Were you a 90’s kid? A parent in the 90’s? Come join me on Ronald McDonald’s plastic Happy Meal train as I reminisce about all things birthday related!
As a party planner, I’m well aware of how huge the children’s birthday party industry has become. Our business currently offers a variety of parties that are particularly popular with girls aged between 5 and 15, although anyone is of course welcome to join in! As much as adult ladies enjoy a get together with their female tribe, we find the littler versions of ourselves are often the same.
Anyway, I digress. Our business currently has quite a niche market but the kid’s birthday party market as a whole is enormous. People don’t think twice about hosting a foam party for twenty children with an appearance from a huge mascot and a menu that would rival Jamie Oliver’s finest. Cakes are usually at least two tiers high and match the theme of the party, which can vary from the colourful cheeriness of Paw Patrol to the glamour and glitz of Hollywood. Some people may huff and puff and proclaim that it’s all too much fuss but for me, it’s all good fun. You can do a lot of creative touches without going overboard cost wise and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to see their little ones face light up as an oversized purple pony crashes into the living room, singing a rendition of the latest Miley Cyrus hit?
As someone who’s fast approaching the big three-oh, I can’t help compare modern birthday parties to the ones I had, and attended, through the nineties. Being a mid eighties baby, I’ve not got much memory of parties prior to the nineties. I’m not even sure if there were any…did babies have actual birthday parties back then or did your mum just invite your granny round for a strawberry tart while you watched Care Bears?
By the time school age hit though, which coincided with the early nineties for me, the social calendar filled up with the birthdays of classmates, cousins and wee Laura from Brownies. So without further ado…here’s the lowdown on how to party like it’s 1995 (Or thereabouts. My almost thirty year old brain has been addled by sambuca shots and babies. Not at the same time right enough.)
Modern birthday party venues are hugely varied, everywhere from trampoline centres to cinemas have their own party packages on offer. In the nineties however, you were the epitome of cool if you hosted a party in a fast food restaurant. My personal experience of such a celebratory extravaganza was in Mcdonalds for my 5th birthday. We all sat in a plastic train, ate chicken nuggets which were probably severely lacking in chicken, and played pass the parcel on a slightly sticky floor. The highlight of a party in McDonald’s was a trip to the fridge, escorted by Darren, the rather hungover youth who we all adored as he sang the “cheeky version” of Happy Birthday. “Get your woollies on kids, we’re off to look at rows of reformed meat!”. I adored it and kept my empty but slightly greasy Happy Meal box beside my bed as a memento.
Other than McDonald’s (and Wimpy…remember that?!) a lot of parties were held at home. However, if you were a Glasgow kid, there was one place everyone aspired to celebrate. In the days before there was a soft play centre in every industrial estate in the city, Little Marcos was a Mecca for Glasgow weans. My memory of the place is that it was about the same size as central London. I suspect this is slightly inaccurate, I wasn’t a very big kid so realistic proportion in my hazy brain can be an issue but it was big. Really big. So big in fact that you could vanish in there and not see the birthday girl or boy the entire time you were there. However, surrounded by cargo nets, slides and wonky mirrors, that was an irrelevant little detail. Little Marco himself (a giant bear incase you were wondering) would round everyone up at the end of the party for a sing song and you’d be sent home full of chips, cake and in possession of one those flat pack caps that spiralled out to fit on your head. Top notch stuff.
Traditional parties at home featured sausage rolls, musical bumps and usually someone getting accidently locked in the toilet. My personal favourite party at home was when a magician came to the house and pulled a real live white rabbit out of a hat. My mum’s face as the dog leapt across the room “to make friends with the bunny” was a picture!
What you were going to wear to a party was as much an issue in the nineties as it is today. Currently we see a lot of Disney Princess dresses, skinny jeans and tops that inform us that the wearer is in fact a Bieber loving Unicorn.
Back then it was embroidered Laura Ashley dresses, white tights (with a fairy on the ankle if you were lucky) and pretty much anything your mum would agree to buy you from Tammy Girl.
We can’t mention nineties fashion without a nod to the Spice Girls. Thanks to them, it became perfectly acceptable to turn up to a birthday party in shiny Kappa joggies and a crop top…well if it was good enough for Mel C, eh? Hairdo wise, if you were a girl, a ponytail sticking wildly out one side of your head was where it was at.
The above mentioned Spice Girls were clearly a pre requisite at any nineties birthday boogie but I can also remember a great deal of dancing along to Agadoo, The Birdy Song and Music Man ( If you don’t know it, it consists of singing “Oompa oompa, oom pa pa, oom pa pa”, while you leap around playing an imaginary trombone.) Things would often wind down with a bit of a slushy number from Boyzone or Take That. We’d all hug and cry a bit into our plastic cups of diluting juice because Robbie had left the band.
Being a girl, I’m not sure what the young dudes were generally after in the nineties… any guys care to share what your birthday wish list consisted of back then? Not that I like to describe toys for one gender or the other but I’m sure coming from an all girls household I probably missed out on some cool stuff! I’d ask the husband but he’s in the kitchen stacking the dishwasher… I’m digressing again. Back to the gifts. My top five birthday presents in the nineties were as follows:
#1.Cupcake dolls. I noticed the other day these have made a comeback. Scented (pretty stinky) plastic cupcakes that you could turn inside out to reveal a little lady with the top of a cake for a hat.
#2. Sticking with the doll theme, I once got a doll that was almost the same height as me and “really walked” (said in cheesy America advert tone of course), she was wearing a fetching purple shell suit and was pretty damn creepy now I think back on it.
#3. Spice Girls clothing. Not only did I want to copy their style for my party attire, I was never happier than when someone gave me a tshirt emblazoned with the words “Girl Power” and some wet-look yellow lycra shorts to go with it.
#4. A mix tape. When your pal had gone to all the bother of recording songs from the radio for you…or even better, recorded it live by playing a song on one tape player next to another one and giving their own introductions to each song, well, it really meant they loved you.
#5. Last but not least, Polly Pocket. I was always super excited to open up one of those little cases with their tiny choking hazard people inside. A toy small enough you could hide it at the bottom of your school bag and whip it out in the playground to climb the popularity ladder in a matter of seconds. Result.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my dander through my childhood birthday celebrations, would love to hear your memories of birthday parties growing up or what you’re planning for your little people this year!