WritingFilter: What did British teens like in the early 90s?
May 13, 2022 10:38 AM   Subscribe

If you were a teen girl in the UK, London specifically, in the early 90s, what was the pop culture around you like?

What it says on the tin, really. I'm writing a story set in London in summer 1993, with a 13 year old and a 16 year old as protagonists. Both upper-middle-class and white (but I'd also be interested in what Black and Desi kids were into), both love sports but also quite girly, interested in fashion and makeup and cute things in general. The older one is interested in boys, the younger one not yet. I'm interested in the things they'd spend their generous pocket money on, or what they might buy if a generous relative gifted them a shopping spree, other than clothes.

Most of what I can find is US and/or late 90s centric, not the earlier half of the decade. I'm also interested in what books/toys/media/general pop culture would have been big when the 13 yo was younger, say 10-11.

posted by Tamanna to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I’m a little younger and a little more northern, but it’s very likely your 16yo adores either Mark Owen or Robbie Williams. Take That were absolutely ubiquitous at the time.

Magazines, look at Smash Hits (general pop music) or Just Seventeen (teen girl mag). NME/Melody Maker if they’re less pop/more alternative.

They’d probably watch Eastenders and Top of the Pops. I think MTV started here around then so that would be a new exciting thing that the better-off would have access too. My wealthier friends started going on holiday to the US around then and coming back with tales of weird and wonderful things, clothes shoes etc.
posted by corvine at 11:39 AM on May 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

If they are sporty, they probably support one of the Premier League football clubs. In London depending on where they live that would likely be Arsenal, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspurs, or Chelsea. They’d like a jersey or scarf from their favourite player or team.

Also, Wimbledon Tennis would be popular, and they may watch it on tv with their family.
posted by sizeable beetle at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2022

Response by poster: Oh! One thing I was specifically wondering is what kind of things they might collect. An American friend about the same age had a collection of Breyer horses she adored, would there have been something similar my girls could collect?
posted by Tamanna at 12:08 PM on May 13, 2022

TV : The Word would still be relevant for the 16 year old I would think.

I'd like to think both characters are too sophisticated for Mr Blobby, who appeared from late 1992 but teenagers can enjoy sneering.

East 17 are a possible alternative to Take That. U2 were selling out Wembley with Zoo TV that year, which might be a cool ticket for the 16 year old.

Shopping wise HMV and Virgin are competing for the 16 year old's pocket money.
posted by biffa

I've just realised my SO was 16, mid to upper middle class and lived in Surrey in 1993. I'll ask her when she gets back. I know she and her friend actually queued overnight at Wimbledon to get open tickets, I will check how old she was.

I'm less convinced about the Premier League, football was still being gentrified after the recent start of the EPL and not shed its violent image. Upper middles would be more rugby facing but not sure girls would be, options for playing sport would be limited.
posted by biffa at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

The younger of the two girls might collect Polly Pocket . The older girl probably would be into cutting out photos of boybands from her magazines and sticking them on her walls.

The 13 year old may also be obsessed with listening to/recording the Top 40 every week on BBC Radio 1. I'm a big younger than your girls but me and my friends still recorded the show onto cassettes every week. Another key point of the week will be watching Top of the Pops (you can find a lot of episodes on YouTube if you want to get a taste of 90's BritPop and the terrible fashion choices of the era).

Byker Grove might be a TV staple, if the 13 year old is considered mature enough to watch it (it was aimed more at teenagers). Grange Hill might also be on the must watch list. Here's a good rundown of TV events in 1993.
posted by fight or flight at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

My SO was only allowed to watch BBC kids tv, never ITV, but not Grange Hill, even though it was BBC. That maybe applied before she was 16.
posted by biffa at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2022

The bands Pulp and Blur
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:37 PM on May 13, 2022

I spent some time as a US 17 year old in 1993 with family friends who lived in Brighton. The kids my age-ish all seemed to be really into Suede. Also early “Experience”-era Prodigy. Everybody made fun of me for still being into shoegaze.
posted by thivaia at 1:12 PM on May 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Australian soaps.
posted by johngoren at 1:45 PM on May 13, 2022

The 13 year old will attend many 13th birthday parties. Parents rent a room and invite the whole class, who then dance awkwardly around to an amateur DJ playlist involving 2 Unlimited, and end the evening with some wholly embarrassing coupled-up slow dancing to Bryan Adams.

They spend their money on cassette tapes. They also swap mix tapes and record things from the radio.

Somebody who is too cool/alternative for school is in to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Everybody else is overly excited about Take That (and so are some of their Mums).

They sneak their parents' alcohol, mix it with Coke and drink it in the park on a summer evening.

They go to see Mrs Doubtfire and Jurassic Park at the cinema. The Simpsons is on the TV but they are too cool to admit that they like it.

If they're into sport it probably involves swimming, gymnastics, dance, athletics, or playing hockey at school, not football/soccer which is still completely male-dominated (players and fans both) and has a reputation for drunken fan violence.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:59 PM on May 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

Hm I was 16 in Essex (just outside London) in 1990 but I liked Billy Bragg and Squeeze and so was definitely not typical. It's an awkward time for eras - juuust too early for most 90s indie. Parklife by Blur, and the His'n'Hers album by Pulp, were what turned me into an indie kid, but they came out in April 1994. Morrissey and the Smiths were a thing already, but more for older people, students etc.

Probably works as part of the boy band era - Bros had been huge a few years before (1987) so that might work for your 13-year-old's younger years. Someone I was at school with 1990-92 was really into New Kids on the Block, but it was a bit of a joke because she was too old for them at 16/17, but might work for the 13-year-old. Take That might work time-wise.

You'd buy CDs in Our Price and copy them onto cassette to listen to on your (probably non-Sony) walkman. I think in my mid-teens I used to be allowed to go to London on my own and would always go to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street. Yes to reading Just 17 magazine, though probably when you were about 14 or 15. Clothes from Miss Selfridge and River Island IIRC.

I think there'd be a big gap between the 13-year-old and 16-year-old - the older girl would be wanting to hang out at Camden Market and trying to get served in pubs, the 13 year old would be much closer to being a child.
posted by penguin pie at 2:19 PM on May 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Being able to watch the Simpsons implies access to satellite tv, which throws up some class issues. Also allows access to football (and darts).
posted by biffa at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Honestly if they really are 'upper middle class' they would collect real horses not figurines of horses. The term indicates far more affluence in the UK. Upper middle class American might be the daughter of a dentist, upper middle class UK might be related to a duke.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 2:28 PM on May 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

upper middle class UK might be related to a duke.

FWIW, I know a few people from (self described) upper middle class families and none of them are related to dukes in any way and are far more likely to be related to dentists. Upper class is where you start to slide into potential landed gentry, imo.

However, upper middle class girls of this age are likely to be attending an independent (fee paying) public school as opposed to a state school. They won't be mixing with many working class or middle class children and will be unlikely to be hanging out on corners or going to London on their own. The point about them having horses is pretty correct.
posted by fight or flight at 4:22 PM on May 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: They are closer to upper middle class by the US definition, if it helps clarify.

No horses, but I'd be interested in what else they might collect. Thanks for the magazine recs, I'll check them out. What sort of books might they have been reading at the time? They're both avid and eclectic readers.
posted by Tamanna at 9:07 PM on May 13, 2022

upper middle class UK might be related to a duke.

Yeah, there are (currently) only 30 dukes in Britain and Ireland so that relation is rather rare for upper class, never mind (upper) middle class.

1993 was right in the time of “yoof TV” which I imagine the 16 year old watching some of, maybe 13 too some of it. DEF II was the brand on BBC2 under which a load of TV shows were broadcast, aimed at young people, early Monday and Wednesday evenings. Wikipedia has a list. It included the Rough Guide series and The Living Soap, one of the very first reality TV shows.

Oh, the excellent Press Gang!
posted by fabius at 5:47 AM on May 14, 2022

The Teletext Archive might be of use - it'll give you contemporary TV/radio listings, news, record charts, what's-on guides, and so on. Here are examples of BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 teletext from mid-1993.
posted by offog at 9:03 AM on May 14, 2022

Why not look at British teen magazines?
The Stack
posted by Ideefixe at 9:43 AM on May 14, 2022

I was 14 and living in London in 1993, and the comments are all very familiar! I was into Nirvana & Suede and we did hang around Camden Lock (I wasn’t allowed to get the tube into town, ie the west end, without my parents, but we were local and could walk into Camden so we were allowed there).

Magazines: I was just weaning off Smash Hits and onto NME and Melody Maker. And discovering dance music via the medium of bootleg cassettes that my Polish friend brought back from visiting family - the Prodigy, Orbital, and being annoyed that I was too young to get into clubs, and even my older friends who were going to illegal raves quite sensibly wouldn’t let me tag along for a few years!

We also did a bunch of protesting around that time, against the criminal justice bill and nuclear war.

TV: yep, the Word and Eurotrash! Golden era of bonkers TV :)
posted by conkystconk at 4:27 AM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was a 16-year-old grammar school girl in the Home Counties in 1993, so near but not in London. Middle to upper middle class, as were most of my classmates. I was extremely atypical though, so I'll talk about my classmates instead.

Music: They were into East 17 and Take That (Robbie!), and covered their rooms in posters of the band members. Bros had been popular a couple of years previously but had been supplanted. New Kids on the Block had been briefly very popular but had already become deeply unfashionable. A few girls were absolutely obsessed with Queen. People listened to Capital FM rather than Radio 1.

Also, middle class, so most people had taken music lessons and were Grade somethingorother in piano or clarinet or violin or whatever. Some of them took it really seriously, school orchestra types.

Collections: More of a primary school thing (i.e. up to age 11). Nobody collected anything, or if they did, they didn't talk about it at school.

Reading: I was almost unique in always having a novel in my school bag, but most of the girls I was aware of who *did* read were into light horror - John Saul, Stephen King, Virginia Andrews, maybe Dean R. Koontz - or classics (Austen, the Brontes, Dickens). One friend read Gone with the Wind over and over. One was obsessed with Good Omens. If your girls are into science fiction and fantasy, good bets would be Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, David Gemmell, Tad Williams, Mercedes Lackey, Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card, Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, plus the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms series. These work for both ages, incidentally: if you were into F&SF at 13, chances are you still were at 16. I can provide more obscure names if you want. Michael Crichton became very prominent when Jurassic Park was released at the cinema in the summer of 1993. Crime novels, maybe Sue Grafton, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell, or back to the Golden Age with Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie.

Sports: School sports for girls were netball, tennis, hockey (field hockey), aerobics, volleyball, badminton, athletics, swimming, rounders, cross-country (probably not in London, you need fields for that), dance and basketball. Oddly, not gymnastics, that was only a primary school thing. Football, rugby and cricket were for boys, and our school wasn't posh enough for lacrosse. We had a weight training room (so add weight training circuits to the list too); I don't know how common that was. As for watching sports, Wimbledon was popular (and tennis in general, and Andre Agassi in particular) but football wasn't. Some girls were very into Formula One motor racing. A few girls were horsy, riding at weekends, but it wasn't common.

Fashion: Was for weekends; there was a school uniform, and uniform rules were fairly strict. Long hair to be tied back, skirt hem between here and here, socks/tights, shoes and coat in approved colours, heels no higher than this, no makeup, no jewellery, etc. No matter what sort of school your girls go to, they'll have a uniform.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:24 AM on May 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oh, and *everyone* watched soap operas. At least one out of Neighbours, Home and Away, Eastenders and Coronation Street. Plenty of people watched all four.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:30 AM on May 16, 2022

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