This summer in Baltimore and across the country, the hottest craze and the height of fashion for tiny wrists is, a wee bit inexplicably, the rubber band.
Children who can't get enough of them are talking of little else, saving their allowances and getting into fights. Parents who wished they were smart enough to invent them are making runs on stores that can't keep them in stock. School officials, struggling to regain control, are rewriting dress codes.
All over Silly Bandz — colorful rubber bracelets, nothing more than molded silicone and dye, that come in wiggly shapes and cost less than a sandwich.
"Right now I only have 61, and I really want 100 or more," says Mia Macdonald, a freckled second-grader at the Calvert School who saved up two weeks of allowance to buy a package of bracelets for $3.99 at Super Fresh. "Everyone really likes them."
What makes the bracelets so desirable, the element that catapults them from cute accessory to full-blown obsession, is the variety of shapes. On the arm, they stretch to look essentially like plain rubber bands, reminiscent of the gummy bracelets Madonna helped make popular in the 1980s. But taken off, they boing back into the form of pets and zoo animals, dinosaurs and sea creatures, sports equipment and beach things. The variety adds a collectible angle that drives the craze and keeps kids wanting more and more and, somehow, even more.
Tammi L. Scott-Lynch's daughter Kennedy, who's 10, has piles of them — but apparently not enough. "She just advised me the other day they have Silly Bandz that are scented, and none of the 80 she has are," says Scott-Lynch, who lives in the Idlewylde neighborhood. "I told her, 'Kennedy, we really need to draw the line.' She said, 'But Mommy, now they smell good.' "
On Amazon.com this week, Silly Bandz dominated sales, assuming seven spots on the Top 10 most-popular toys list. On Facebook, the previously unheard-of Toledo, Ohio, company that makes the name-brand variety, boasted 254,000 fans — double from just a few weeks ago.
If parents can't explain the sensation, kids are even more hard-pressed to define the allure.
"I think they like the cool shapes and all the other cool stuff about them," guesses Carson Reed, who's 9 and loves the bracelets almost as much as his 7-year-old sister, Lacey, who likes to "trade them and stuff."
Carson and Lacey's mom, Ann, says when Lacey got Silly Bandz for her birthday in April, she had no idea what to make of them. They sat untouched and ignored until a few weeks ago when, just like that, symptoms of the Silly Bandz fever that has been sweeping the country starting appearing locally. Kids coming home from school with one or two and begging for more … frustrated parents running from store to store … shopkeepers struggling to keep up with the demand.
At Cohen's Clothiers in Cockeysville, they ordered a few boxes after kids asked about them. They disappeared — poof! — almost instantly. Thirty dozen gone in two days.
"It was just unbelievable," says owner Pat Cohen. "People come in and buy five, 10, 15 packs at a time. Almost every purchase has Silly Bandz."
At aMuse toys in Fells Point, owners Tom and Claudia Towles try to stock only educational, engaging playthings. Or, more simply put — they avoid junk. Claudia was about to send the Silly Bandz sales rep packing when her 9-year-old son, Sebastian, cut in to state his case.
"He said, 'Mom, I really think we should carry them. I would collect them. I like the way they look, and I could share them with my friends. I would keep them organized,' " Towles says, laughing. "We finally caved. And the truth of the matter is, we've seen a spike in sales because of these Silly Bandz. He was right."
Once kids finally get their hands on the bands, they're reluctant to part with them. Mia even likes to sleep with hers on. But at school, where kids naturally want to show them off, they've become something of an educational issue.
Teachers are fighting Silly Bandz for kids' attention — and losing.
Mia's teacher drew the line at five bracelets per student and took the opportunity to teach the little ones the meaning of "distraction." At Rodgers Forge Elementary, Principal Susan Deise, who declares them "a nuisance," has told teachers to confiscate bands from students playing with them in class. Dumbarton Middle School, and plenty of other institutions, have flat-out banned them.
Paula LacKamp had to take the bands away from her 7-year-old daughter after Hannah starting fighting with her little brother over them and freaking out at the pool because she heard water could ruin them.
"There was always an argument. 'That's my Silly Band.' 'No! It's my Silly Band.' Mayhem took over our house," says LacKamp who will allow Hannah to earn them back, one by one, with good behavior. "It was just like, 'Wow, what happened to my kids?' They've been taken over by the Silly Bandz gods."