12 Absolutely Bonkers Fads of the Last Century

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Over the years, we’ve seen a good number of fads take off. Some of these managed to not just captivate the public, but also define the cultural zeitgeist of that time. From dance challenges that lit up social media (Harlem Shake, anyone?) to meaningful campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, these trends have a way of shaping our social interactions, consumer habits, and even our collective memories. 

Join us as we revisit some of the wildest and most popular fads of the last century. From fashion and entertainment to tech and lifestyle choices, these 12 fads have defined generations and sparked conversations across the world. 

Image Credit: Cheapism / Amazon / Jennie Book/shutterstock / Amazon.

1. Pet Rocks (1975)

The Pet Rock became an unexpected craze in the mid-1970s. Invented by Gary Dahl, these ordinary rocks were marketed as live pets that required zero maintenance. Packaged in custom cardboard boxes — complete with straw and breathing holes — they served as a playful way to poke fun of the hassles of pet ownership. 

Image Credit: Amazon.

2. Rubik’s Cube (1980s)

This 3D puzzle, invented by Ernő Rubik in 1974, skyrocketed in popularity during the 1980s. The Rubik’s Cube challenged players to align all sides of the cube to a single color, which proved to be an addictive and sometimes frustrating task. It became an icon of pop culture, leading to international competitions and a continued presence even decades later.

Image Credit: Amazon.

3. Cabbage Patch Kids (1983)

Created by Xaxier Roberts, these soft-bodied dolls with plastic heads were a massive hit in the early 1980s. Each doll was “adopted” with its own birth certificate, and their scarcity and uniqueness led to frenzied demand. Parents lined up for hours (some stores even saw riots break out) to secure them in time for the holidays. 

Image Credit: Amazon.

4. Tamagotchi (1997)

Released by Bandai, these handheld digital pets became an international craze in the late 1990s. Owners had to feed, play with, and clean up after their virtual creatures, with neglect leading to the pet running away or dying. (Who else has unresolved trauma from their Tamagotchi dying? Just me? Cool.) The devices became emblematic of society’s growing attachment to virtual companions and personal electronics.

Image Credit: Amazon.

5. The Atkins Diet (early 2000s)

This low-carbohydrate diet, created by Dr. Robert Atkins, surged in popularity as people sought quick weight loss solutions. Advocating for a drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake in favor of protein and fat, the Atkins Diet spawned a plethora of diet-related products and books. However, it also sparked controversy and debate among nutrition experts, who raised concerns over the fad’s long-term health impacts.

Image Credit: Jasper Chamber / iStock.

6. Livestrong Wristbands (Early 2000s)

These yellow silicone bracelets were everywhere in the early 2000s. Launched by now-disreputable cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2004, the bracelets cost $1 and quickly became an international sensation. Millions wore the bright wristbands to show solidarity and support for those affected by cancer. The fad also generated over $100 million in sales to benefit cancer research. 

Image Credit: Amazon.

7. Silly Bandz (2010)

These stretchy silicone bracelets, which were shaped like animals, stars, and other whimsical shapes, became a massive trend among schoolchildren circa 2010. Kids collected, traded, and wore dozens on their wrists. The fad grew so popular that some schools had to ban them due to distractions and disruptions in the classroom. 

Image Credit: Amazon.

8. Planking (2011)

As part of this fad, individuals would lie face down in weird or inconvenient locations (like this guy planking on a moving escalator) to mimic a wooden plank. They’d then post the picture or video on social media. That was it. Though it was hilarious (and very creative at times), the fad did bring up concerns over safety and trespassing. 

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / istockphoto.

9. The Harlem Shake (2013)

This Internet meme took the form of a video in which a group of people dance wildly to a short excerpt from the song “Harlem Shake” by Baauer. Typically, one person starts off by dancing alone; then, as the bass drops, the video cuts to the entire group dancing chaotically, often donning costumes or props. The fad exploded in early 2013, with thousands of groups all over the world uploading their own creative versions. 

Image Credit: Depositphotos.

10. Ice Bucket Challenge (2014)

This viral internet challenge involved dumping a bucket of ice-cold water over one’s head to promote awareness of the neurodegenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Participants would then nominate others to do the same — leading to widespread participation from celebrities and athletes, as well as significant fundraising (about $220 million globally) for ALS research.

Image Credit: The Associated Press (AP).

11. Pokémon Go (2016)

Using augmented reality and location-based technology, the mobile game took the world by storm by encouraging players to explore real-world locations to catch virtual Pokémon. Its launch at the time created a global phenomenon, garnering over 21 million users within one week of release. The game also led to widespread social gatherings in many cities to try and catch rare Pokémon. 

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

12. Fidget Spinners (2017)

Originally marketed as a distraction tool for individuals with anxiety or ADHD, fidget spinners quickly transcended their initial purpose, becoming a must-have toy for children and adults alike. Their simple design, satisfying spin, and low cost led to them dominating sales and becoming a ubiquitous presence in schools and offices.

Image Credit: Jennie Book/shutterstock.

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