When I see the youth of today, I can’t help but feel a little jealous. Like, imagine growing up with endless TikTok resources about how to contour, how to pose for photos, and the best prom dress color for your skin tone?
We lived through the 2000s flying blind, trying desperately to be cool while constantly getting in our own way. We were forced to wear skinny jeans because they looked good on Kate Moss, caked mattifying makeup onto our already dry skin, and learned about sex from the library.
To give the next generation an appreciation of what society was like in the olden times, we put together an exhaustive glossary of some of the most culturally significant fashion trends, technological advancements, and key figures of our childhood.
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Basically insta DMs, except you had to use an embarrassing username that still haunts you to this day, like laxbabe1993. Your profile picture was probably a sparkly butterfly, and you’d get hyper-specific with your away message when disclosing your whereabouts — “brb, gmas funeral.”
Bath & Body Works (beauty/style)
Let’s get one thing straight: You were either a Warm Vanilla Sugar Girl, or a Cucumber Melon Girl, but either way, you were dousing that “fragrance mist” all over your body after PE.
Warm Vanilla Sugar girls wore fuzzy socks to school for a little longer than was age-appropriate, and Cucumber Melon girls were always playing with gimp string during class.
A shining beacon in an otherwise dingy strip mall, Blockbuster housed thousands of VHS and DVD rentals. It was a key destination to hit with your divorced dad on a Friday night on the way back to his sad condo, or with your friends before a sleepover, where the gum-chewing, teenage cashier would let you rent R-rated movies because he was too stoned to care.
The Care & Keeping of You (biblical text)
While today’s teens have pretty much grown up with softcore porn on TikTok and whatever is happening on Euphoria, our understanding of puberty and Sex Ed came from a strung out sixth grade health teacher putting a condom on a banana and calling it a day.
The Care & Keeping of You, brought to you by the American Girl Doll company, was given to every 11-year-old by their mom so she didn’t have to answer questions about pubes. It provided cartoon illustrations of taboo topics like boob development and tampon insertion, and we’d obsess over every lurid detail before hiding it under our bed.
A core fashion basic, we had camisole tank tops in every single color and felt absolutely naked without them. The correct styling was to wear one underneath your cheap Aéropostale t-shirt, then stretch it all the way down over your butt.
It was preteen self-consciousness personified, but was also probably a strategy to prevent our ridiculously low-rise jeans from getting the best of us when we bent down to open our bottom lockers.
Cell Phone Minutes (bane of my existence)
If you were a middle class child and your parents didn’t want to splurge on Unlimited Talk & Text, your janky flip phone came with a monthly “minute” allotment.
Every text you received and sent lost you half a minute which, as you can imagine, meant your telecom rations got eaten up faster than an ADD kid with a fruit rollup.
Charlie The Unicorn (key figure)
It’s hard to believe now, but when YouTube first launched in 2005, there were, like, seven videos on there that we all watched over and over again, thus creating an internet monoculture that could never exist today.
The flash animated series Charlie The Unicorn was probably as insufferable to our parents then as Paw Patrol is today — Charlie was a depressed unicorn who’s coerced into a journey to Candy Mountain, in a twisted Dora The Explorer-style escapade. We thought it was peak comedy, and it had us spending our allowance money on “shun the non-believer” t-shirts from Spencer Gifts.
If you weren’t a totally mainstream Abercrombie girl, dELIA*s was your pseudo-artsy alternative. This was a major hotspot during back-to-school shopping week, where you’d beg your mom to buy you a pair of neon purple jeggings that she didn’t think were practical, but you knew would be a total slay with converse and peplum top.
When Facebook used to be a true extension of our world instead of a toxic wasteland where our conservative aunts write tirades about pronouns, we also used the site for games, including the viral sensation Farmville.
We’d log on religiously every day to make sure our crops were thriving, but it wasn’t always so simple — exotic crops required intense care at specific times, which meant those of us who were diehards would have to set alarms for 3am so we could wake up and harvest our blueberries before they went bad.
An ill-advised website where users could ask each other questions anonymously, which would then be answered publicly.
The masochist motivation was to find out “what people really thought” about you, but of course this meant far more comments in the vein of “ur an ugly virgin” than “you’re the best tuba player in the tenth grade!”
Frosted tips (beauty/style)
A men’s hairstyle that consisted of styling the hair into little spikes and bleaching the tips (the original “just the tip”). It was popular with teen heartthrobs until Guy Fieri made it his signature look.
Flowy, capri-length pants that you’d buy off the JCPenney racks to look hot for your 5th grade crush. Bonus points if you had them in brown.
The men of MTV’s Jersey Shore coined this acronym that stands for “Gym, Tan, Laundry,” a daily ritual for the sexually deviant and unemployed.
Happy Bunny (key figure)
@iswearonbigmacs this one goes out 2 all my zillenials #greenscreen #happybunny #hottopic #2000s #IFeelWeightless #ChipsGotTalent ♬ original sound – Hi
An apathetic, nihilistic cartoon bunny found on Tiger Beat posters and babydoll t-shirts that said rude, sarcastic remarks, like “Parents are annoying but they give you money.”
Displaying Happy Bunny merch was the closest an angsty, suburban pre-teen could get to flipping off the world without getting their computer privileges revoked.
A sneaker with built-in wheels in the heels so that you could zoom down linoleum school hallways, leaving chaos in your wake. They were understandably banned by educational institutions as quickly as they arrived.
“I Did A Thing” (lifestyle)
The semi self-deprecating gold standard for sharing brag-worthy news: starting a new job, adopting a doggo, getting pregnant, getting a bob…
iTunes Gift Card (music)
Back when Spotify didn’t exist and we had to manually purchase every track or album we wanted to listen to, an iTunes gift card was the customary “I know nothing about you” present.
They came in neon colors and featured silhouettes of groovy people rocking out to sick jams, so you felt appropriately cool gifting one to Ashley M., a B-list popular girl who only invited you to her birthday party because your mom is friends with her mom.
Jenna Marbles (key figure)
One of the most popular OG YouTubers, Jenna Marbles taught us how to stuff knee socks in our bras to make our non-existent cleave pop.
She had multiple controversies during her career, creating the blueprint for the mega-influencer-to-canceled-recluse pipeline that dominates the social media landscape today.
The Naked Palette (beauty/style)
A holy grail for poorly-executed 2016 smokey eyes, the $54 eyeshadow palette was at the top of Christmas lists across the nation for years.
Once it was yours, you’d cue up a 30-minute YouTube makeup tutorial that was way too advanced for a novice, so you’d end up arriving at your friend group’s finished basement NYE party like you’d gotten jumped outside of a Stop & Shop on the way.
A surefire way to wreck your family’s desktop iMac and send your dad into a psychotic break, all in the name of saving 99 cents on a janky mp3 file of “Thanks fr th Mmrs” by Fall Out Boy.
Lisa Frank (lifestyle)
If an anthropomorphic rainbow had a bad acid trip and projectile vomited all over a bunch of baby animals, you would have Lisa Frank. Girls who had Lisa Frank homework folders would 100% try to get you to play horses with them at recess.
The Oregon Trail (entertainment)
Let me tell you, we all knew way too much about dying of cholera thanks to the Oregon Trail computer game. You got to roleplay as a 19th century pioneer, ration your food, repair your faulty wagon… Call Of Duty could never.
Perez Hilton (key figure)
Back when blogs were in their heyday, Perez Hilton fancied himself the HBIC of betchy celeb gossip.
Because of his proclivity towards cheap shots and his questionable ethical boundaries, he was universally hated by Hollywood’s elite.
Poking on Facebook (technology)
A completely meaningless function of early Facebook, all “poking” was was alerting a friend of a notification that they’d been “poked.” Obviously, this was an essential tactic for middle school flirting.
Scholastic Book Fair (event)
Before we had audiobooks read to us in 346 parts via TikTok alongside a screen record of Subway Surfer, we had physical books that you could touch with your hands!
During one sacred week in every elementary school year, Scholastic would set up their wares in some back hallway, and your class would blissfully get called out of math period to browse their offerings with ten bucks from your parents in tow.
That said, you’d never actually leave with a respectable book – sticker books, trivia books, and scented erasers reigned supreme.
Sidekick Phone (technology)
Not to be confused with Mooshoo from Mulan, the Sidekick was the It Phone for 2000s socialites and teens whose families owned McMansions.
It flipped from the side, revealing a full qwerty keyboard, so you could text your friends about The OC finale in real time, while the rest of us Nokia peasants took three minutes to string one sentence together.
These neon, silicone bracelets were the currency of our childhood, available in iconic shapes like drum sets, diamond rings, and velociraptors. We bought, traded, and analyzed, basically creating the NASDAQ for 9-year-olds.
Soffe Shorts (beauty/style)
The Lululemon of the 2000s, these overpriced cheer shorts came in every color and we collected them like Pokemon. The key was to cuff them up ten times after you left your house so that they were as short as possible when you got to school — totally worth the dress code violation.
TiK ToK by Kesha (music)
In 2009, before TikTok the app was even a glimmer in the eye of ByteDance, TiK ToK only had one meaning — the Hot 100 EDM pop single by Kesha, which had 13-year-olds everywhere screaming about how they brush their teeth with a bottle of Jack.
Valencia Filter (technology)
When Instagram first launched in 2010, we were obsessed with their pre-set filters, because we weren’t just posting photos of “but first, coffee” mugs, we were making art.
Valencia was the go-to, adding a pale, yellow tint to pics that might have been fine for nature shots, but made our selfies just look sickly.
Tumblr’s sluttier cousin, Wattpad was an online publishing platform where homeschooled preteens could post smutty fanfiction about Aang and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Wet Seal (beauty/style)
A fast-fashion mall store full of metallic dresses and “going out tops” that we had no relevant occasion to wear. If we as 15-year-olds walked down the Project Runway in one of their Costco Coachella ensembles, Michael Kors would condescendingly inquire, “but where is she going?”
Our answer? Brayden’s backyard 4th of July party, duh.
Wii Fit (technology)
Should we really ever trust a video game company with the sensitive subject of informing children whether or not they are obese? Probably not, but that’s exactly what we did with Wii Fit and its infamous “body test” which analyzed our BMI.
Once we were told how unhealthy we were, we’d throw ourselves into playing Wii Tennis, which only requires the player to half-heartedly thrust their wrist every few seconds — you’d probably burn more calories by eating and digesting a grapefruit, but where’s the fun in that?
Yik Yak (technology)
A popular app for teens that essentially functioned like an anonymous version of Twitter, except your “feed” was limited to users within a five-mile radius. This made it perfect for high school and college campuses, offering us another creative way to spread rumors and bully each other, kind of like Gossip Girl if everyone was Gossip Girl.
Before Zoom the video conferencing platform dominated our existence, there was ZOOM the public access children’s television program. It featured a rotating cast of everyday teens who did segments like science experiments, crafts, and skits, but the true appeal was imagining that you’d one day be scouted for the show at your local mall and become a star.