20 consumer fads that have come and gone

Putting butter in your coffee has become ‘a thing’ lately, but if history has taught us anything it’s that consumers tire of novelties just as fast as they adopt them

The cube, the fad and the ugly

The cube, the fad and the ugly


In recent weeks otherwise normal people across the wealthy world have been putting knobs of butter into their coffee with a view to making themselves thinner and mentally sharper. Bulletproof coffee, as it is known, may or may not work (we suspect the latter), but what seems surer is that it’s the latest in a long line of consumer fads that have taken the world by storm before blowing out. Here are 20.

1 The Atkins diet: It was the 1960s and Robert Atkins was struggling to keep his weight under control. Then he stumbled across a research paper that had been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1958 advocating a high-protein diet. He used it as the basis for his own low-carb weight-loss programme, and published a book in the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 2002 that his diet really took off with a little help from his Friends. Within two years, 10 per cent of Americans were gorging on protein-rich food and the producers of carbohydrate-heavy food were worried. They needn’t have.

2 Roller discos: Whoever thought these were a good idea? And whoever thought wearing leg warmers to the roller disco was a good idea? Somebody, somewhere is to blame.

3 CDs: These shiny discs were the future of music for over a generation but now they seem destined to go the way of the gramophone and the 78-RPM record. They won’t be missed by many. They were never as satisfying to hold as vinyl, and nowhere near as indestructible as the music companies claimed they were. And putting a skipping CD in the freezer never worked despite what we were told.

4 Fingerless gloves: In the mid-1980s, inspired by Charles Dickens’s Fagan, army surplus stores and Madonna, the world embraced gloves that were useless and ugly. They threatened to make a comeback with the advent of the touchscreen smartphone but their resurgence was short-lived.

5 Jogging: Whatever happened to joggers? They all became “runners”, that’s what. You don’t hear people talking about going for a jog any more. Instead they go for a run because that makes it sound more youthfully sporty.

Fifty Shades of Grey: This EL James series about the relationship between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey became the fastest-selling paperback of all time despite being, well, rubbish. Much of its success was down to the Kindle, which allowed people to read the smut on public transport without the world knowing. A film is on the way and might breathe life into the franchise but right now Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the most commonly found books in charity shops, and copies can easily be picked up for 50 cent or less.

7 Ghetto blaster: Try explaining to the kids of today the concept of a boom box – or the Ghetto Blaster if you’d rather – and watch their eyes widen with disbelief. Back in the day these portable music devices were quite the thing despite the fact that the tape-recorder and radio combo weighed more than a small child and made a louder noise too. The machines, when not plugged in, ate batteries at a ferocious rate, making them entirely impractical.

8 Hula hoops: Invented in 1957, this marriage of Hawaiian dancing and plastic rings became one of the biggest fads of all time. More than 100 million were sold in the 10 years from the late 1960s.

9 Heelys: Runners with wheels. Amazing. But where are they now?

10 Livestrong: Launched in 2004 by Lance Armstrong’s Foundation, these yellow bands became massively popular and were endorsed by all manner of celebrities. They spawned a whole rainbow of rivals, and, for about 18 months, people were happy to wear their hearts on their arms, if not their sleeves. Then there was all the drug unpleasantness, and Lance’s wristbands were quietly dispensed with.

11 Napster: Never mind home taping, this really did kill music or came very close to it. It put the fear of God into the record industry like nothing that had come before. All you had to do was download the software and get almost any music you could think of for nothing. Then the music business woke up and took action. An army of lawyers were deployed to California, and Napster was shut down. There are still all manner of ways to share music online for free, but the paid models won out in the end, helped in huge measure by Apple and Spotify.

12 Ouija boards: The game which allowed people to communicate with the dead was popular in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century as a spiritualism craze swept through Europe and then the US. Edgar Allen Poe and WB Yeats all gave the boards a whirl. Then sanity was restored except in the parent-free spaces of teenagers’ homes. The boards re-emerged after being the cause of the satanic possession of a girl in The Exorcist but their popularity dwindled again.

13 Property: The buying and selling of houses was definitely a fad in Ireland during the boom years. We were obsessed by it. Its popularity kind of faded in 2008, and while it has made something of a comeback in recent times, it is nowhere near as popular as it once was.

14 Pulled pork: We’ll give this sandwich option till the end of the year. The fad will be over by Christmas.

15 Kale: As a vegetable and a key ingredient of hearty colcannon, this has enduring appeal. But as a crisp or a juice or a face cream? No thanks.

16 Vogue: The pose, not the magazine. For about 20 minutes in 1990 the world was striking one.

17 Rubik’s Cube: This is the kind of toy Pricewatch would love to have invented. Sadly we lacked the brains or the motor skills to do the puzzle never mind make it. Celebrating its 40th birthday this year, Erno Rubik’s baby is still breathing but is nowhere near as popular as it was in its heyday in the early 1980s.

18 Slankets: Blankets with sleeves? What’s not to love. They shot to prominence in 2008, but became an object of fun rather than comfort.

19 Texas Hold ’Em: The particular poker variant took the world by storm in the late 1990s and took over from five-card draw and seven-card stud as the game of choice among the pokerati. It even made its way on to mainstream television networks as millions tuned in weekly to watch unhealthy-looking folk with names like Devilfish playing cards on Channel 4.

20 Mullets: Short at the front, long at the back. They were common 20 years ago. The ones that are around today will probably all be heading for Croker to see Garth Brooks.

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