Last year, my then-5-year-old daughter wanted to be a fairy for Halloween. Once we had the wings squared away, my next thought was obvious: We need some of that roll-on glitter. You know what I’m talking about: It had the cold, somewhat sticky texture of a gel deodorant. It was packaged in a little pot, or a roll-on stick, or even a powder applied with a giant brush or puff, but that was way more work than the swipe-and-go gooey stuff. You got it at the mall, probably while you were buying butterfly clips or a pen that didn’t work very well but DID have a giant clump of feathers on the end.
So there I was wandering through Target at various costume and makeup sections, increasingly perplexed, until I finally found a small container of the stuff tucked away in a CVS. I couldn’t believe it took me so long to find it. And that’s for a very simple reason: I’m a geriatric millennial, and I hit the beginnings of adolescence in the late 1990s. To this day, a part of me assumes that body glitter is immediately available everywhere. (Like maybe it should just magically appear in my chaotic bathroom drawer.) Because when I started playing with makeup, it was.
Maybe the best example: Bath & Body Works “Art Stuff.” The packaging screamed “you are 11 and your mom won’t let you touch lipstick yet and ‘coco crush’ sounds like the coolest thing imaginable.” But maybe you didn’t want to glitter. Maybe you just wanted to shimmer? Don’t worry! There were lotions aplenty.
The obvious pop culture reference point here is pop stars — Britney Spears in a hot-pink tube top and enough body glitter to clog a water main. And in fact, many sold their own body glitter products, Britney included. But my favorite example is actually Ever After, when our Cinderella, Danielle, shows up to a masquerade in 16th-ish century France, her cheekbones shimmering in the stuff. Leonardo da Vinci invented many things but not body glitter. It made perfect sense according to fairy tale logic, though, and even more importantly, the teen fashion rules of 1997.
Body glitter fit with the overall aesthetic of the run-up to the millennium, sort of cartoonishly psychedelic retro-futuristic: chunky Apple computers in colors like “grape” and “tangerine,” frosty blue and metallic eyeshadows, borderline 70s prints and clothing colors. It was all cheerful but a little bit weird — a little bit nervous about the future. I vividly remember my mom’s mystified reaction when I wanted to purchase a very cool purple iridescent nail polish at the mall with a name along the lines of “toxic waste.”
There was even something a little X-Files about the texture of the cold body-glitter base goo, like you were covering yourself in the green stuff Scully’s covered in after Mulder breaks her out of the alien pod in the 1998 X-Files movie.
Looking all over the place for body glitter made me realize just how much I missed it. But then I realized it had never entirely gone away. My summertime bronzer? Glittery. My everyday no-makeup, sun-protective layer? Shimmery. The coconut-smelling SPF oil I bought this summer? Same. Sephora and Ulta? Absolutely full of stuff that promises to make your cheekbones sparkle and your cleavage glow in the dark. Sure, 40 is right around the corner, but you never entirely outgrow the makeup trends of your youth. Watch me buy a frosty blue eyeshadow next.
Kelly Faircloth is the executive editor at Scary Mommy, where she commissions freelance pieces. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, pitch her here! She’d love to hear from you.
Previously, Kelly worked at Jezebel.com, where she was a senior editor and also wrote about royal gossip and romance novels, along with body image and history. She grew up in Georgia between a river and a railroad, and she has a lot of questions about the world-building in Paw Patrol.