If you’ve ever fixed a malfunctioning Nintendo cartridge by blowing into it, or ridden (sans seatbelt) in a wood-paneled station wagon, or got totally excited because a folded piece of notebook paper predicted you’d someday live in a mansion, congratulations: you likely experienced the phenomenon known as the ‘80s.
Those of us who were kids or tweens or teens back then are a special breed, watching the world go from 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs to MP3s, remembering when microwaves and VCRs were fancy. We can navigate Netflix, but we still know the struggle of getting up to change the channel on our boxy Magnavox TV. We are smartphone-savvy, but have spent our fair share of time stretching the phone cord as far away from the wall as it could go.
It was a great time to grow up, free of the pressures and pretenses of social media, where “no filter” was the rule, not the exception – because you never knew how a picture would turn out until you got your film developed, anyway. (Kids today will never know the excitement of finally picking up that envelope from the photo counter.)
If any of this is making you fondly reminisce, you’re in for a treat. Strap on your Reebok high-tops, kids: we’re about to step back into some totally tubular 1980s nostalgia.
1. Reality shows weren’t a thing in the ‘80s.
We watched family-friendly sitcoms like Family Ties, Diff’rent Strokes, Growing Pains, ALF, Webster, Perfect Strangers, Three’s Company, Cheers, and The Golden Girls. Our parents got their drama from Miami Vice, Dallas, and Dynasty – and you knew somebody who watched daytime soap operas obsessively and talked about the characters like they were people they hung out with. And of course, there were the nail-biters of the day, Rescue 911 and Unsolved Mysteries (I swore I wasn’t scared of the show, but that theme song though …).
If we were really lucky, we’d get to go to the video store and rent a movie, trying to contain our raging curiosity about what kind of VHS tapes were behind that curtained-off area. If we were unlucky, some asshole had “forgotten” to rewind so we had to wait an extra five minutes before we could watch.
2. Cartoons were a special Saturday morning ritual, not an everyday occurrence.
We’d pour a bowl of cereal – which still had awesome prizes in the box, by the way, the standard by which we chose what cereal to beg our moms for – and watch Jem and the Holograms and the Muppet Babies (we make our dreams come tru-uuue) and Warner Brothers cartoons and USA Cartoon Express, and wish He-Man and She-Ra would hook up even though they were actually, like, siblings or something. There were also the non-cartoon exceptions, like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Punky Brewster. On regular days, we watched PBS: Reading Rainbow, 3-2-1 Contact, Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street. And even that wasn’t an all-day lineup – which left us plenty of time to get outside and play.
3. We could just get out and go.
Back in those days (*insert wistful stroking of long white beard*), if we were gone for hours, well, our moms just figured somebody in the neighborhood was feeding us a bologna sandwich and a Capri Sun for lunch. We’d ride all over the place on our banana seat bikes without a care in the world. We’d convene at the house of whoever’s freezer was stocked with Otter Pops, and we’d sit in the yard or on the stoop slurping them down with gusto, even though the package felt like glass shards against the sides of our mouths as we tried to suck out every last drop of juice.
4. Our parents didn’t seem to worry much about our consumption of junk foods.
Probably because we spent all day running and biking here and there. We ate Jell-O Pudding Pops (blissfully unaware of exactly how slimy their spokesman, Bill Cosby, really was) and Hostess Pudding Pies. We cracked open a bag of Tato Skins or Cool Ranch Doritos and washed them down with a Hi-C Ecto Cooler or some Kool-Aid. We chomped on Fruit Roll-Ups like it was our job.
5. We had the coolest toys.
When we were playing indoors, we were all about the Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies, Popples, Pound Puppies, Barbies, Transformers, My Buddy and Kid Sister dolls, and the coveted talking Teddy Ruxpin that all the cool kids seemed to have. We traded Garbage Pail Kids cards with our friends. We read along with storybooks on record with our little Fisher-Price record players, or just listened while we colored and created pictures of fabulous ‘80s outfits with our Fashion Plates.
6. Because of course, fashion was fun.
Jeans were acid-washed. Shoulders were padded. Waists were properly fanny-packed. Everything was neon. Earrings were long, gloves were fingerless, and socks were layered. We owned at least one outfit with elastic cuffs. Preppy was a Polo shirt with a popped collar. Jackets were Members Only. Sweaters were colorblocked. Gitano and Jordache, Izod and Esprit. Happiness was collecting new charms for our plastic charm bracelets and necklaces. And even going to the gym was a fashion show; no self-respecting woman of the ‘80s worked out in anything but a leotard, legwarmers, and sweat bands.
To bring our looks together, we had jelly shoes in every color, with their remarkable capability to make our feet sweaty AF even though they were literally full of holes. (I can still recall the gnarly smell of said sweaty feet.) Très chic.
If we were old enough then to take matters into our own hands, we were trying to get closer to heaven via sky-high hair, sprayed stiff enough to withstand a category-5 hurricane. There was just more hair in the ‘80s, period. Big, fluffy, feathered, crimped, permed (with an Ogilvie home perm: it curled the hair on your head and singed the hair in your nose). A proper ‘80s coif was either crispy or poofy; there was no in-between. We did it up with plastic headbands and gargantuan floppy bows and banana clips and – if our moms were still fixing our ‘dos in those days – those hair ties with the plastic balls that always snapped against our skulls (pretty sure I still have dents).
7. A trip to the drugstore was all you needed for your beauty and skin care needs.
We’d scrub our faces with Noxema and Sea Breeze astringent and wash our hair with Finesse or strawberry-scented Suave, then take out our Caboodles, stocked with the ubiquitous beauty products of the day: blue eyeshadow and mascara, bright blush, candy-pink or fuschia lipstick.
If we weren’t yet allowed to wear full-on makeup, we dabbled with kid-friendly cosmetics like Tinkerbell (peel-off nail polish!), Maybelline Kissing Koolers (or their roll-on counterpart, Kissing Potion), Lee Press-On Nails, or Fazz – remember those? They were plastic jewelry, in lightning bolts or other geometric shapes, with makeup in them. WEARABLE. MAKEUP. We smelled like Love’s perfumes – Baby Soft, Rain, and the other one that smelled like lemon Pledge. And if you didn’t own a bottle of Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth, with the neon-pink plastic spiral inside, were you even alive in the ‘80s?
8. The roller skating rink was the center of your universe.
We spruced ourselves up to hang out at the roller skating rink, the bowling alley, and the arcade, where we skated or bowled or flirted to the soundtrack of the day blaring over the speakers: Def Leppard, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Prince, the Bangles, Madonna, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Springsteen, Queen, Billy Idol (and Chicago for the slow jams, and Kool and the Gang to cel-e-brate good times, c’mon). Speaking of soundtracks, we made our own by way of mixtapes – which we painstakingly waited beside our boomboxes to record when our fave songs came on the radio. And oh, the soul-crushing agony when your favorite cassette unraveled.
9. School in the ‘80s was a buzzkill, of course, in the grand tradition of education.
We had to tackle school projects by using encyclopedias and thumbing endlessly through the library’s card catalog – ugh. But we did have some good stuff, like Trapper Keepers and scented stickers to decorate them with. We passed intricately-folded notes to our friends and played M.A.S.H. during downtime. We had book fairs, where we bought the latest installments of The Baby-Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High and Choose Your Own Adventure. We could earn our very own personal pan pizzas with the Book-It program from Pizza Hut. On special occasions, we got to play Oregon Trail on those boxy Apple II computers with the floppy disks.
10. If we couldn’t talk to our friends in person after school, we called them on our phones.
If we were lucky, we had one of those cool see-through phones and we hoped we wouldn’t get a busy signal. We were tethered to the wall, so long phone cords were everything. The better to reach the fridge or the couch or to tangle around our fingers or our feet while we tied up the line for hours.
Yes, the ‘80s were unique: childhood simplicity, on the cusp of technology. And those of us who grew up in that time are pretty fortunate, because it shaped us into the awesome people we are today. You guys, we not only survived, but thrived through a decade where standard playground equipment could cause third-degree burns and a curly mullet was the height of coolness. Remind yourself of that next time anything gets too tough. We’re ‘80s kids, and I pity the fool who didn’t get to experience everything that entailed.
Do you miss the ‘80s? Check yes or no.