The Top 10 Middle School Trends of the 2000s + Their Sustainable Alternatives (Inspired by PEN15)

In middle I wanted to be blonde. That was a big want, that, and maybe my first kiss with a boy who also made the distinct choice to rock blonde, the frosted tips. I drenched my hair in Sun In every night. My hair turned a burnt orange instead of “beachy” blonde as advertised. Blonde and boy didn’t work out.

PEN15, Hulu’s new(ish) series about two middle school ladies celebrates the things that were embarrassing (see above), uncomfortable, funny, sweet of our pre-teens—giving us “middle school as it really happened”. It’s the grinding to Nelly at school dances; going through puberty much later/earlier than everyone else, having unrequited crushes on puka shell-wearing, spiked-hair having boys; struggling to fit in, crafting your first AIM screen name; ….that your aunt told you wasn’t appropriate for a girl your age… (okay, that part was just my own experience….WiCkEdAnGeL444…).

Creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play themselves as thirteen-year-old outcasts in the year 2000, surrounded by actual thirteen-year-olds. It’s weird and beautiful and I’m impatiently waiting for season 2. Within the first scene of episode 1, I transported back to middle school. Maya whips out an issue of Tiger Beat the night before her first day of school. Sarah Michelle Gellar graces the cover with a layered hair cut. (I guess I got my inspiration from a Christina Aguilera cover—cue the blonde obsession). Maya takes out scissors and layers away. Excited about her new, Freddie Prinze Jr.-approved layer look, she shows her mom (actual mom in real life.). Her mom does not approve, puts a bowl on her head, and gives Maya a new do.

Journey back to the middle school halls as I count down my favorite pre-teen and teen trends. (Bowl cuts not included.) And in case you want to relive these memories—in a fun, ethical way—check out the links to sustainable options.

(You can also always check your closet at your parent’s, head to your local Goodwill, or find a yard sale first. You may rediscover those Abercrombie & Fitch polos.)

10. The sweatshirt around the waist

We needed this to be a trend to support all the ladies who got their period and caught it a little too late.

For sweatshirts in every color, made from 100% Organic Cotton, check out Colorful Standard.

Shades of blues (probably covering up shades of red :) ).  Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

Shades of blues (probably covering up shades of red :) ). Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

9. Spaghetti-strap camisoles

Wearing multiple camis was the look right before you got a real bra. And if you were really bold, you could have a lace one peak out, like Anna braves in Episode 8.

My favorite was a sparkly light pink Limited Too cami which actually had a built in “bra” (a thin layer of cloth).

I’m now loving these Wolven camis made with OEKO-TEX certified Recycled P.E.T fabric (RPET), a fabric made from recycled plastic water bottles.

Give me 2 hours, mom.  Photo from    Mic   .

Give me 2 hours, mom. Photo from Mic.

8. Puka shell necklaces

The boys in PEN15 rocked this island-inspired trend. This jewelry choice and bleached hair was the ultimate male pea-cocking of junior high.

Missing seashell accessories? Check out this ethically-sourced Ocean Tuff Jewelry.

A  new, ethical  take on the puka.

A new, ethical take on the puka.

7. LIVESTRONG wristbands

Pre Toms shoes, THINX underwear, and Warby Parker shades, there was the LIVESTRONG wristband. You can see these brightly displayed on the boys’ arms in every cafeteria scene.

They are still sold for $1 on Livestrong.com, to help support cancer survivors and their loved ones.

And if you want to check out one of my favorite bracelets, see The Rise Collective Signature Survivor Cuff, made from brass munitions, helping to  fight against modern day slavery.

The original.

The original.

6. Heart tag necklace from Tiffany & Co.

While the Real Housewives had the Birkin, the middle school girl had this Return to Tiffany® necklace. What says you are becoming a women more than wearing an insanely expensive necklace that looks like a dog collar?

You could buy a fake, but the girls could tell. I stuck to the $5 plastic choker below instead.

See Soko’s Fania  Link Collar Necklace, handcrafted in brass by artisans in Kenya using traditional techniques

A purchase promotes artisan innovation and entrepreneurship.

A purchase promotes artisan innovation and entrepreneurship.

5. Stretchy chokers

It was made out of plastic. It came in clear, black, or rainbow. You could even get one with a little plastic charm like Anna and Maya do in Episode 2.

To bring it back, try the plastic-free way with these upcycled chokers, made from tire inner tubes.

Stolen eyeliner from mom and choker—a look.  Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

Stolen eyeliner from mom and choker—a look. Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

4. The first thong

I don’t remember when this happened for me or my friends. But I assume we purchased these at Victoria’s Secret and hand washed them in our sinks to hide from our mothers.

These thongs from Naja are sustainable and cute.

I have no clue what I bought from Victoria’s Secret. Maybe this was my thong moment. I do know I loved Von Dutch.  (Sorry former middle school classmate for the words-on-the-butt shot, another favorite trend.)  Photo from my mom.

I have no clue what I bought from Victoria’s Secret. Maybe this was my thong moment. I do know I loved Von Dutch.

(Sorry former middle school classmate for the words-on-the-butt shot, another favorite trend.) Photo from my mom.

3. Headbands and butterfly clips

I don’t miss the days of Sun-In dyed hair pulled back with a plastic comb-inspired headband or pea-sized butterfly clips. The clips could only hold a few strands of hair so you needed a minimum of 10 on your head at a time and the headband hurt. (it also showed off my dark brown roots.)

I do like this orange Jan ‘N June headband made from 100% recycled polyester.

Butterfly clips and a best friend necklace.  Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

Butterfly clips and a best friend necklace. Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

2. Best friends necklaces

Maybe it was the birthday Instagram post of its day—to show off to your peers that you actually had friends—but I love this fashion choice, celebrating closest female friendship.

Anyone want to wear these cute ones from The Giving Keys with me?

All The Giving Key products are hand stamped, assembled and packaged in Downtown Los Angeles by those transitioning out of homelessness.

All The Giving Key products are hand stamped, assembled and packaged in Downtown Los Angeles by those transitioning out of homelessness.

1. Rolling backpacks

Whether it was Kipling, JanSport, or your parent’s old suitcase—you strutted down your middle school halls with one of these.

If you are living in PEN15 middle school nostalgia for awhile, you might as well get one of these Mokuybi bags with its bold colors and styles.

Celebrate! Rolling backpacks are fun and save the back pain!  Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

Celebrate! Rolling backpacks are fun and save the back pain! Photo from Alex Lombardi/Hulu.

Thanks for counting down and going back to the dark ages with me! Now go watch PEN15. #NotAnAd