The American Psychological Association defines a fad as “an abrupt but short-lived change in the opinions, behaviors, or lifestyles of a large number of widely dispersed individuals.” Fads have existed within popular culture for many millennia.
To identify the biggest fads over the last century, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a wide range of online publications covering fitness, fashion, food, and popular culture. The advent of the internet and “viral” phenomena has spread fads faster but also often shortened their lifespan. While some fads from earlier decades are still around today, they are not nearly as much of a sensation as they were during the peak of their popularity.
When viewed in context, fads can illustrate aspects of society at the time they arose. Dance marathons of the 1930s were not simply a frivolous craze; They also offered momentary relief from the rigors of the Great Depression. 1920s Flapper culture, which symbolized freedoms of young women, reflected changes in womens’ voting rights and participation in the workforce. (See other examples of what life was like in the Roaring Twenties.)
Several of the biggest fads since 1920 that gained popularity in the United States came from other cultures or countries. The yo-yo reached America by way of a street game in the Philippines. The hacky sack had predecessors in Native American culture and in ancient China, and Japan. Troll dolls were originally from Denmark.
Fads come in many forms, some are toys, fashion trends, dances, or exercise methods, and some recent fads center around the internet. Of the 60 famous fads on our list, 19 are associated with food or drink, 10 are toys, seven are in the fashion and beauty category, and three are related to exercise. (These are the most popular exercise fads every year since 1956.)
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