Totally 80s: Jelly shoes and jelly bracelets

Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)


List item #35 & #36 from 53 Things Only 80s Girls Can Understand

The horrible smell jelly bracelets left after you wore them all day long…

Nothing says "The 80s" like cheap plastic? Sounds about right.
50 for $1.00 was the going rate, I think.

…but knowing that these smelled worse

 Mmmm...nothing like some insta-sweat-makers for your feet!

Mmmm…nothing like some insta-sweat-makers for your feet!

I know. I’m cheating. But only a little as this post involves things jelly. Bracelets and shoes. Two things made out of one thing — plastic. So really, the title of this post should be “Totally 80s: Cheap-ass plastic shit.”

When the thoughtful adult in me looks back about the advent of plastic accessories in the 80s, I think of the boom in personal technology. With the boom in personal technology, from computers to video game consoles, came futuristic thinking. And with futuristic thinking came thoughts of outer space and shiny spacesuits. And with outer space and shiny spacesuits came this crazy, cool vibe of sleek, molded modernity….in plastic. From the super sheen of black or white (and sometimes plastic) furnishings that may still grace your parents house to the growth of spandex, rayon, and other fake fabrics in the fashion industry, plastic was in. And eventually this trickled down to the younger set in the worst forms possible: jelly bracelets and jelly shoes.

That’s what the thoughtful adult in me thinks.

The pragmatic adult in me thinks: because making plastic stuff was GODDAMN CHEAP.

However the world of jelly things was bestowed upon us, it was bestowed hard. I didn’t know any girl who didn’t own either a massive set of jelly bracelets, or a massive set of jelly shoes that I’m pretty sure were priced at 10 for $1.00. I mean, they had to be, right. Because plastic is damn cheap.

So let’s talk about the shoes first. I’ve seen these things make a comeback in recent years, and I really couldn’t say why anyone with two functioning feet would ever want to wear them.

Don’t let the pretty blue fool you — these shoes are as mean as they come.

The ones I remember were perfectly wretched. A bitch to wear even on a perfect summer day, either too stiff or too flimsy, destroyed your toes and heels, made for the most supreme of sweaty secretions (ewwww). Except…except for that one pair. That one perfect pair that you found stashed away in a secretive shoe store. That one pair where the plastic was supple enough to not eat away at your skin and sturdy enough to not fly off your feet during a brisk walk. I had one pair like that and they were perfections in purple. I wore them literally every day one summer – to the library, the pool, to my friend’s house. I walked, I ran, and skipped in those babies…until they cracked and tore. Damn things always cracked eventually. (Sure, you tried to wear them afterwards, but once one delicate tendril in a shoe’s matrix cracked, the others soon followed.) You’d sullenly travel them to the trashcan and look up at your mother while she held the lid up. “Can I get another pair?” you squeaked, on the verge of tears. “We’ll see,” came the somber reply.

On the days that I wasn’t scampering about in my awesome purple jellies, I was probably dealing in jelly bracelets. Oh man…jelly bracelets. At one time I had enough to cover each of my forearms. And y’know what? I’ve absolutely no idea how I got so many! Unlike the jelly shoes for which I asked, the jelly bracelet just were. I had them, so many of them, somehow. I know that I shared them with my friends, and we’d make long “ropes” with them, but I don’t recall ever asking for them. I don’t remember saying “But Mom! Jane has a billion jelly bracelets…I want a billion too!” Maybe they came in vending machines…? Like the ones with bubble gum and crap jewelry in the grocery stores. Yeah…maybe.

And the sparklier the better!
The sparklier the better!

Regardless of how I got them, I loved them. And I did everything my power to make sure I always had plenty of every color available. Sometimes I’d wear all of the same color, or two colors, one on each wrist. Or I’d carefully put them on in a pattern – red, green, red, blue, red, orange. Lots of times I twisted them together and wore several in a giant mass on my little wrist. My friends and I traded them — your 3 special fluorescent green for my 3 pink sparkles and 2 blue…deal? (Neon sparkle jelly bracelets were like blue meth…once you scored some, you just had to have more and more.)

I was never allowed to wear either my jelly shoes or jelly bracelets to school. They were both strictly for “summer fun,” according to my parents. Which is, in my mind, the reasoning for the smell. That bad smell. That pinching odor of hot, grimy plastic that resided on your skin after you removed your arms-length of jelly bracelets and sweaty jelly shoes at the end of a 99 degree summer day. If I close my eyes and think hard enough, I can still smell it….and it’s awful. Like the smell of a dollar store, with its mothballed, plastic junk and sulphery cellophane encasing all the things, that’s been raided by a high school locker room after the big game.

Sweaty, hot, plastic. Yuck. That…well that kinda sounds like the 80s.


  1. I so loved my jelly bracelets!! Especially the sparkly glittered one!! Now I’m getting nostalgic… however I honestly do not remember an awful smell… hhmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The glittery jelly bracelets were the best, surely! 😍 I do recall that they, along with the jelly shoes, did have a distinct rubbery smell, and it only got worse on hot, humid days. I don’t know that I’d have defined it then as “horrible,” but they were…um…odorous. Guess that’s one of the risks of wearing plastic, haha!


  2. I actually had one perfect pair of jelly shoes as a kid, so I know the feeling you’re talking about. However, I don’t remember the bad odor it gave off though. Probably a blessing for me. 😛


    • Yes, that’s good for you! Maybe it was the type of plastic they used to make the things early on, but it was really unpleasant.

      A friend of mine told me told me that Crocs now makes the “perfect” jelly shoe. After seeing pictures, I have to admit that they aren’t awful looking, but still, no thanks.


    • Haha, yeah, the shoes were especially awful. I’ve seen newer versions of jelly shoes recently, which might be more comfy, but they look just as hideous.

      The jelly bracelets are less gross, and I still see them in stores now and then, but those silly band things seem to be more popular.


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