Me, you and Rainbow Loom

October 6, 2021 — by Audrey Mah

On a trip to New York City, my aunt presented my 9-year-old self with what she claimed was the latest hit toy. I unwrapped the present, eager to see what it held. But in shaded block letters, the simple cardboard box read: Rainbow Loom. 

I frowned. What the heck is that? 

Tentatively, I opened up the box to find a clear, notched plastic “loom,” what resembled a plastic crochet hook, tiny plastic “c-clips” and — bizarrely — a pouch of colorful rubber bands. I flashed my aunt what I hoped was a convincing smile and thanked her for the gift.

When I got home, I unpacked the kit and took a closer examination of its contents. According to the instructions, a basic “single” bracelet could be made by laying rubber bands over the loom in a criss-cross fashion, then using the hook to loop the bands over each other.

My first bracelet was a tangled, knotted mess, but I wore it with tremendous pride.  

Several weeks later, I showed up to school, wrists layered thick with brightly colored rubber band bracelets. I looked absolutely ridiculous. But just as my aunt had predicted, the Rainbow Loom craze caught on.  

Soon, all of my classmates were decked out in their own rubber band creations. Our shared enthusiasm fed our individual enthusiasm — frustration with the complex fishtail pattern turned into a determination to master it when I shared my struggle with friends. Together, we cheered our successes and mourned our failures. 

While I only knew how to make simple chains, other kids spent hours going through YouTube tutorials and putting together increasingly difficult designs. My best friend proudly showed off her 108-band “hexafish” bracelet, and another friend flaunted a pair of penguin earrings she looped together.

But more than admiring our flashy patterns, what we really loved about Rainbow Loom was making bracelets for each other. We’d tumble over ourselves offering to customize bracelets for our closest friends and favorite teachers, then rush to school the following morning, red-cheeked and bright-eyed, bursting to show our gifts. 

As we grew up, though, our passion for Rainbow Loom slowly petered out until one day, without even realizing it, we put away our boards and hooks for the last time. 

This summer, however, I chanced upon my old passion at my job as a camp counselor. My troupe of third graders was just as obsessed with Rainbow Loom bracelets as I once was. 

They carried grimy little ziplocks full of colorful bands and clips in their backpacks, and pulled them out to take inventory of their bracelets each morning. 

During lunches, they sat in a circle on the blacktop, a pile of rubber bands shared between them. Just like us, they were excited to receive bracelets, but even more so to give them. Many of our days together began with a camper shyly presenting a ring or bracelet that they made for me the night before. 

At camp, they couldn’t bring their looms, but that didn’t stop them — the campers wove bracelets on their fingers. One girl even engineered fashioned a makeshift loom out of pencils and a wad of paper. 

They huddled together, a gaggle of eager, bobbing faces, clamoring for my opinion on colors and patterns. I even made a bracelet, reliving my old fascination. And, remembering the Rainbow Loom spirit of generosity, promptly gifted it to a camper.

Summer ended four months ago, and my own Rainbow Loom obsession almost a decade ago. But I still carry a loop of rainbow-colored braid on my keychain, a reminder of all the friendship and love I shared with my 9-year old friends, once as a 9-year-old myself, and now as a sentimental teen nostalgic for my childhood days.