Revealed: What Was Life Like in the 90s?

African American male and a Caucasian male hipsters fighting over VHS video tape
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Last Updated on August 31, 2020

There’s no easy way to say this.

If you were living in the 90s you’re looking at an experience that happened over 20 years ago.

Things have changed massively since then, and if you want some kind of perspective on the decade, just remember that mobile phone as we know it didn’t arrive until the mid 2000s.

That’s right.

The 90s may as well have been part of the last century. We know it technically was, but you know what we’re trying to say.

So if you lived in the 90s, you’ll know exactly what it was like.

The horse and cart was still a viable transport option. And TV was in black and white. Okay, maybe those two aren’t strictly accurate representations of the time. But it was still a wild and wonderful decade. 

Here’s why …

The Internet opened us to the good, the bad and, the ugly

Back in the 1990s, you had to use your home landline to go online and ‘surf the Web’. When you wanted to send an email or look at whatever they called memes back then, no one could use the home phone. 

You may also have used Netscape

Source: Imgur

This charming beast made you feel like you were actually charting unknown waters. Back in the 90s, no one apart from Bill Gates knew what the Internet really was (be honest, you didn’t) and Netscape seemed suitably exploration themed.

Then Internet Explorer came along and became the browser everyone used

Remember, Google wasn’t even launched until 1997, and was nothing like it is today. Netscape was trampled into the dust, but for a time, it seemed like you were riding the seas of the future, or something like that.

Images that could be downloaded took a seriously huge amount of time. And anyone who lived in the 90s will remember that agonising wait as the image ‘loaded down’ from the top of the picture to the bottom. It was painful. 

Oh, and we can’t forget dial-up

Right now, if your Google page doesn’t flash up as soon as you turn on your computer, something is very wrong.

Back in the 90s, you had to listen to a very strange sound, a mixture of bells and tortured crackling. Sure, it made you excited to think you were connecting with this amazing online system, but it was weird, and excruciatingly slow.

And right now, over 20 years later, we get stressed at the slightest ‘lag’ in speed when trying to log on. 

Photo developers used to exist, really

Grab your phone and you can take a photo anywhere, any time. The results are visible in seconds. Oh, and you can share the photo with pretty much anyone you want.

In fact, you can stick the photo on some social media ‘channel’ and have thousands of people telling you how great you look.

In the 90s you had to take your film (yes, actual film) down to the developer and wait for them to develop your photos for you. There was no delete, no instant sharing. And if we had known the truth, that instant photos and huge amounts of storage were just around the corner, we would have probably cried. 

Taking pictures back then was all about getting a good shot. It wasn’t about shooting 10 photos and choosing the best one. You got to see the photo when it was developed. Yes, that was life back in the 90s.

VCR rule the world (and the school classroom)

This part may depress you a little.

Remember when your class at school had to watch a TV show to learn more about a topic? To make the whole thing happen the teacher (or even more excitingly, a class ‘technician’) had to wheel in the TV trolley.

When the trolley was wheeled in and in the right place in the classroom (there was always a designated spot) the teacher could then insert a video tape into the VCR (or the slot on the TV if it was one of those new ‘combination TV and VCR’ wonders) and you could then watch your half hour show on scratchy video.

That was about as 90s as school got. 

The TVs were huge in the 90s


So when you watched an educational show back then there had to be a ten-page risk assessment before the thing could be turned on. If you were lucky, the cassette was new when the show was recorded, so the quality wasn’t too bad.

And remember the ‘pause’ button? The still image wasn’t exactly 4K.

School was very different in the 90s

Now, we have PowerPoint to help children learn with a series of helpful slides that are pleasing to the eye and easy to read. Back then in the 90s, we had the OHP (overhead projector), which was all but pointless if the teacher’s handwriting was bad.

And finally, cliques and groups in school had to be formed, developed and nurtured face-to-face in the 90s.

If you wanted to tell your ‘crew’ some juicy gossip you had to wait until break time or after school. Today, you just send a group text. We can’t really tell if this makes the 90s a nicer time to be at school or not.

The cartoons were dark, twisted and down right mesmerising

If you lived through the 90s you will know that cartoons back then (and perhaps TV in general) was a totally different kettle of fish. It was hardcore.

Basically, the bad guys in 90s cartoons were truly bad guys. They were frankly quite evil and sometimes even disturbing. No moral compass there. 

In the Powerpuff Girls we had the character HIM

This was basically a ridiculously sinister version of Satan. If you saw HIM as a young person watching the show in the 90s, you were watching a cross-dressing, Mephisto type character who wore thigh-high boots (we think) and was generally the first ever suggestion of what the Devil looked like for many kids in the 90s.

The show even told us that HIM ‘liked nothing more than chaos and destruction’. 

Yeah okay, sleep well children…

Then we come to The Animals of Farthing Wood

Growing up in the 90s meant you may well have seen this gorefest when you came home from school. The show had so many horrible moments we are absolutely convinced it would not be made today.

The lucky characters died of old age. Others, like the hedgehogs who were run over by a huge truck, didn’t. But that’s nothing compared to the sheer dread and horror that was the homicidal maniac known as ‘Scarface’. 

Scarface was a fox, and he literally hunted down and killed a number of the weaker animals in the woods. We’re talking about premeditated murder and violent death on a regular basis. The result of this was an overwhelming fear of the creature. Nearly all the animals in the wood were scared of him. And he showed absolutely no remorse. 

Yes, that’s right, the dude was a psychopath.

Generally speaking, cartoon shows back in the 90s assumed that kids knew all about death and the Devil. So including those two elements in cartoons was no biggie. 

Runner up shout outs to: Ren and Stimpy, The Moomins and Stressed Eric

The ‘aspirational’ hair

Yes, we know that every decade has it’s hair trends. But the 90s seem to have it locked down when it comes to ‘aspirational’ hair. 

Prime example? The Rachel.

Jennifer Aniston had amazing stylists, because it wasn’t too long before the Friends character had a hairstyle that millions of women across the world wanted to have. It was basically viral hair.

Pig tails were seriously tendy back in the 90s

You had plenty of inspiration here because Baby Spice wore pigtails like they were the ultimate in fashion. And the Britney Spears video for Baby One More Time sealed the deal. Pig tails were ‘in’. 

The Pixie was another influential hairstyle

The best ambassadors for this style were Winona Ryder and Halle Berry. Interestingly, that 90s hairstyle is still fashionable today.

The slang

Slang in the 90s was every bit as cool as it is today. However, some of the terms and phrases the decade brought were seriously huge, and they basically defined your conversation.

The biggest one is probably ‘talk to the hand’

If you wanted to be extra cool with this you would stretch out your hand and give the listener that all-important visual clue that you were simply not interesting enough to continue in your conversation. 

Then we had ‘Booyah’

This was also a phrase that didn’t survive the era. This was usually screamed or shouted out and signified to everyone within 20 feet that something awesome had just happened in your amazing life. 

Another was ‘not’

This was another 90s classic. When you were trying to make someone believe anything that they currently didn’t believe (or something like that) you would laugh out loud and say ‘Not!’. Your friend/family member/opponent could feel instantly silly. And nobody likes a sucker.

Then we have ‘whatever’

This could be used with a delightful Valley Girl twang or just in your own style. Either way it signified to the hearer that you were just not on the speaker’s wavelength. A teen favourite, it’d be incredibly difficult to hear someone say it now. It was a 90s slang thing. 

Finally, we have ‘sup?’

This word was used when you met a friend in the street or down the skate park. A shortened version of ‘what’s up?’, this word was very much part of the culture in the 90s. And you were legally allowed to say it to anyone, in any circumstance.

Read: 27 Epic Pop Culture Moments of the 90s

And, fashion?

If you were a kid in the 90s and you wanted to make a statement at school, you bought a slap bracelet. These little beauties fulfilled no obvious function other than to win at the game Cool Stuff Kids Can Wear. And for a brief period, they won.

Denim was huge in the 90s

Nearly every major celebrity wore denim as a fashion statement. And the weirdest thing was, it never looked like ‘good’ denim. If you need any more proof that denim was actually super hip in the 90s just pick a moment in the year and check out the style magazines.

You will at some point see a celeb wearing a denim suit.

It will probably always be Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, but we’re happy with that level of evidence.

The ‘scrunchie’ became a thing too

It was worn a lot in the 90s. It’s still worn a lot now, but the look truly took hold in the 1990s.

And sporty clothing also had its time in the sun during the decade

Perhaps spurred on by a certain Spice Girl, sporty fashion involved tracksuits, trainers and whatever you wore that had a brand name on it and made you run faster.

The world

Well, it still turned.

The Lewinski Scandal

President Clinton found himself in hot water when it became clear that he had relations with Monica Lewinsky. You didn’t have to be American to appreciate the ten tons of awkwardness this scandal unleashed upon the world. 

Mandela gains freedom

Right at the start of the decade, Nelson Mandela was freed from jail. This was a pivotal cultural moment, and neither in the decade before nor the one after did anything happen that seemed this symbolic. He was a hero to millions, and it was the biggest news around when he was released.

Then we had Rodney King

The beating of this young black man actually caused riots to develop across the USA. Not least because there was actual video footage of the incident that showed Americans the dark side of their country in all it’s disturbing glory.

Waco massacre

Finally, while it’s hard to collect a group of major incidents in the 90s, one particularly concerning event stands out. In 1993, David Koresh essentially led his followers to certain death at his Waco, Texas hideout. It was an incredible tragedy, and brought criticism for the US government, which some people believed handled the whole affair badly.

So, what was it like?

Living in the 90s was a lot of fun, and we can’t think of another decade that had such great hair options. You were also living a life before mobile phones became those things that had to ‘stay at 100%’. 

And let’s be honest here, if the 1990s had never happened the way it did, we wouldn’t have had the glorious greeting ‘sup?’. It was, and quite possibly still is, one of the coolest ways to greet friends and family members. 

However, the Internet really sucked.