In the 1980s, the hair was big, the clothes were big (nice shoulder pads), the music was big, and the political climate was grandiose, too (Reaganomics, “Star Wars”). With the introduction of the cellular phone and cable television, this decade triggered much of the tech boom that would really get cooking in subsequent decades. With the ever-increasing range and scope of the media, music- and electronics-based fads got bigger and faster in the ’80s. Here are a few fads that took the country by storm and helped define the generation that just wanted its MTV.
One of the most successful gaming consoles of all time is the Atari 2600.
Did you, like, realize that in the ’80s, like, everyone totally got pulled into this thing called Valspeak? Seriously! The old way of talking with, like, specificity and declarative statements was, like, super lame-o! Like, whatever! So, like, the San Fernando Valley in California was, like, the place where it started. But soon it was a nationwide, like, trend. Can you even stand it? And it’s totally still, like, a thing? You know, like, a totally awesome way of speaking. And, like, you thought Valley Girls were a passing fad. Whatever!
2. The Walkman
Though the technology looks ancient to us today, we wouldn’t have the beloved iPod if it wasn’t for the Walkman. In 1979, Sony introduced their first portable music player in Japan. By 1980, America had jumped on the bandwagon, and there were dozens of portable cassette players on the market. They were heavy, didn’t deliver great sound quality, and initially cost upwards of $150, but it didn’t matter — they were delivering tunes to the masses, one tape at a time.
The name of the gaming system that started them all loosely translates from Japanese to mean “prepare to be attacked.” Thus, it’s fitting that the first video games were simple UFO shooting games or games such as Frogger, which required players to move a frog across a busy road without getting squished. Atari, Inc., was formed in 1972, and five years later one of the most successful gaming consoles of all time — the Atari 2600 — was released. Millions of consumers bought the devices and spent hours (and days) glued to the TV set, playing Q*Bert, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders. The Atari company consolidated a few years ago but still has a hand in shaping today’s much more advanced gaming world.
4. Break Dancing
When DJ Kool Herc took the dance break sections off vinyl records and remixed them into one another to create a longer, funkier song, break dancing was born. These extended breaks gave NYC street dancers all the time in the world to showcase their gravity-defying moves, including the pop and lock, the windmill, the freeze, the moonwalk, the worm, and the closing “suicide.” It’s believed that the first break-dancing trend occurred among rival gang members who used the dance style to settle disputes. As the media attention grew for this competitive, visually exhilarating dance style, so did its popularity. The fashion, the music, and the dance moves themselves became hallmarks of ’80s youth culture.
5. Parachute Pants
If you’re thinking about break dancing, you’d be wise to consider your outfit — not only do you need to look “fresh” and “fly,” you need to be able to slide, slip, and spin on a dance floor and regular pants just won’t do. Baggy in the thigh and narrow at the ankle, parachute pants increased mobility for dancers who needed more flexible clothing. The pants were often made of synthetic materials (you can backspin way better in a poly-blend than you can in cotton) and usually came in bright colors. As break dancing became cooler, the clothes of these street dancers became the “in” fashion trend and even kids in the suburbs were donning parachute pants.
6. Swatch Watches
In 1983, the Swatch Group, Ltd., of Switzerland had an idea. They thought that watches could be less of a financial investment for the stuffy and time-conscious and more of a disposable, funky accessory. Their idea was a big hit. Swatch watches came in hundreds of different colors and styles, and some were even scented! Many people chose to wear several styles at once, loading up two, three, even six Swatches on their wrists at the same time. If you wanted to know what time it was in the 1980s, you probably got your information from a Swatch watch. Swatch Group is still the largest watch company in the world, although it is hard to find someone using a Swatch as a ponytail holder these days.
7. Hair Bands
The heavy-metal music of the 1980s was typified by a heavy, guitar-and-drums-centered sound with highly amplified distortion, fairly raunchy lyrics (for the time), and plenty of dramatic builds. The heavy-metal lifestyle was typified by beer, girls, leather, and really big hair. As the music got louder and bolder from groups like Warrant, Motley Crue, and Poison, the hair got bigger and fluffier — and we’re not just talking about the girls. These “hair bands” were so named because of the impossible-to-ignore hair swung around by the guitar-playing men onstage.
While some kids were break-dancing, and others were coiffing their hair sky-high with hair spray and mousse, preppies were busy wearing chinos and loafers, talking about sailboat races, and working with their financial advisors. Preppie was a word used to describe the clean-cut teens, twenty- and thirtysomethings of the ’80s who could usually be spotted wearing pink and playing tennis. With the release of the tongue-in-cheek (but frighteningly accurate) Official Preppy Handbook in 1980, it was easy to spot a preppie — or a preppie wannabe — anywhere.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen [Credit: HowStuffWorks.com]