When I was 15 years old, Lance Armstrong was arguably the most popular athlete in the world. This was only partly due to the fact he had won four straight Tour De France Championships and more to do with the thick yellow bands made by Nike with the word Livestrong etched on one side. A campaign as much for cancer awareness as it was for Armstrong, sort of a masculine counterpart to the pink ribbon.
At the time I was playing AAU basketball with the Albany City Rocks, the only travel basketball team in upstate New York sponsored by Nike. The shoe company gave us sneakers, bags, and tee shirts to wear on our trips to tournaments and while in Orlando, Florida, for the AAU national tournament, our coach bought everyone on the team a yellow Livestrong band.
The bands only cost $1 a piece. Their affordability and their popularity with athletes, entertainers, and public figures of all sorts, turned them into a trend that spread like a fever. But now, though cancer still persists, the bands have gone out of style.
Silly Bandz, the hottest new trend in silicone fashion, are like the colorful offspring of the Livestrong band, and they are spreading the country like laughter in a lecture hall. At first muffled somewhere in the back row, they have quickly moved to the front rows, uniting the entire room in the simplicity of something that’s, well, just plain fun- I guess.
Silly Bandz are rubber bands with a twist. First, they come in a variety of colors, not just boring old tan. Second, unlike the old fashioned rubber bands, they also come in a wide variety of shapes like, sneakers, hearts, magic wands, dinosaurs, or zoo animals.
I called Brain Child Products, the company that makes Silly Bandz in Toledo Ohio, to get some more information. I did not expect to talk to anyone. So when a young woman answered the phone I panicked a little bit.
“This is BCP Imports, home of Silly Bandz, how may I help you?” she asked.
Stunned for a brief second, I didn’t make a sound, wishing I had prepared some questions, then said, “Oh hello, I am thinking of purchasing some Silly Bandz…I was hoping you could tell me a bit about your product.”
“Sure,” she said, cheerful to help, “first of all Silly Bandz are made with 100% medical grade silicone, so there are no allergic reactions. We are the original Silly Bandz so you are not purchasing imitators, and, well…” she trailed off. There is only so much you can say about rubber bands shaped like things.
“Are they safe for children?” Proud I snuck that hard-hitting question in.
“There is a small choking hazard,” she warned, unshaken by my forwardness.
“Of course, and where can I find them? Are they only available on the website?”
“No, you can find them at Toys R’ Us… um… Target… Hallmark, pretty much all over.”
“I see. I guess they are pretty popular. I feel like I should be familiar with them.”
She laughs, “Oh, it’s okay.”
I was first introduced to Silly Bandz last summer when my girlfriend and I were visiting her family in Sacramento. Her parents were throwing a goodbye party before moving to Australia. Her little brother, Will, who has recently turned 8 years old, had an entire collection of Silly Bandz.
One of Will’s friends, a boy his age, was at the party and also had a collection. Both of his arms were covered with them, as if he were elbow deep in rainbow sherbet, shoveling it to his mouth when the adults weren’t looking. His parents spoke of the Silly Bandz with amazement. They couldn’t believe something so cheap could give their son so much joy. As the adults drank wine, the boys played and traded Silly Bandz with one another. By the time we left, Will had given his older sister a heart shaped Silly band he acquired from his friend. It now sits on her nightstand, a reminder of her baby brother living across the world.
Such tokens of affection from small children are not uncommon, on either coast. Kristina Web works as a dental hygienist in Saratoga Springs New York. While most dental office walls are decorated with drawings and finger paintings done by small children for their dentist, instead, Webb has been given Silly Bandz from the children she works with, as, she says, “a way for them to say thank you”. Webb wears a heart and star on either wrist, and a blue sneaker wrapped around the gearshift of her car.
Our world, however, is not one where childish fads can remain childish. Our world is one that gives Lebron James a multi-million dollar shoe deal before it gives him a high school diploma. Our world is one that turns a 14-year-old girl into a fashion guru, sending her to Paris and New York City in order to report on the most exclusive events. In our world a group of girls barley old enough to have a handle on their menstrual cycle are given a television show to explain the difficulties of parenting. In our world any trend popular among the young is seized by the old, like Ponce de Leon and the fountain of youth, as if these tiny rubber bands will keep a woman’s breast from sagging, or a man’s prostate from growing to the size of an orange. In our world youth is a premium.
Rebecca Darugar is a senior at Scripps College in Los Angeles, originally from Chicago. When asked, “what do you think of Silly Bandz?” Darugar responded, “what are those?” and after a week of scowling peoples wrists from San Francisco to L.A., not a single Silly Band was spotted.
On the east coast however, they seem to be more popular.
Cira Masters, a 25-year-old account executive for Nastos Media Group in Albany, New York says she enjoys wearing them but cant, because she works in an office and “it wouldn’t be appropriate attire.” Regardless, she still enjoys buying and trading Silly Bandz with other, “older people that are still childish.”
“A lot of friends my age get involved,” she says, adding, “it’s a conversation starter.”
Masters also adds Silly Bandz are used by older people to meet at bars where people will compare shapes and even trade, “it’s fun,” says Masters, “to throw them on the bar and see what people have.” However, she makes note that just because two people are trading Silly Bandz doesn’t mean anything will come of it. “I wouldn’t consider myself dateable just cause I’m wearing Silly Bandz,” she says, “it’s just fun.”