Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Cool Older Sisters of ’90s TV

I will never be this mysterious and sophisticated.

The Cool Older Sister is an unknowable creature who thrives in her natural habitat, a bedroom plastered with posters of bands that you’re not cool enough to listen to, talking over her own personal phone with her boyfriend, whose name is probably Rider. She subsists on a diet of tiny, forced bites of mom’s homemade meatloaf, trendy vegetarian food, and cigarettes secretly smoked in the girls’ bathroom. Her favorite hobbies are sneaking out of the house at night and reading feminist literature.

I will never be a Cool Older Sister. I’m the youngest person in my family and will remain so forever unless my empty-nest parents decide to adopt in the near future, which is unlikely. I will never have any impressionable young minions following me around. But even without those reasons of time and biology, I will just never be a Cool Older Sister, because (1) no matter how old I get, I will ever reach her level of sophistication and mystery, and (2) the capital-C, -O, -S variety of this species of human exists only on TV, specifically TV shows of the 1990s. Here are four of my favorite COSes.

1. Judy Funnie

judy funnie

Judy is older sister to Doug Funnie on his namesake show. She’s usually made out to be a total freak, but that’s only because the whole town of Bluffington is a bunch of SQUARES and she really knows what’s up. An aspiring actress and a true beatnik, Judy is never without her signature dark sunglasses and beret, even when she’s doing karate. Her head is even partially shaved, which is basically the equivalent of flashing the anarchy symbol for children’s television. Unlike Doug, Judy doesn’t need a whole 20-minute storyline to figure out her feelings—she’s not afraid to make her opinions known, even if that means performing her own original poetry at a school assembly to get people to listen to her.

2. Debbie Thornberry


Debbie often gets a bad rap as the shallowest member of the titular family on The Wild Thornberrys, mostly because she resents her parents’ decision to avoid a traditional suburban lifestyle in favor of being nomadic wildlife explorers. I know that sounds so cool, but, look, she just wants some normalcy. Imagine how hard it is to make friends when you have to constantly move from wilderness site to wilderness site in a trailer with your family and their pet chimp. Despite the fact that she has easier access to the actual Amazon than she does to, Debbie still succeeds in keeping up with the trends better than most girls living in civilization. She somehow she manages to have a new issue of Teenage Wasteland with her at all times even though the family has no permanent address, and she manages to keep her wildly curly coif looking perfectly geometrical with the help of her own homemade shampoo. Plus, her sarcasm game is unbeatable (“Excuse me while I go find a container for my joy”).

3.Olga Pataki


You know how when you’re little you imagine that being a teenager will be so glamorous? In your mind you won’t have acne or bad hair or sweat glands, just really coordinated outfits and smart boyfriends/girlfriends and admirable goals. And then you discover that most people over the age of 75 don’t even have those things? I blame characters like Hey Arnold!’s Olga Pataki for that crashing disappointment. The feminine and polite older sister of cynical tomboy Helga (a very cool girl in her own right), Olga shines as a straight-A student and volunteer to the community. She’s so perfect you almost want to gag. But she proves that Cool Older Sisters are, deep down, just like us. When Helga gets jealous and secretly adds a B+ (gasp) to Olga’s college report card (lol), Olga cries for days and reveals that she’s sick and tired of being the perfect child, or, in her own words, a “wind-up doll.” Which is kind of the universal experience of being a girl, isn’t it?

4. Clarissa Darling


Ughhhh I actually feel a little upset that I probably never be as interesting as Clarissa. For one thing, she basically invented classic Cool Older Sister style. A basic rule of the COS handbook is that you must always wear things that would look ridiculous on anyone but you. A peasant blouse and bike shorts? Have at it. Oversize leopard-print button-down with a floral-print vest? THE WORLD IS CLARISSA’S FASHION OYSTER. Another basic requirement of being a ’90s COS is a deep-rooted love for grunge music—Clarissa name-drops the Violent Femmes and Pearl Jam throughout the series. Unlike most other shows about figuring out the ins and outs of growing up, where the Cool Older Sister was a mysterious figure who flitted in and out of the protagonist’s life, Clarissa Explains It All made the COS its star. They even made a special-edition VHS commemorating all of the fights she had with her little brother.

Here’s to all the Cool Older Sisters of the ’90s. May they always make time to give us advice and braid our hair, and then dramatically sneak out the back window to do way more important things than we ever will. ♦


  • queserasera July 10th, 2013 11:07 PM

    i always thought the thornberrys had the perfect life and wished they would adopt me. even though debbie’s constant sarcasm confused me (now that i’m older i could relate to her better), her style is 90s perfection!

  • MaggietheCat July 10th, 2013 11:16 PM

    Being a mysterious Cool Older Sister is the best, you guys.

  • spudzine July 10th, 2013 11:30 PM


  • mardy.bum July 10th, 2013 11:37 PM

    This post has made me realize that my sister is definitely a COS

  • czechczeck July 10th, 2013 11:49 PM

    Cool older sisters are the best, think of Lindsey from Freaks and Geeks, and Angela from My So Called Life! They are main characters, but still older sisters.

    My own sister is 18 years older than me, and I still find her teenage escapades to be extremely interesting. (she went to an MC Hammer concert, and got invited on stage, you guys!)

    Also, in the uk and Ireland theres a show called Moone Boy, it’s about a young boy growing up in Ireland, with 3 older sisters and they’re amazing, heres an example of one of them(my fave)

    • kendallkh July 11th, 2013 1:50 AM

      i definitely thought of angela too especially because all throughout the season danielle tried so hard to be like her!

    • KatGirl July 12th, 2013 4:55 PM

      MOONE BOY! “Here’s your cuppa. You know how you have boobs, right?”

    • Graciexx July 14th, 2013 8:37 AM

      I LOVE MOONE BOY! Chris O’Dowd is so funny! And all 3 sisters are definitely COS’s.

  • alienbabe July 11th, 2013 12:14 AM

    Debbie Thornberry is my spirit animal.

  • Adrienne July 11th, 2013 12:24 AM

    Love this article! I totally worshiped my Cool Older Sisters. I always loved going into their rooms and ogling at their posters. They’ve also really influenced my music taste as well! :)

  • llamalina July 11th, 2013 12:51 AM

    I love being the Cool Older Sister; no matter how much of a dork I am in real life, I always keep up the appearance of being mysterious and rebellious for my little sister. Growing up I always thought DJ Tanner from Full House was a COS.

  • Chloe C July 11th, 2013 1:06 AM


    I’m the older sister. I’m not cool at all.

    • emeraldruby July 11th, 2013 8:12 PM

      Yeah. Me too. I’m the Not Cool Older Sister. I so wish I had a Cool Older Sister who was like six or seven years older than me. Argh!! Debbie Thornberry come to me!!!!!

  • AngstyTheBrave July 11th, 2013 1:09 AM

    Some of the reasons why I wanted an older sister. Not to mention the protagonists that are older sisters! Raven Baxter, Lizzie McGuire, Pepper Ann, etc.

    Ooh, and Becky, from Recess (specifically the movie Recess: School’s Out. I love that goddamn movie).

    • AngstyTheBrave July 11th, 2013 7:01 PM

      I just realized that I AM an older sister now. I get to be a cool older sister. Too bad I’m not cool.

      • Graciexx July 14th, 2013 8:39 AM

        you don’t necessarily need to be cool, just mysterious ;)

  • jfate July 11th, 2013 1:16 AM

    Love this post! Why oh why did we ever have to move on from the 90s! :) I desperately miss it…

  • jfate July 11th, 2013 1:19 AM

    Love this! Oh how I desperately miss the 90s!

  • mrs.norris July 11th, 2013 1:48 AM

    the COSes of the 90s are so iconic. I was so fascinated when Debbie made her own shampoo

  • MeBeKi July 11th, 2013 1:52 AM

    I am an older sister and this morning, I spilt a bowl of Lucky Charms down the front of my shirt. I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never be a COS.

    • emlyb July 11th, 2013 7:59 AM

      i am literally laughing so hard at this

      • Aurora July 11th, 2013 1:46 PM

        I’m a wanna-be COS with similar life problems.

        • MeBeKi July 12th, 2013 4:26 AM

          hahaha with great power comes…many, many stains :)

  • ilikeboringstuff July 11th, 2013 4:17 AM

    thats me!

  • Sophie ❤ July 11th, 2013 6:19 AM

    This is such a COOl post!!! I adored the illustrations, too.

  • Sophie ❤ July 11th, 2013 6:22 AM

    Also: I wish that I could be an older sister so badly!

  • all-art-is-quite-useless July 11th, 2013 6:23 AM

    what about Mel from the british tv show My Parents Are Aliens? she was just the most sarcastic and cool and had the best clothes

  • emlyb July 11th, 2013 7:58 AM

    OH MY GOd i am an older sister why aren’t i seizing this opportunity

  • soretudaaa July 11th, 2013 9:36 AM

    bahaha my sister is such a Cool Older Sister it’s insane…

  • eggshell73 July 11th, 2013 11:44 AM


  • Alienor July 11th, 2013 12:12 PM


  • Aurora July 11th, 2013 1:47 PM

    I think Debbie Thornberry is the coolest animated character to ever exist tbh

  • Pearl July 11th, 2013 2:11 PM

    I wish I could be as cool as Debbie though.

  • tankgrrrl July 11th, 2013 2:54 PM

    Growing up in the 90s, Clarissa Explains it All was a major influence on my life. She was just So Damn Cool. I wanted to be a COS like her. Now that I’m an adult I’ve graduated to wanting to be a Cool Aunt to all the kids in my family.

  • Tiger July 11th, 2013 2:56 PM

    Love this so much, i can’t even describe how wonderful this is.

    but i spotted a tiny typo in the second paragraph when it says, “I will never be to be a Cool Older sister”

    • Anaheed July 11th, 2013 3:19 PM

      Ooh, good catch — thank you!

  • insteadofanelephant July 11th, 2013 3:15 PM

    I always hope I’m a COS instead of a LAS (lame older sister?). I like being the oldest, I feel like I always related to the older sister characters more than the main character.

    instead of an elephant

  • ♡ reba ♡ July 11th, 2013 5:09 PM

    i was always way more obsessed with the COS’ than the actual characters haha!! i always wanted to be one but could never pull it off and my little brothers friends just thought i was mean :-( LOVE THIS still xxxxxx

  • MissKnowItAll July 11th, 2013 6:31 PM

    Excuse me, but why is Katherine Frensky not on this list?

    • AngstyTheBrave July 11th, 2013 7:03 PM

      YES! She was/is cool, and basically the only character in Arthur that acts their age. No hate, that show is the bomb.

    • Jennifer July 11th, 2013 11:52 PM

      I just commented this myself! I loved Katherine (Catherine?) Frensky. Rubella was an awesome older sister as well.

  • Jennifer July 11th, 2013 11:51 PM

    What about Catherine Frenski and Rubella Deegan, from Arthur. Both were wicked cool, and had mad style.

  • Laia July 11th, 2013 11:51 PM

    everything about this is everything.

    lesson here: nickelodeon was the absolute total best.

  • amelia July 12th, 2013 12:09 AM

    i used to think Debbie was the COOLEST. i love that she’s reading Howl in that picture haha, such a good hipster

  • kellie July 12th, 2013 12:11 AM

    Gabby, yes, you complete me! I literally wrote an article about Cool Little Sisters. Haha!
    You can read it if you like,

  • Taraisthelaw July 12th, 2013 12:15 AM

    Okay, so as an online magazine especially targeted towards young women, you generally have done a good job at not encouraging unhealthy behavior, staying body positive, and publishing intersectionally feminist content… At least compared to other magazines with readers of a similar demographic. That’s why I’m so pissed/appalled that I only had to read this article for 5 seconds until I came across a statement that equated smoking with coolness. Whether or not that is an image you see in your head when you think of what these cool older sisters do off screen, it’s not okay to tell young women that smoking is cool. Anyway, there is literally nothing about any of these characters that should lead someone to think that they probably smoke in the bathroom. As a very cool and increasingly popular website, your readers internalize your opinion on what is cool. I am 18 and I needed rookiemag way before I learned of its existence. Please don’t let down the lucky younger people who need this site too.

  • eremiomania July 12th, 2013 12:48 AM

    Ugh sometimes it’s a huge bummer to be an only child

    • Graciexx July 14th, 2013 8:42 AM

      ikr! at least I have older cousins who are practically siblings :)

  • VagabondZombie July 12th, 2013 7:26 AM

    YESSSS. We cool older sisters are awesome. But without our cool younger sisters, we wouldn’t be as cool and complete. =]

  • AClementine July 12th, 2013 3:17 PM

    OMG complete flashback to my childhood with the wild thornberrys! I really liked that show

  • Froststep July 12th, 2013 8:54 PM

    This was awesome, but i think your forgeting the coolest 90′s older sister of them all… Daria Morgendorpher ;)

  • Ella W July 13th, 2013 9:27 AM

    One of my favourite COS’s was Renee Stevens from that show ‘Even Stevens’. She was so cool..

  • Letsbikeaway July 13th, 2013 2:11 PM

    Oh my god I remember this scene where Debbie thornberry got all these denim jeans in the mail and cut all the knees open. That inspired me to cut open all my jeans in elementary school. She was my idol, I swear.

  • Cactus Woman July 13th, 2013 8:21 PM

    oh my god…i had forgotten how much i loved Hey Arnold! I totally remember watching the sister sabotage episode when it aired as a kid!

    Also, if Arnold existed in real life, i would probably date him.

  • aura_agutter July 14th, 2013 3:05 AM

    hey now, where is JERRI BLANK, style icon and spirit animal and big sister?

    • Tavi July 14th, 2013 3:22 AM

      Right here!

      • aura_agutter July 14th, 2013 7:24 PM

        thank you, tavi! I think last night I was having a moment where I felt that jerri should be on every web page on every site everywhere and always, spreading awesomeness in an ever-darkening world. now she’s on this page too, in link form.

        thanks always for rookiemag and have a great weekend.

  • liviloags July 14th, 2013 2:15 PM

    What about Angela Chase????????

  • cheyennemarie64 July 15th, 2013 1:23 AM

    you forgot Ginger from As Told By Ginger!

  • fashiondotty July 17th, 2013 5:44 PM

    Um.. hello, Daria!

  • swegan July 22nd, 2013 11:10 PM

    Damn, I wish I could be a COS. I think sometimes I feel almost younger than my little sister, and sometimes I’m almost trying to impress her. She’s the COS in our relationship at times, and I never am. Thankfully most of the time we’re more just sisters and my brother is the COS since he’s moved out, got a degree I don’t think he uses, drives a car with roll-down windows and likes heavy metal music.

    • swegan July 22nd, 2013 11:10 PM

      Also I just want to say that I LOVE THIS ARTICLE :) <3

  • Sarita. July 24th, 2013 5:16 PM

    This is my favorite article!
    I use a lot of sarcasm when I talk, specially with my little sister.

  • Emilyis August 9th, 2013 12:33 AM