. The counterculture vibe that was a backlash to the 80’s, and so much else of what I feel formed me. So here is MY list, of things some but not “ALL” 90’s teens might remember! (Of course some of these are more personal but I hope a few ring a bell!)

1. EXPERIMENTAL HAIR: From dreadlocks to hair clumped and teased with wax to shaved heads: Not all of us went the full monty, though many of my friends did – the Mohawk to bald transition was a common one. I was reminded on Awkward Family Photos of this particularly bold look which was actually quite a big thing with the coolest, most daring alternative girls at my school. I was not so brave, plus my Mom would have killed me, but I did let my friend Jodi shave bits of the underside of my massive curly head, which looked awful!

2Wore Doc Martens with EVERYTHING: Skirts were either too short or too long, tights were never plain and preferably ripped. My favorite outfit I ever wore in h.s. was a pair of plaid (tartan!) shorts, tights, an old Replacements tee my Mom scored off a janitor at work (don’t even ask how vintage concert tees were acquired in the 90’s!), and my Mom’s velvet trimmed blazer. I wish I had a picture because I’m sure I looked a state, but I felt FIERCE!

3. Memorized Disintegration by The Cure, Out of Time by R.E.M. (even though they became super famous after this, ugh uncool for a teen!) and/or Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails. The backwards N in Nine inch Nails is sadly lost now that we are slaves to computer fonts/not scribbling the logo on notebooks!

4. Natural or No Makeup: We didn’t wear much makeup, other than badly applied eyeliner and red lipstick on Goth night at the local disco. Proper Goths were a rarity at my school, I was of course a Cure fan but few of my friends identified as Goths even though we might have been called Goths from time to time. Underage nightclubs/disco nights were a big thing when I was a teen, which I feel really lucky about – we had a place to go and dance and have fun, which meant that we were all pretty clean cut when it came to drugs and alcohol, ironically the most messed up parties were thrown by the preppy kids, very John Hughes!

5. "Damn Fine Coffee": Were obsessed with anything Twin Peaks related (ok this was a minority even in my group!) But yes, I was one of the teenagers writing letters of complaint when it was cancelled – how dare they take away Dale Cooper from my loving eyes! My plaid skirt/Audrey Horne obsession was deep, it was probably the one and only show I would say I truly geeked out over to unhealthy levels. I owned The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, the secret tapes of Agent Cooper, the gloomily haunting soundtrack, and Twin Peaks marathons were a common occurrence, basically I was an addict.

6. Drove a used car, and were GRATEFUL for it (granny waving stick territory here!)

7. Wore over-sized EVERYTHING. If it wasn’t two sizes too big and obscuring my butt, it wasn’t going anywhere near my body.

8. Ate Frozen Yogurt at TCBY while we did loops at the mall looking for cute boys from exotic neighboring towns.

9. Couldn’t NOT Dance to Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order or Dee Lite Groove Is in the Heart.

10. Believed that someday we would marry Morrissey and/or Michael Stipe (hmmm! ;-)

11. Felt like John Hughes movies were already time capsules but time capsules of the TRUTH (ok the truth as we wished it to be, true love for the shy awkward outcasts and all!)

12. Talked on the (landline) phone for HOURS every night, often juggling two calls at once thanks to the glories of call waiting.

13. Used computer class to exchange notes, learned nada about computing.

14. Knew all of the words to The Violent Femmes' Blister in The Sun without really knowing what it was about.

15. Hung out at indie record shops.

16. Silence of The Lambs was the scariest movie in the history of the world.

17. Ate giant paper cups of Tater Tots  (like Napoleon Dynamite!) for lunch.

18. Mooned over our Sassy magazines, especially the one with Johnny Depp on the cover.

19. Winona Ryder was EVERYTHING (particularly in Heathers, with Christian "voice of a gravelly teenage angel" Slater.

20.  A relationship could be made or broken based on one thing alone: How good was their mix tape?

And finally, some tiny part of us thought that someday somewhere, this might happen, and that would be a VERY GOOD THING!

Even though we looked like this:

The End!


  1. I for one thought I would marry Christian Slater. I mean after I saw Heathers for the first time, that was it. I was addicted to everything Christian Slater for years! When Robin Hood came out with Kevin Costner, I would yell at Kevin Costner's character to be nicer to Christian Slater. Because he was Christian Slater! I still burn a candle for him in my heart!

    I think we are about the same age. . .because I said yes to about all of these.

    1. I tried to think of things most people of my ilk could relate to, but of course there will always be some that are more personal. I would love to read some more 90's memories from other people! I was also slightly obsessed with Mr. Slater, Pump Up The Volume in particular along with Heathers,etc! I remember seeing him as a monk in The Name of The Rose and thinking he was still fanciable!

  2. This is a lovely post, good old memories however now I feel old! Years just pass by so quickly, crazy xx


    1. HI, thanks for reading! It is frightening how long ago it was now!

  3. I love everything about this!!!

    1. Thanks Tristan! We had some great times looking back on it :-)

  4. Agree with this so much, especially the bit about the two ends of the decade being so vastly different. I also only wore skirts if they were far too short or far too long, but always with Doc Martens at the end of my legs.

    1. :-) It's SO nice to hear other people share some of these memories, lately when I read stuff about the 90's, it's like "That's not what I remember (at least not fondly) at all!"

  5. Ha, loved this, especially the photo at the end :) :)

    I was in this weird non-knowing bubble, where I was pretty oblivious on what was popular, cool, on tv, radio... I did wear the docs everyday since i was a bit of a "goth" (not that I labeled myself as one). I didn't watch tv, I just mainly played my computer games like civilization for seven hours straight on a friday night. I had no clue that other people did...things.

    1. I was lucky to find like minded friends, I moved to my h.s. from out of state my freshman year and knew no one. My first day of school some preppy girls started talking to me about New Kids on the Block and I thought "Oh crap, I will never meet another weirdo like me"

  6. Oh yes. So much of these! Not all of them, of course. I was (philistine!) never much into Nirvana except for their most mainstream songs. I was very much into the grunge thing though, except my friends were either preppy or nerdy, so I was a grungy nerd with weirdly preppy friends. And to this day - Sixteen Candles is one of the most awesome films ever made, but even then, yeah, it felt a throwback to a "simpler time." Ah, feeling like a granny now.

    1. I was really not into Nirvana either! One of my best friends was kind of preppy to start with but that changed, and we all had our own little things we were into. Sixteen Candles is the best!