Clippings: Exploring the allure of 'Silly Bandz'

One of my good friends owns only a wrench, a turtle and a dinosaur. Another close pal has a few dolphins, a suitcase and some sunglasses. Though this might sound impressive in the real world, in the world of Silly Bandz this is nothing. The 7-year-old son of a friend, for instance, just got a pack of no less than 150 of the neon-colored, silicon wristbands that take on the outline of nearly every object under the sun and then some.

I first encountered the rubber band-like accessories this summer, when my friend’s 13-year-old sister flourished the rainbow of bands trailing down her freckled arm. She pulled off one of the pink ones and it instantaneously contracted into the shape of a pair of underwear. The charm certainly wasn’t lost on me. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a friend showed up to lunch boasting a Red Sox “B”-shaped band. Let me back up a moment to tell you that this friend is 21 years old and male.

Silly Bandz are not the first absurd trend to capture the hearts of our nation’s youth. In my lifetime alone there have been Beanie Babies, then Tomagotchi and Giga Pets, Abercrombie and the Silly Bandz predecessor, Livestrong bracelets. Silly Bandz are, however, the first craze to move beyond kids ages 5-16 and catch on among just about every generation. Children, adults, teachers, business professionals, boys and girls — they are all wearing them. Like New York Times writer Kayleen Schaefer, I can’t quite get over the fact that adults love these things as much as their kids do.

My dolphin-owning friend attempted to explain the appeal of Silly Bandz to me. According to her, the key lies in the variety of shapes and colors of the bands. Just like the baseball cards that my brother, dad and grandpa used to collect, Silly Bandz are bought in a pack, and half the fun is not knowing exactly what you’ll find inside. And who doesn’t love a good surprise? Additionally, she attributes the epidemic-like spread of the accessories to kids bestowing the bands upon their teachers and parents, who then give them to their friends, and so on. And when you get doubles, she says, that’s the best, because you can give the extra away to a friend or relative and weave the web even wider.

“It’s like, the new friendship bracelet,” she told me prophetically on Gchat a few days ago.

Silly Bandz are also relatively cheap ($4.95 for a pack of 24), which hasn’t hurt their popularity any.

The simple, stretchy bracelets were created by BCP Imports, a company based out of Toledo, Ohio, two years ago. They started to gain real momentum toward the end of May, and have proceeded to “blow up” over the course of this summer. The company has been selling “millions of packs a month” according to MSNBC, and its employee base has increased from 20 to 200 just this year.

Maybe I’m just missing something, but I still cannot seem to get a grasp on why these bands are so universally beloved (perhaps the “z” on the end of the word instead of an “s” has something to do with it). We’re all guilty of buying into a trend every now and again, and I confess that I may have one (or 20) Beanie Babies stashed beneath my bed in my parents’ house. But though I am a staunch hair-elastic-on-the-wrist supporter (you never know when you might need a ponytail), and I even have some embroidery thread wound round my wrist, I just cannot see myself ever boasting a Silly Band(z). And yet, if my 11-year-old sister, Amanda, were to offer me a palm-tree-shaped band (because she knows how much I love a good palm tree), would I be so heartless and cruel as to refuse? Of course not. And there you have it.

Whether it is guilt, the thrill of the hunt, community building or simply mob mentality that has everyone stuck on Silly Bandz, I’m still not quite sure. Amanda was unavailable for comment last night, so I may never get to the center-of-the-Tootsie-Roll secret that lies behind the widespread obsession with Silly Bands. Excuse me, Silly Bandz.

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