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’80s Toys, Fads, and Trends

July 10, 2012

I was born in 1980. My memory of the decade is fairly fuzzy. This is a result of the fact that I spent a healthy portion of time receiving wedgies, dead arms, steamrollers, and typewriters from my older brothers. Nevertheless, in honor of the decade that brought us Chunk, Data, Strawberry Shortcake, and Cabbage Patch Kids I have compiled a list of some of my favorite toys, fads, and trends from the decade. Here they are:

Shoulder Pads

Nothing screamed sexy quite like a woman who looked like a linebacker. This piece of fashion fulfilled Blanche’s inner fantasy to look like Lawrence Taylor.  Women desired power in the 80s and shoulder pads helped them achieve their goal. Notables to wear shoulder pads: The Golden Girls, Claire Huxtable, the cast members of Designing Women, Princess Di, and Small Wonder.

Bandana Headbands

Looking tough was cool in the 80s. Bandana headbands helped. The Karate kid was probably the most iconic user of the bandana headband in the 80s. Brand from Goonies was a close second. Brand was a fashion rebel as evidenced by his sweat shorts over his sweatpants move. Nobody else has ever executed that move or even tried.

Sweater Vests

If you wanted to look intellectual, sweater vests were the way to go. Sweater vests were often accompanied by a mustache and a pipe. Notable wearers of the sweater vest include Mr. Belvedere and Mr. Rogers.


No list about the 1980s is complete without Nintendo. It was the 1980s. My parents bought the original NES for my brothers and I in 1986. We got the Gyromite version. Gyromite was a robot who doubled as my friend before my neighbor Corn moved into the neighborhood in 1987. My greatest NES accomplishment was beating Mike Tyson in Punchout with the help of Little Mac’s trainer who looked like Al Roker. Best games: Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Ice Hockey, Double Dribble, Super Mario Brothers, Spy Hunter, Zelda, Rush ‘N Attack.


Imagine it is the present day. You’re the father of a high school girl. You are sitting in your house quietly and you happen to look outside your house and you find a kid holding a boom box in his high tops on your front lawn. You would probably call the police. In the 80s, you invited him inside. This act was seen as charming as evidenced by John Cusack in Say Anything. Stalking was all the rage. John Cusack wasn’t alone. Do you remember Kirby, played by Emilio Estevez, from St. Elmo’s Fire and his obsession with Dr. Dale, played by Andy McDowell? Kirby followed her around in sleet and snow. He was a creeper and how did McDowell react? She took a picture with him. Today, Kirby would occupy the block list on your Facebook.

Metal Slides

If you were a kid at recess during the 1980s and were looking for a surefire way to burn your legs then this bad boy was for you. A woman once sued McDonald’s for getting burnt by their coffee. A kid at recess could have sued a school for the damage these bad boys did to your legs on a 90 degree day. They weren’t slides. They were death traps.

Sony Walkman

The Sony Walkman was all the rage for teenagers back in the ’80s. They served as the home for mix tapes everywhere. Back in the late 80s, my older brother used to make his mix tape for his girlfriend featuring songs like “Groovy Kind of Love” by Phil Collins and “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles and she would play them on her Walkman. Another common trend during the 80s was taping songs from the radio and putting them on a cassette.

Denim on Denim

WWF superstar Hillbilly Jim flawlessly executed the jean overalls move in the 1980s. It takes a lot of confidence to pull off straight blue or blue on blue. Notable 80s icons who rocked denim on denim include: Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club, early stage Uncle Jesse Katsopolis, and Corey Haim.

Witty Answering Machine Messages

“Wait for the beep! You gotta leave your name. You gotta leave your number. Wait for the beep!” Seemlingly every hip family had their own custom answering machine message. My brother and I recorded a version of “Hello” by Lionel Richie for our home answering machine. I started the recording by saying, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for or my mom, dad, Colleen, Pat, Kathy, Andrew, or Brian? I can see it in your eyes. I can see it in your smile. You want to leave a message so please wait for the beep.”

Rotary Phone

In today’s world, teenage boys ask girls out to the prom by texting them or writing on their Facebook wall. Back in the 80s, boys had to dial the girl’s house directly by dialing the rotary phone. This led to the inevitable awkward conversation with her dad or brother before getting the green light to speak to her

Honorable Mention

-Rubix Cube
-Leg Warmers
-Nintendo Power Magazine
-Rabbit ears
-Ray-Ban Wayfarers

  1. I like all this, but definitely appreciate the originality of including the metal slide. That experience led to my fear of all playground equipment–pretty much up to the present day. it would get so hot, even in winter, and would produce a feeling worse than an indian-burn as it screeched on the way down. good call!!

    • The ones that scared me the most were the coiled rides at McDonalds that used to rock back and forth. I once jumped in front of my brother riding the Hamburgler only to suffer a concussion.

  2. Eileen Gallagher Dunham permalink

    Oh my gosh. Two things: those phones were awesome and from the 60’s even. We had a blue rotary phone in my parents bedroom, and I went and saw The Help, there it was! So, what did I do? Bought one! I now have an aqua blue rotary phone in my house. Two: there was one good thing about those metal slides. Who has ever played “Squeeze the Lemon”?!

  3. I especially liked the way walkman headphones did almost nothing to contain the sound. So, if you are riding in the car and your older sister has a walkman and you do not, you still have the pleasure of listening to her Young MC tape slightly muffled.
    My parents still have a rotary phone in their bedroom. If you ask my mom about it, she will tell you how it’s the only phone that still works when they lose power, and it could double as a weapon in case of an intruder.

  4. I miss the 80s so goddamn much. The tv, the music, the films, the smells, the flavor. No decade will ever match the greatness & spectacle of the 80s. No decade will ever be as special. You look at kids today & the 80s sadly are ancient history to them. I wish I could hop in a DeLorean & revisit that amazing time everyday. I was born Wednesday June 1st, 1977. This gives me the ability to have a full & vivid recollection of that time. I remember waking up on New Year’s Eve Sunday December 31st, 1989 crying at random moments during the day because soon, the greatest decade ever would soon come to an end. Bono sang all is quiet on New Year’s Day. The 90s were so boring when stacked up against the 80s. I think culturally & musically the 80s ended on Tuesday January 8th, 1991 when my world came crashing down when MTV NEWS announced the death of Steve Clark of DEF LEPPARD. I was home sick from school that day & I strongly believe that was the reason why. There was an ill wind in the air & after I heard the news I broke down crying!!!!! I remembered how 1989 was the year of the lasts for Steve Clark. ROCKET was his last video & TEAR IT DOWN at the 1989 VMAs was his last final live performance. Every kid born near the end or in the 90s is lost. Lost by never ever being able to experience that wonderful, amazing time when DEF LEPPARD’s most recent record was HYSTERIA. I so wish I could relive the 80s all over again.

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