Check your kids' arms for rubber bands: A Rainbow Loom revolution has begun

features@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2013 

Rainbow Loom bracelets ... the latest craze involving fancy office supplies.

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These Rainbow Loom bracelets -- didn't we already do these Rainbow Loom bracelets?

Look, I am the father of two boys, the youngest of whom is 2, which is the only reason he is not currently obsessed with Rainbow Loom bracelets, although I'm half-expecting him to return from day care one day going "Daddy! Mommy! Jipper! Some youth-culture marketing genius has figured out how to make another school-sweeping fashion trend out of colorful office supplies!" Or, you know, however you say that when you can't form the letters B, T and R. (He calls his older brother Jipper for reasons he hasn't told us, and now we call his older brother Jipper, and believe me when I say Jipper resents all of this.)

Like all fads I can't figure out, which has been all of them since 1990 (except Hammer pants, of which I still own three dozen pairs), there was an evolution to my understanding of those bracelets. It went in stages: First, the vague notion that something new is happening ("Is that kid wearing rubber bands on his arm?"). Then, the spotting of the same behavior on others ("Are those kids wearing rubber bands on their arms?") Then, the brief fear that everyone is in on something very important that you don't know about ("WHY AM I NOT WEARING RUBBER BANDS ON MY ARMS?"). And finally, the revelation that yes, this is a Very Big Thing ("My son's class had a School Store today and he apparently used three weeks' worth of built-up Good Behavior money to buy rubber bands for his arms.")

(The official Rainbow Loom website, by the way, is AMAZING. It's like resetting your computer to 1994. Seriously the people who made the Comic Sans font will be like, "Listen, we appreciate the love, but you need to pump the brakes.")

Because I am old, I spent a solid amount of time recently confusing Rainbow Loom bands with Silly Bandz, which is a hideous and ghastly error that will cause most of the fourth-graders in Beaufort County to shake their heads at me in unified disgust. Several years ago my then-kindergarten-age son came home announcing his need to go to Walgreens -- accompanied by one of the car-driving adults in the family if necessary -- to obtain a package of these rubber bands shaped like vehicles. These were Silly Bandz, which were traded, swapped and hoarded until they broke, which they did, all the time, because they were rubber bands. Seriously, the kids collected rubber bands for years. Sadly this failed to launch a nationwide craze on fashionable office supplies, so I could sell all these paper clips I've been hoarding.

So here we are again with rubber bands, the markup on which must be setting some sort of non-petroleum based profit record; I can only guess that producing such complex, difficult objects must cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/8 of a chicken. (I hate to besmirch the quality of Silly Bandz, but my son's first pack came with a sticker trumpeting that they were of the "GLOR" IN THE DARK variety.)

But who am I to talk? Back in my day (1914) the forehead-smackingly silly fad in my school were these rubber watches that came as part of a Burger King value meal, something with a hork of meat and a fry pail for $4.99 or whatever. Seriously. A Burger King value meal fad. Thank you, yes I did attend a private boarding school in the Hamptons, now that you mention it.

To be fair, these were actually less "watches" than small tires worn about the wrist; they were made of military-grade rubber, broke when you touched them, tried to fix them or looked at them in a way they found aggravating and came in four exceedingly homely colors ("Collect them all!" commands a heartbreaking 1989 vintage commercial on YouTube). Needless to say, the eighth-graders of Taft Junior High collected them like Pokemon addicts.

The Burger King watch fiasco was the weirdest, but hardly the only, bizarro fad to crash my school years, which occurred in the Midwest during the fashion-disastrous era of 1988-1993. That means we got the long-awaited renaissance of pegged jeans, the unstoppable rise of acid-washed jeans, Zubaz pants, those Hammer pants, Hammer/Zubaz Striped Bears-Logo-Print Pants You Could Also Use to Store Your Tractor, Hypercolor T-shirts, things with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on them, bracelets-you-painfully-slapped-on-your-wrist and, this is true, yo-yos. Yes people, I have felt the ache of discomfort known only to those who have sat in a pre-algebra class with what has been deemed a subpar yo-yo. Which is why if my sons want to wear Rainbow Loom bracelets, they are more than welcome. Even Jipper.

Jeff Vrabel's Burger King watch was red, and it's probably still around here somewhere. Follow him at twitter.com/JeffVrabel and read more at www.jeffvrabel.com.

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