Anybody who grew up in the 1980s will tell you the 80s were wild in the best way ever. MTV rocked the world! There were new, bold fashion and hair trends. Kids spent hours playing Super Mario Brothers. Shopping malls became teen hangouts. By the mid-1980s, as creativity mixed with television, technology, and commercialism, there was always something new to do, see, or try. Enjoy a blast from the past with some colorful 80s nostalgia.
The 80s Redefined Television
You might find it hard to imagine life without 700 television channels from which to choose or the excitement an 80s kid felt when their family finally connected to cable TV. During the 80s, cable television grew increasingly popular and brought a new world of colorful entertainment into homes. With cable came remote controls, followed by videocassette recorders (VCRs) that enabled you to tape one show while watching another. Or better yet, to watch movies on your TV.
The Golden Age of MTV Music Television
It was 1981 when MTV came to cable television, and it wasn't long before everyone wanted MTV. It's safe to say that MTV revolutionized music forever. And wasn't it prophetic that the first music video that aired on MTV was "Video Killed the Radio Star?"
Music Comes to Life
Sleepovers and nights when you stayed up late watching MTV with friends were the best. Were you thrilled by Michael Jackson's "Thriller?" Dazzled by Madonna's "Like a Virgin?" And overjoyed that Boy George looked beautiful wearing makeup when Culture Club performed "Karma Chameleon?" MTV magically brought music to life with its amazing costuming, makeup, storylines, and dramatic performances.
All hail the 'Queen of MTV!' If you were young in the 80s, you couldn't get enough of Madonna. She put an edgy spin on every music video she created, and critics considered them works of art. Her first videos to receive attention on MTV were "Borderline," "Lucky Star," "Like a Virgin," and "Material Girl."
It's said that no mere mortal could ever resist the evil of "Thriller." The year was 1983 when you first felt chills going up and down your spine when watching Michael Jackson's zombie moves in "Thriller." The video, with its choreography, makeup, and costuming, has become iconic. "Thriller" is regarded as one of the best music videos ever made.
Hip-hoppers and rappers stood up and cheered in 1984 when they heard the first rap music video on MTV. When MTV premiered, disco was dying, and hip hop was blossoming. Sadly, MTV ignored hip-hop artists. It wasn't until 1984, when Run-D.M.C. refused to be ignored, that the first rap video, "Rock Box," played on MTV. The group retired in 2002 when Jam Master Jay was killed. But Run-D.M.C. led the way in bringing rap and hip-hop into the mainstream, and their 1986 track "My Adidas" gave birth to the sneaker culture and product endorsements.
Remember how rad you felt rocking out with your Walkman on the school bus? Or the fun of making mixtapes on your home stereo to share with friends and dates on your Walkman? Having a Walkman was somewhat of a status symbol and a fashion statement to 80s kids. The 1980s were the heyday for the Walkman, Sony's iconic personal handheld cassette player.
Home Answering Machines
It may seem inconceivable to 21st-century kids that once upon a time, if you phoned someone and they didn't answer, you couldn't leave a message. You just had to keep calling until the person answered. That all changed in 1984 with the rise of in-home answering machines. The first home answering machines were boxes that were hooked up to your phone that allowed callers to leave messages for you on a cassette tape.
During the '80s, being the first family in the neighborhood to have a computer in your home was a big deal that gave you bragging rights. Although websites and America Online (AOL) were still a few years away, people could still play games, do simple tasks, and store data on floppy disks.
Blockbuster: Your Golden Ticket to the Movies
Nothing beat the thrill of heading to Blockbuster on a Friday night, hoping you'd get your hands on the latest movie release to pop into your VCR. 80s kids who didn't get to see a movie in the theater would eagerly await the film's video release, and Blockbuster was their golden ticket. The beloved video rental store burst onto the scene in 1985 and boasted 1000 stores by the end of the decade. Kids used to today's streaming services will never know what it meant to "be kind and rewind" a VHS tape or the pain of paying a late fee for not returning the videotape back to Blockbuster by noon the next day.
The Best 80s Movies
Just like the decade, the movies of the 80s were decidedly diverse, unquestionably interesting, assuredly surprising, and as the films below prove, long remembered.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Who can forget the scene in the movie when E.T. gets all dressed up in girl's clothes as Gertie teaches him how to talk... when all he really wants to do is "phone home." E.T. was a heartwarming movie about a lost alien attempting to make his way home. The film also perfectly captures the early 80s atmosphere of a suburban home and neighborhood. From Elliot's "Star Wars" figures to Gertie's Speak & Spell to the BMX bikes and Reese's Pieces, the movie is filled with memories of life in the 80s. E.T. earned the highest box office ratings of the 1980s and spawned countless imitations and endless merchandise. "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" is a film that will long live in the hearts of those who saw it.
You'd probably have difficulty finding any individual who doesn't know the "Who You Gonna Call?" portion of the Ghostbusters' theme song. Ghostbusters was popular enough to get a sequel and two reboots. Even now, new Ghostbuster merchandise, games, and more are released. Ghostbusters is still so popular that in 2022 the MLB launched a new Ghostbusters' inspired ad campaign.
Top Gun (1986)
Remember Maverick, Ice Man, Goose, Viper, Jester, and Slider? Those were the nicknames of the main characters in "Top Gun." Tom Cruise played Maverick, the hot-headed naval pilot, and the role catapulted him to superstardom. Top Gun contained a heavy dose of patriotism, romance, and drama, and proved that good films never die. "Top Gun: Maverick" is back (2022) with a new set of nicknames and has broken box office records for Paramount Pictures.
Today's teenagers will never know the feeling of freedom or the fun of hanging out at the mall with friends or of making a beeline to Merry-Go-Round to purchase a bustier just like Madonna's or a jacket just like Michael Jackson was wearing in his music video for "Beat It." Every 80s mall had a Merry-Go-Round, a teen-oriented clothing store that carried trends that came from MTV. The mall was the center of the universe for teens in the 80s. Teenagers shopped and worked at the mall, ate in the mall's food court, watched movies, and spent time in the arcade. The 1980s were the glory days for shopping malls, and many stores, now gone but not forgotten, catered to teens roaming the mall.
Everyone who grew up in the 80s will tell you they had the best childhood. It's not likely an 80s kid can forget running home from school each day to play video games, watch Nickelodeon and eat snacks, or waking up early on Saturday morning to watch cartoons.
Playing video games was the 80s equivalent of killing time on your cell phone or tablet. Kids spend entire days glued to the screen trying to help Mario save the princess. Or playing Donkey Kong by moving Mario left and right on the girders, up and down the ladders, and avoiding obstacles by jumping over them, smashing them with the hammer, or going around them. Mario vs. Donkey Kong! The fight of the 80s! This was when video game cartridges (and there were many video games) were slid into a home gaming console plugged into the TV.
During the 80s, kids flipped the channel to Nick and plopped down in front of the TV to watch the "vegetarian vampire" on Count Duckula, and to see what music videos were playing on Nick Rock. Every Nick kid's dream was to be a contestant on "Double Dare" or to have the question they'd sent to "Mr. Wizard's World" be answered on TV. While 80s teens were saying, "I want my MTV!" younger kids said, "I Want Nick!" Nickelodeon was the first cable channel geared especially for children.
If you're a young adult reading this, you're probably surprised that your parents snacked on the same type of junk food they wouldn't allow you to eat growing up. Every 80s kid had to have Reese's Pieces, the colorful sugar shell coated bite of sweetened peanut butter, especially since they were E.T.'s favorite candy. And what about these others?
Dixies Drumstick Snack Crackers were cute and delicious! They were shaped like miniature drumsticks and tasted like chicken.
What was better than watching TV with a bag of Act II microwave popcorn at your side? Act II was the first shelf-stable microwave popcorn with butter flavoring.
Remember saving that Push Pop under your pillow? A Push Pop was a lollipop that you pushed out of a plastic tube and pushed back in to save for later.
Oh, what a treat those tasty and big handheld fried pies were. Hostess Pudding Pies had a yummy sugary crust filled with vanilla or chocolate pudding.
Saturday Morning Cartoons
Happy Saturday morning! Mom and dad were sleeping late when you crawled out of bed, made yourself a huge bowl of sugar masquerading as cereal, turned on the TV, and began watching a barrage of cartoons. You sat on the edge of your seat when Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo set off on their wild and spooky adventures. And how about the laughs you got when you watched the shenanigans of the Flintstone Kids? From Mr. T to Pac-Man to Teen Wolf, 80s kids hung out with some really odd characters on Saturday mornings.
Fashion in the 80s
From colors and fabrics to jewelry, hair, makeup, accessories, layers, and jeans, more was better in the 80s. Neon colors rocked, as did splashy prints, stripes, and blocked colored tops. There was the Madonna look, the hip-hop look, the grunge look, and the heavy metal look... black clothes, long hair, and leather jackets. Young guys copied Michael Jackson's "Mike" look and wore cropped jackets, cropped pants, loafers, and white socks. Then there was the "Miami Vice" look with rolled-up jacket sleeves, tank tops, and the color pink (Yes, you read that right - men wore pink in the 80s).
There were waist-high jeans, skinny jeans, acid-washed jeans, baggy jeans, knee-ripped jeans, and designer jeans. But everyone also wore stirrup pants, jogger pants, and parachute pants, also known as harem pants or "Hammer" pants. These weird-looking but comfy pants were trending during the 80s and could be found in every fashionable clothing store in shopping malls.
Remember Olivia Newton-John's 1981 music video "Physical" and Jane Fonda's first exercise video released in 1982? They helped create the fitness craze in the 80s. It might be hard to believe, but gym wear was so popular in the 80s that it became streetwear. Young women wore off-the-shoulder torn sweatshirts over leotards with scrunched-up neon-colored legwarmers over spandex tights and sweatbands around their heads as they went about their day-to-day activities.
Oh, what fun nostalgic memories many people have of riding the mechanical bull and spending a night line dancing in 80s urban honky-tonks. The 1980 movie "Urban Cowboy," starring John Travolta, started an urban cowboy trend. Western wear boomed and became a costume you could try on for a night out at one of the country music honky-tonks that were springing up all over (even in New York City). There were cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and big ol' belt buckles. Guys wore blue Wranglers with cowboy shirts, and there were teeny tank tops covered with tied-up shirts for the ladies.
Can you imagine a decade so bright that you had to wear oversized, funky sunglasses even at night? There were many styles of sunglasses, including cat-eyes, round styles, and zany neon styles. But the most favored were Ray Ban Wayfarers. The person who put Ray Bans on the map was Tom Cruise in his hit 1983 movie "Risky Business," followed by his now legendary 1986 movie "Top Gun."
Colorful Swatch Watches
Have you ever seen young people wear two or three watches on their arms? Well, that was a fad in the 80s. Watches joined the color-crazed 80s with the introduction of the bold and vibrant Swatch watch in 1983. Colorful, quirky, and fun, Swatch watches came in various designs, bright colors, and patterns.
Other Fashions for 80s Women
If you were a young 80s woman you wore leather jackets, ruffled blouses with puffy sleeves, t-shirts in neon colors, and mini-skirts made from denim, lycra, and leather. Low-heeled shoes, such as ankle booties and ballet flats, were favored. You even wore swirly dresses and skirts with cowboy boots. And who could forget the jumpsuits, dresses, and jackets with those massive shoulder pads that rivaled those of a football player?
Other Fashions for 80s Men
If you were a young man during the 80s you wore bomber jackets, leather jackets, windbreakers, denim jackets, and dad jeans. You also wore short shorts, t-shirts, crop tops, headbands, and tracksuits. If you had to dress up, it was broad-shouldered and oversized suits. Still, you preferred the more casual dressy look of a blazer over a t-shirt made famous by the detectives in the popular 80s TV show "Miami Vice."
Popular Children's Fashion from the 80s
Kids are cute no matter what they wear, but if you were an 80s kid, you copied what 80s teens wore. You often wore acid-washed jeans, thin shiny nylon pants with multiple pockets and zippers paired with an oversized baggy sweater or a top with bold stripes, neon colors, or pastels. You usually wore bright-colored tennis shoes on your feet with contrasting brightly colored shoelaces. And what fun it was wearing oversized sunglasses in neon colors and slap bracelets.
Wildly Popular 80s Hairstyles
From the perspective of the 21st century, looking back at your hair in those old pictures can be comical. It seems as if you had a blow dryer, a teasing comb, hair gel, and a huge can of Aqua-Net hairspray; you could do anything with your hair and make it as big as you liked.
There were side ponytails, male ponytails, mullets, teased hair, feathered hair, and mall bangs that stood on end and reached for the sky. Whether it was mile-high bangs, big curls, or big feathers, 80s hairstyles were just weird, wild, and big.
Curls, Curls, and More Curls
If you were a hairstylist, you raked in a bonanza because your time was spent giving one expensive spiral perm after another (men also began getting perms in the 80s). But there were also crimping irons, hot rollers, benders, and hot sticks. You get the idea; there was no shortage of ways to make your hair curly.
It was the decade of colorful scrunchies, hair bows, headbands, hair wraps, banana clips, big barrettes, little barrettes, hair combs, and flowered clips (really, anything it took to keep your big hair in place).
The Weird, Wild, and Wonderful 80s
During the 80s, each year simultaneously got wilder and more commercialized. By the mid-80s, it was like a perfect storm of creativity and commercialism. The 1980s are often erroneously called the "Decade of Greed." There's little doubt that the 80s brought materialism, growth, and an anything-goes attitude. And the anything-goes attitude is why those who grew up during the decade consider the 80s weird, wild, wonderful, and fun.