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The History Of Every Teen Bracelet Fad

Updated June 14, 2019 123.9k views11 items

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. 

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

    Photo: Debra Roby / Wikimedia Commons

    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

    Photo: Sherool / Wikimedia Commons

    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.