As long as kids in their scrunchies and off-the-shoulder Flashdance sweatshirts are considered retro and cool, it seems a shame that we not embrace other, less glamorous traditions from the 1980s just as enthusiastically.
We all know fresh vegetables are better than processed crap, we know that low-cal fake food should be shelved in favor of good fats and whole grains. We know Aussie Sprunch Spray is definitely carcinogenic, and it has been scientifically proven we will take a decade off our lives if we keep standing in front of the microwave. But there are certain genius inventions that came to prominence in the decade that brought us Intellivision, Reaganomics and Salon Selectives that it nonetheless seems a terrible shame to let go.
“Are you lactose intolerant?” ask concerned friends when I am caught adding Coffee-Mate to a perfectly brewed cup of black coffee. “No, I am not,” I tell them with a little smile, “but every second counts in the morning, and who can’t get behind a milk-like substance that also sweetens and adds a delicious burst of flavor like Vanilla or Crème Brûlée or Thin Mints all in one pour?” “But isn’t it all CHEMICALS?” they ask, bless their hearts. Well, I tell them, it’s actually almost all vegetable oil and, in addition, it’s nearly shelf-stable, so it won’t spoil like those pesky organic dairy products. You don’t even have to brew coffee—just boil up some water, add a spoonful of instant coffee and a few tablespoons of Coffee-Mate, and you have yourself a delicious morning treat.
2. Electric Blankets
I don’t really understand why these gems ever fell out of favor. On a bitter cold winter’s night, those nights when you can see your breath in the bedroom and your husband insists you sleep with the window open because it’s “better for you,” who hasn’t wished to hunker down under a toasty electric blanket cranked up to 8? I’m pretty sure that fire hazard rumor was all a scam perpetrated by the makers of down duvets, but you don’t have to fall for their dirty tricks anymore. They even make electric blankets with different controls for each side of the bed, so you can set up two totally different climates in the California king and everyone can slumber peacefully.
3. Lean Cuisine
It’s a dinner for one that cooks in 4 minutes! Sure, it’s not your first choice for getting in the your daily FDA-recommended nutrients, but in a pinch, why not take a walk down culinary memory lane and enjoy a single-lady portion of LC Mac and Cheese and a diet soda for dinner tonight? For 280 calories, you could do a lot worse. For instance, you could have 280 calories of Entenmann’s pound cake.
Snackwell’s, Jane Fonda aerobics and unlimited options for diet soda—oh, to have been a woman trying to lose a few pounds in the 1980s. It was a simpler time, a time before carbs were bad for you and Tab was the classiest cola in town. I’ll admit it’s tough to track down Tab these days, but I am not averse to a Fresca or everyone’s favorite standby, Diet Coke, to accompany my frozen dinner.
Some might argue that you should just drag out the Hoover and actually vacuum your apartment every once in a while, Melissa, but I am here to say that a woman can quite effectively get the effect of full vacuuming by spot-cleaning vigilantly with a DustBuster whenever she spies a mess of crumbs on the rug or a fur coat’s worth of dog hair on the couch (fur coats: Where are THEY now?). Why did people stop loving their DustBusters? Is it because Dirt Devils and Dysons and other lightweight vacuums have rendered their convenience obsolete? I spilled an entire shaker of salt on my stove last week, and I DustBustered it up before I was even fully conscious it was spilled. DustBusters: They bust more than dust.
6. OXY 10
Screw Retin A and other fancy potions prescribed by the dermatologist to treat the weird adult acne that comes on at around 25 and it seems we will be stuck with for the rest of our lives. I still swear by Oxy and its twin brother, Clearasil, for drying up zits overnight. Sometimes I even leave for work with a crusty white spot still on my face, and I wear it proudly.
7. Cottage Cheese
My dad used to make us buttered noodles with cottage cheese, and while some people may scoff at a meal with absolutely no color whatsoever, it’s still my comfort food of choice. Cottage cheese alone is delicious. Cottage cheese with fruit is divine. The best cottage cheese, for those who are as upset by Friendship brand as I am, is Organic Valley. The second best is Light n’ Lively, still in the turquoise-blue tub that’s been its comforting trademark since the ’80s.
8. Crystal Light
It’s sugar-free Kool-Aid, but with attitude. Classier. Sure, spilling even a drop of Crystal Light “Iced Tea” on the counter leaves a disturbing reddish stain that is impossible to remove without a scouring pad and bleach, but would you rather I not drink any water at all? I thought not.
Who went through the entire ’80s with stick-straight hair and never got a perm, even though every single one of her friends did? Who thought at age 34 she didn’t want to go through her entire life never knowing what it was like to have a mane of wild curls and so marched into her hairdresser and demanded a perm? Am I the only one? As I sat there in the poisonous haze of perm chemicals, the rest of the women in the salon wrinkling their noses behind their InTouch magazines, I wondered what had taken me so long to bite the bullet.
Well, I found out when the rods were removed and I had a weird kinky crimping-iron hairstyle that did not, as I’d hoped, when faced with a diffuser and some DevaCurl spray, turn into Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza. I got a bad, bad perm in 2009, and I spent the next eight months blowing my hair out straight, just as any naturally curly haired girl would. I still want curly hair, though, and have been known to spend a few hours in the bathroom with a can of Aqua Net and a Conair curling iron trying to achieve it. Old habits die hard, alas.
This article was originally published on