Ski wear you could see from space
Forget aesthetic pieces that look good on the ’gram. When it came to skiwear, the 80s was all about the loud, the bold and the very, very colorful. Even if you lived to regret the photos, at least there was little danger of being lost in a snowdrift……
Mr Potato Head
There can’t have been an elementary school classroom in the country without its messy box of Mr and Mrs Potato Head plus all the interchangeable accessories. The average 80s kid also probably had one at home too. Now, why was it just potatoes? Why wasn’t there a Mr Carrot Head or a Mrs Onion Head?
Today’s kids must think they have it made thanks to Disney+. However, 80s kids know that nothing could replace the joy of a new issue of the Disney magazine, ink still tacky and liable to come off on your hands. And, oh, the anticipation of a forthcoming movie trailed in the magazine!
Floral crock pots
Nowadays, crock pots and their fancier replacements are all gleaming, streamlined steel – and wouldn’t look out of place in a factory or at least an industrial kitchen. However, the floral crock pot of the 80s was a homelier, more comforting creation. It speaks of cozy winter afternoons and of coming home starving after soccer practise ready to fill up on chicken stew.
Fancy miniature china tea sets
No doubt, today’s kids still host the occasional dolls’ tea party or teddy bears’ picnic. Unfortunately, the little tea sets they use are either plastic or emblazoned with Disney characters – or, quite possibly, both. Back in the day, these little china tea sets were genuine miniature replicas of the fancy kind that lived in Grandma’s glass-fronted cabinet.
Cartoon character hotlines
Ever wanted to speak to Bugs Bunny or chat to the team who were generally busy mastering the universe? Well, if you were an 80s kid with indulgent parents (or parents who didn’t notice you sneaking off to use the phone), you could call up your favorite cartoon character on a special hotline.
Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties
If you’re over 40, we’re pretty confident you’ve been to at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Perhaps your parents even threw you a Chuck E. Cheese party. Maybe you remember hollering with happiness as you careered down the plastic slides into the ball pit. Maybe you even enjoyed the greasy, plasticky pizza slices – although your parents definitely didn’t…
What every kid wants: cereal that’s actually candy! And you, you lucky kid of the 80s, got to experience just that thanks to Nerds. Sure, maybe your mom only bought it the once but, oh, what a once! And, ever after, no cereal has quite matched up – although there’s no way to even consider letting your own children near a bowl of the stuff.
Pencils are so… boringly plain. Well, trust the 80s to deal with that problem – and to do so in its classically over-the-top style. Yes: it’s the pencil hugger. If you were a fan, you collected as many as you could, until the huggers outnumbered the pencils. And Garfield, of course, was the ultimate pencil hugger. Do you still have yours?
Maybe it started out as a kooky idea to get a dual function out of a single item. Whatever the motivation, bracelet pens took over elementary school yards across the country. (Possibly not the classrooms, given the number of teachers who decided they were too distracting and consequently banned them.)
Burger King salad bars
Once upon a time, Burger King was not only a place for a burger. No, it was also a place where you could load up on salad, courtesy of its very own salad bar. Whether you did or not, depends on the type of parents you had – but we’re betting demand was slight….
Ah, the 80s! A time when people came together to raise huge sums of money for the needy. Think back to Band Aid when UK artists, including Boy George and Bono, raised $24 million for famine relief in Ethiopia with their recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. Then there were the Live Aid concerts, held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia, which raised $127 million.
Cabbage Patch Kids
Overpriced and faintly creepy in appearance, the Cabbage Patch Kids nonetheless stole the hearts of the nation’s children. Whether deliberately or not, supply and demand mismatches ensured that the most desirable dolls were hard to find and even harder on the wallet. The dolls even inspired riots, with crazed people stampeding stores to try and get their hands on a particular Cabbage Patch Kid.
Originally associated with a specific type of adult entertainment and the occasional aspirational bachelor pad, waterbeds enjoyed a short stint in the mainstream in the 80s. Although vaguely and comfortingly reminiscent of lying on a floatie in the pool or ocean, their propensity to leak ensured that their time at the top was limited.
Garbage Pail Kids
Originally designed as a parody of the ludicrously popular Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage Pail Kids quickly took on a life of their own. Not actual dolls, Garbage Pail Kids were depicted on a series of very well-drawn trading cards that changed hands on every elementary school yard.
The 80s was the decade when you wanted everyone to share in the music that you enjoyed. Hence, the boombox. Frequently carried over the shoulder of the young mulleted-man-about-town, they were the ideal way of starting a party at any time and in any place. Even with Bluetooth speakers, the iPhone really can’t compete!
Perhaps it was the fact that the likes of Paul McCartney and Billy Ray Cyrus popularized the hair style. It certainly can’t be its tag line (“business in the front, party in the back”) or the style itself that convinced almost anybody within reach of a pair of scissors that this was the haircut they’d been waiting for!
The even less functional relative of the bracelet pen, 80s kids loved slap bracelets for their colorful patterns and cheap, easy way to show a bit of individuality. It was the sound almost as much as the color and design – who doesn’t remember whiling away a boring study hall slapping and re-slapping their slap bracelets…
Dallas and Dynasty
Although paving the way for many of the dramedies to follow, the prime time soap operas of the 80s are unmatched by any of today’s paler offerings. Think back: whole families on the edge of their seats as they waited to find out who shot J.R. or waiting to see just what Joan Collins as Alexis Colby would do next.
If you wanted to lose weight, keep fit or just needed a good excuse to put on a leotard and a pair of neon legwarmers, the 80s exercise videos were your answer. Usually featuring a energetic, immaculately made-up celebrity fitness guru, such as Jane Fonda, you knew you were never going to look like her but, boy, you were going to try!
Video rental stores
Unimaginable to the youth of today but, in the years before Netflix and on-demand streaming, we hired movies from our local video stores. Often a hotbed of teenage happenings, Friday night at the video store was definitely the place to go – or not (depending on your frame of mind).
You might blame Madonna, you might blame Jane Fonda and all those exercise videos or you might blame the London punk scene. Whatever the cause, it’s undeniable that 80s fashions were like nothing before or since – and we liked them all the better for that!
Yes, once there was a time when playing video games with your friends meant leaving the house and heading for the local video arcade. There, provided you had enough small change, you could while away hours of time, playing Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and, of course, Space Invaders.
Obviously, we still have MTV now. However, back when music television was in its infancy, it changed the music industry forever. Teenagers across the country went nuts for music videos from the likes of Duran Duran, Madonna and, of course, The Buggles with their prophetic hit, Video Killed The Radio Star.
Neither an album nor an official compendium, the mix tape is a true 80s icon. Tailored to an individual teen’s musical tastes – and copied and passed around among groups of friends – individual mix tapes quickly became emblematic of a year, a time of life, a time now lost to the digital age.
Could you moonwalk? If you were a kid in the 80s, we bet you at least tried. And, if not the moonwalk, then perhaps a spot of breakdancing or even the robocop. One thing’s for sure: today’s High School proms can’t be nearly as imaginative when it comes to dance moves on the gym floor.
In TV land, sitcoms reigned supreme during the 80s. Unmissable shows included “The Golden Girls”, “Different Strokes”, “Roseanne” and “Married with Children”. Of course, you can still stream most of these shows today but nothing beat the joy of settling down to watch the latest episode of your favorite, after waiting a whole week since the previous one aired.
Portable music! And, unlike the boombox, dispensed by a device small enough for anyone to carry. No wonder that a Walkman was high on any self-respecting teenager’s must-have Christmas list. They weren’t only for music! Sony’s distinctive yellow headphones and case quickly became an instantly recognizable fashion statement.
In the age of smartphones, it’s easy to forget how much planning went into much of the photography of the 80s. Think about the staged family portrait. You know the ones: they hang on grandparents’ walls and lurk unloved – and hopefully forgotten – in bottom drawers. It’s the hair, the clothes, the braces and the forced smiles that make them so very funny to today’s kids.
You could blame Joan Collins in “Dynasty” or the Regean-era yuppies. However, whatever the truth, it’s undeniable that a fashion trend originally intended as power dressing for executive women quickly became a fashion statement that spread to both sexes and across the social demographics. Nothing says “the 1980s” better than a shoulder pad!
We blame Tom Selleck and Freddie Mercury for starting it and…..everyone else for jumping on the hirsute bandwagon. Trouble was, while Tom and Freddie absolutely rocked their mustaches, everyone else – or, rather, everyone else’s Dads – failed to hit the mark with their facial hair styling.
The preppy look
The preppy look doesn’t only belong to WASP-Y individuals from the 50s. Perhaps the 80s’ version is traceable to (pre-makeover) Sandra Dee in Grease or perhaps it stems from Ivy League students coming up with the (satirical) “Official Preppy Handbook”. Either way, a cashmere sweater draped artfully over the shoulders became its signature calling card.
Dungeons and Dragons
The recent hit “Stranger Things” reminded a generation of how much they’d loved games like Dungeons and Dragons. Sure, it was dorky to hang out in a basement pretending to be wizards and warlocks but it was a harmless kind of dorky – and one we’d love to see more of today’s kids emulating.
We’re not sure how crimped – and, hence, highly heat-damaged – hair became such a must-have style. After all, nothing encourages frizz like a crimping iron. However, crimped dovetailed nicely with the era’s trend for big, big, bigger hair. And, like back combing and perming, crimping has even managed to stage the occasional post-80s revival.
Athleisure at its absolute worst, shell suits – shiny, and oh so very flammable polyester – suited no one and were worn by everyone (or, at least, far too high a percentage of “everyone”). That said, they were comfortable to wear, colorful and fitted the “look at me” ethos of the 80s to an absolute T.
Originating on the streets of London, punk fashion crossed the Atlantic, gripped a generation and horrified parents everywhere. It wasn’t just the extreme hairstyles, the dark makeup or even the safety pins through the ears; it was what punk stood for – or seemed to. Nowadays, all those ex-punks are late-middle aged teachers, suburbanites and even, probably, the occasional banker.
Wedding dress fashion
In her voluminous gown with its immensely long and slightly crushed train, Princess Di set the tone for the decade. Wedding gowns on both sides of the Atlantic soon had puffed sleeves, as many ruffles as the fabric could take and, usually, a lustrous or shiny tone to the material.
Strawberry Shortcake vitamins
Parents in the 80s cared about their kids’ health. In fact, they cared so much that they frequently made sure to give them regular multivitamins. However, unlike today’s sugar-free, organic gummies, the vitamins of the 80s were candy-colored, candy-flavored, loaded with sugar and branded with Strawberry Shortcake or, possibly, Fred Flintstone.
Given that it was the era of the Brat Pack, it’s no surprise that the movies of the 80s are still revered by those who saw them first time round – and many of those who came to them in later generations. Of course, it wasn’t all “St Elmo’s Fire”, “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Pretty in Pink”. The 80s also gave us the second two films in the Jaws franchise…
Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High
In the 80s, before social media and streaming, kids still read books. And Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High both came high on their must-read lists. Other classic kid literature of the era included anything by Lois Lowry and, of course, for the more independently-minded reader, the “choose your own adventure” books.