Zubaz kind of encapsulate everything about the years between 1989 and 1991. It wasn’t quite the 80s and it wasn’t quite the 90s. Everything in popular culture had a little touch of the extreme that would characterize the 90s, but continued to be drenched in the neon of the 80s. At the nexus of this were Zubaz pants, tiger-striped workout pants with a Fox attitude. If you remember them, you’ve probably also seen entire seasons of American Gladiators. If you don’t, you’re in for a real treat.
1. Zubaz Are Straight out of Minneapolis: Zubaz look like something out of Los Angeles in the late '80s, but in fact they come from a much less flashy place on the map: Minnesota. Weightlifters were looking for something they could wear while they worked out. Bob Truax and Dan Stock, who owned a gym, stepped up with Zubaz. The name, by the way, is an adaptation of the '70s slang term “zooba,” meaning “in your face.”
2. Prisoners Originally Made Zubaz Pants: Truax and Stock had connections with prison guards in the state prison system. When word got back to them that they were looking for a labor force to help meet demand for their shorts, they suggested the women’s prison. So if you owned an early pair of Zubaz pants, they were probably made by convict labor.
3. The Road Warriors Kickstarted the Trend: The Road Warriors (known as the Legion of Doom during their time in the then WWF) were instrumental in kicking off the Zubaz craze of the early 90s. Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal were both partners in the gym where Zubaz originated. The flashy pants fit with their outlandish style and also allowed them to squat deep.
4. JC Penney Crossed Zubaz Over to Mainstream America: OK, so weightlifters and the Road Warriors were into them. Big deal. How were the pants playing in Peoria? It wasn’t until a manager of a JC Penney saw a fan rocking some Zubaz at a hockey game that they took to mainstream. Soon, Zubaz were on the shelves in every JC Penney store in America.
5. At Their Peak, They Moved 50,000 Units a Week: It’s incredible and almost impossible to imagine. When the Zubaz craze was at its peak, with a pair available in contrasting colors of every professional sports team under the sun, there were 50,000 pairs of pants flying off the shelves every week. That doesn’t include baseball caps, fanny packs or a host of other related apparel.
6. Zubaz Designed Uniforms for the Arena Football League: It wasn’t just NFL licensed apparel that connected Zubaz to the world of pro football. They designed the uniforms for two Arena Football League teams: the still active Tampa Bay Storm and the defunct New Orleans Night. The designs didn’t last long, as they were considered too crazy for the AFL.
7. When the Dust Settled, Nine Million Pairs Were Sold: Nine million pairs of Zubaz pants were sold during the craze, raking in about $160 million for the two founders. That’s about $278 million in today’s money. Not bad for what have been called “the world’s ugliest pants.”
8. The Company Didn’t Go Bankrupt Until 1996: If you remember the 90s, you probably have vague memories of men walking around in Zubaz long after they were the fashionable thing. That’s probably what kept the Zubaz company afloat until 1996, the era of grunge, not hair metal weightlifters in zebra pants. After the company went bankrupt, the founders repurchased the trademark and sat on it until 2007.
9. You Can Still Buy Zubaz: Seriously. They even make jeans now. The pants are pretty much exactly as they were when you were too young to afford a pair. But in addition to jeans they now boast leggings that will probably look better on your girl than the baggy pants will on you.
10. Zubaz Are Enjoying a Minor Renaissance: Zubazpalooza is a popular event at sports arenas where you get a ticket and a pair of Zubaz for one low price. Wearing Zubaz for wedding photos is likewise a trend from coast to coast. Exercise caution.