Classic Photos Of Real Life In The 1980s
Woman on a cellphone in the 1980s
We may think of the 1980s as the decade of big hair, bright colors, and screamingly loud heavy metal, but the decade was so much more than the excess with which its identified. Every decade takes time to settle into itself, and the ‘80s are no different. The early years are obviously in a ‘70s hangover, but by 1985 the time period has clearly found an aesthetic all its own.
If you lived with through the 1980s you definitely remember the sights and sounds of a changing world, the blips of an Atari, the thrill of eating cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons, and the sense of wonder that came with the new inventions and electronics that seemed to come out every day. Whether you were a mall rat, a jock, or a straight A student these photos of the go-go ‘80s will fill you with nostalgia until you feel radical all over again. Click ahead to relive a decade in time that none of us will ever want to forget!
Anyone seeing this woman walk through an airport terminal must have thought that she was from the distant future. She’s talking on a telephone, but she’s carrying it with her, can you imagine the possibilities? While we carry around cellphones that are tiny computer in our pockets today, back in the ’80s these bad boys were like carrying around a brick in your briefcase, and they cost thousands of dollars. Some of these units couldn’t even be used outside the car, as they actually required a base that was attached to something tangible. To really stay on the move with your cellular phone you had to shell out big bucks. Carrying one of these babies around was a huge power move.
Carrie Fisher in a trashcan
Carrie Fisher was the low key queen of the ‘80s. Even though she was small enough to fit in a trash can her outsized personality more than made up for it. However, much of her gregariousness came from the fact that she suffered from bipolar disease, something that she didn’t shy away from. She explained:
Having had this illness my entire life, I accommodated it by developing a very big personality. Over the years, writing about [having bipolar disorder] did help me to be able to talk about my illness in the abstract, to make light of it. That’s my way of surviving, to abstract it into something that’s funny and not dangerous.
Tailgating outside the Springsteen show
Is there any musician with as fervent a fanbase as The Boss? Bruce Springsteen is one of those once in a lifetime musician who not only speaks for an entire state, but a generation of people who work hard and dream of making it big. When Bruce comes to town - especially in the Northeast - fans with hungry hearts show up hours early to camp out in the parking lot and reminisce about their favorite songs before hearing them live. Fans in Philly are especially prepared - they come out with slow cookers to make sure they’ve got plenty to eat, there are even porta johns put in place for people who are making the long haul to see the Boss.
Steve Jobs riding a BMW bike in 1982
When National Geographic caught up with Steve Jobs in 1982 they wanted to take his portrait for their magazine, but he didn’t want to be thought about as an egghead who posed with his arms crossed in front of a bunch of computer processors, he wanted to be scene as the rebel who set Silicon Valley aflame. He had the magazine’s photographer follow him out on his bike and capture this amazing shot. One of Jobs’ friends interviewed for the article described the CEO as a pretty cool guy. He said:
In plaid shirt and jeans, [Jobs] still prefers to drive his motorcycle to my place, sit around and drink wine, and talk about what we’re going to do when we grow up.
So much soda, so little time
The soda aisle of the grocery store is a mini amusement park for kids and a landmine for parents. In the 1980s cola companies became increasingly prevalent because of their increased visibility through marketing and streamlined logos. Brands that had been around for decades like Pepsi and Mountain Dew were suddenly rivaling the sales of the monster Coca Cola thanks to commercials that named them as the drink of the new generation, while Coke faltered for the first time in a long time with the release of New Coke. What was your favorite cola to grab from the soda aisle?
A sparkler, a cigarette, and a baby - three things that you won't see together anymore
Growing up in the early ‘80s was a lot of fun. Parents were less worried about ways that a kid could injure themselves, and more often than not we were left to our own devices and allowed to make our own fun - that even goes for little lads like this. So much about this photo wouldn’t exist today, from the mullet wearing dad smoking a cigarette, to the baby getting ready to take a sparkler in its hand. Today there would be 10 other parents helicoptering around that baby to make sure it didn’t burn itself, and there’s no way that dad would be allowed to light up within 10 mile radius of anyone under 18.
Guardian Angels watching over the New York subway
In the 1980s the New York City subways were some of the most dangerous places to be regardless of the time of day. There wasn’t enough security on the subway, and the police were never around. In order to keep the metro safe, a group called the Magnificent 13 formed out of volunteers who rode the subways all night to make sure there was always someone around to take care of criminals. As their numbers grew the group changed their name to the Guardian Angels and riders could count on as many as 12 to 48 GA groups out at a time. The Angels clashed with the police quite often, but even though they didn’t have the support of the police they never abandoned the city they loved.
Drew Barrymore makes good on her "Firestarter" claims by lighting a cigarette for Stephen King at the film's premiere
Stephen King absolutely owned the cinema in the 1980s. Producers mined his fertile work for film and television adaptations that could range from the good to… well to the less good, and some of his most affecting adaptations featured a young Drew Barrymore in a starring role. 1984 saw Firestarter hit theaters, and even if you don’t remember exactly what happened in the movie you definitely remember the cover of the VHS, with a young Barrymore staring wild eyed into the camera as her hair flies around her against an orange backdrop. How did she get such an intense face? Barrymore told Harpers Bazaar:
I always said, 'Back off. Back off. Just back off, and don't make me angry.' Then I would clench my fists and scrunch my face a little bit and breathe rapidly, focus my eyes on something, and then blow it up.
The Hags, an all girl skateboarding crew hanging out in 1984
Started by Sevie Bates in the early ‘80s, the Hags were a raucous all-girl, punk rock skateboard club who were all skating on the periphery of Tony Alva and his Z-Boy skate crew in Los Angeles. Because they were girls they weren’t allowed to join any of the crews, so rather than give up, Bates made some back patches and started skating together. Early Hag Mimi Claire told Bust:
We’d skateboard around, go to shows, and be our own little posse of Hag girls. There was camaraderie with that. If one of us just skated around with a vest on, it was different than seeing a handful of us together. When you have a group like that, there’s a level of untouchability that comes with it. Your power seems to multiply.
The family that wears 3D glasses together stays together
Let’s just put it out on the table, family photos in the 1980s weren’t just off the wall, they were seriously weird. As odd as it is for this family to hang out in their 3D glasses, it’s entirely in tune with the decade’s obsession with the 1950s. During this decade so much of the culture was looking back to the post war era, be it through music or fashion, and that includes the not so new invention of 3D movies. Maybe it was just the kitsch quality, but the ‘80s gave us everything from 3D episodes of Elvira’s Movie Macabre to Friday the 13th in 3D, so it makes sense that this family would have a few excess pairs of 3D glasses just hanging around.
Filming the crawl for "Empire Strikes Back" was as time consuming as watching "The Phantom Menace"
Every science fiction fan knows that the Star Wars films always open with crawl explaining exactly what’s going on in the galaxy and what’s up with our favorite characters. Inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of his childhood, George Lucas sought to pay homage to the films while getting out a lot of exposition in a short amount of time. To film the crawls physical models were built on the floor with the entire segment typed out. From there, the camera of slowly pan across the model until everything was just so. Lucas explained that the crawls weren’t just hard to film, they were hard to write. He said:
The crawl is such a hard thing because you have to be careful that you're not using too many words that people don't understand. It's like a poem.
Caroll Spinney, the man behind the Grouch and the Bird
Everyone growing up in the ‘80s remembers getting planted in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street, Jim Henson’s educational program hosted by childlike muppet creations. Thanks to the show we learned about serious life subjects while discovering the ins and outs of our ABCs, and it was all made possible thanks to puppeteers like Carroll Spinney, who worked on the show for nearly 50 years playing Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and numerous other minor characters. Spinney finally retired from the program in 2018 and there’s word as to whether he walks around in his Big Bird costume at home.
The K-Mart Easter Bunny has a blue light special on nightmares
Everyone loves a visit from the Easter Bunny, unless of course it looks like the pure nightmare fuel that exists in this photo. What’s happening here? And just what is this creepy rabbit handing out? Growing up in the ‘80s, kids had to put up with a lot of weird stuff, from strange cartoon characters to people in costumes that looked like they were pulled out of the dumpster behind the underworld. To be fair, none of the kids look like they’re having a full on panic attack, so maybe kids in the ‘80s were just used to this kind of thing.
People lining up outside the theater for "Empire Strikes Back"
On May 21, 1980, the world finally found out what happened after Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance blew up the Death Star in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It turned out that Darth Vader was still out there, and that there was more to that whole “force” thing than we realized. At the time of the film’s release fans weren’t sure what to think about the film, and they definitely didn’t know if they could believe what Vader told Luke. One viewer wrote:
Is Luke related to Vader? Most think so now that Vader came right out and said it. Well, I say, do you believe everything you hear? Vader may have lied just to enlist Luke to his side. Vader would then dispose of Luke once he got what he wanted.
Kooky black and white sunglasses were the thing to wear
They ‘80s were all about making a fashion statement, be it with your hair, your clothes, or your sunglasses. While there were plenty of people wearing Wayfarers and aviators, some of the most iconic sunglasses from the era were wild sunglasses like these. While there was no real name for this style, they showed up in a lot of Patrick Angel paintings and they have a definitive ‘80s vibe. Anyone looking to absolutely nail an ‘80s themed costume party will slip on a pair of these and commit to the color scheme for the rest of the evening. After all, you don’t want to look like a total dweeb.
A dangerous hang at the subway station
Venturing through any American city on the metro in the 1980s was a bit like putting your life in the hands of fate. Some days were a breeze; there was no one to bother you as you rode across town, but other days could be a minefield of gang members, broken down trains, and problems with the rails. Subway stations of the ‘80s were desolate locals that could be starkly beautiful if the time was right, or they could be the perfect setting for a horror film. In the '70s and '80s, over 250 felonies were committed every week in the New York Subway system, earning it the infamy of being the most dangerous mass transit system in the world.
Plastic Halloween costumes, 1985
What do you wear for Halloween when your parents aren’t adept at making spot on recreations of your favorite characters? A plastic version of the character, duh. These cheap boxed costumes were seriously ugly, but now that we’re decades away from having to wear them (hopefully) it’s clear that they have a lot of campy value. Most of the boxed costumes were just a molded plastic mask and a smock, usually they had a logo on the front of the top to remind you which show your character was from, even so, most people who wore these costumes had to explain to their neighbors who they were moments after knocking on the door. These costumes were all trick and no treat.
Meatloaf and Debbie Harry on the set of “Roadie”
You may find yourself sitting in a large automobile, and you may ask yourself, “Why is Meatloaf here?” While they may not seem like they run in the same circles, Debbie Harry and the rest of Blondie were coming up at the same time as the “Bat out of Hell” singer and they even appeared in the oft forgotten 1980 flick Roadie together. The film follows hapless roadie Travis W. Redfish as he tries to get to New York City to meet Alice Cooper. Along the way he drinks, fights, and rubs elbows with everyone from Blondie, to Asleep at the Wheel and Roy Orbison. More fever dream than movie, it's worth checking out during a late night movie marathon.
A vintage Pizza Hut ready to serve
The 1980s belonged to Pizza Hut. Sure, Dominoes was helping us avoid the Noid, and Little Caesar’s was teaching everyone to say “Pizza Pizza” but Pizza Hut was the only place that offered families the sit down dining experience with a price that didn’t destroy their budget. Pizza Huts of the greatest decade were outfitted with booths, tables, and even a salad bar, you could eat from a buffet or order a specialty pizza, there was something for everyone. While they didn’t have an arcade like Chuck E. Cheese, most Pizza Huts were outfitted with at least a Pac Man machine. Pizza, games, and family conversation, Pizza Hut could do it all.
The official bird of the 1980s
The mullet, that maligned hairdo that’s business on top and a party in the back wasn’t invented in the ‘80s, but it came to embody the decade thanks to the sheer amount of people who came to see this hair cut as an acceptable style. Everyone, young and old, famous or just someone walking down the street, had this haircut. It was a force of nature that couldn’t be ignored. The mullet wasn’t just for one subculture, everyone from Metallica’s James Hatfield to Little Richard had one, and it even became known as a way for lesbians to identify with one another in public. In the documentary American Mullet, one woman tells the filmmakers, “I absolutely think it’s a lesbian haircut because it’s always my hair that gives me away.”
The Bad News Bears all grown up
For a lot of folks in the ‘80s there was no better way to spend a Saturday than by playing slowpitch baseball in their local beer league. Played more for fun than a need for a trophy, the teams in these leagues were usually filled with guys from the same company and their games were specifically tailored to making sure they didn’t go one forever. For instance, teams who hit too many home runs were penalized, the games were meant to be about having fun, not winning. These guys look like they were masters of the beer league, and they weren’t bad at growing facial hair either.
Does it get any cooler than a Cure fan in the '80s?
The Cure were staples of the post punk scene in England long before they were household names in America. The band had not only been kicking around since ’77, but they had legitimate hits. Still, they were mysteries to people living in America until 1987 when their single “Just Like Heaven” hit the radio and MTV. With the success of their album “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” American fans started teasing out their hair and draping themselves in black just like singer Robert Smith. Members of the band believe they appeal to fans in so many different places because they’re all from the same kind of downtrodden areas, and that it doesn’t matter what country they’re from, they simply understand the human experience. Cure drummer/keyboardist Lol Tolhurst explained:
In general, we’ve always appealed to people from small towns in suburbia like ourselves. People ask me why is it that out of all the bands from the ’80s, the three bands that are still huge are in America are The Cure, Depeche Mode and The Smiths. It’s because we came from the same kind of place, so it doesn’t matter if it’s suburbia in South London or suburbia in Southern California; it means the same thing to people and that the thing that we were able to express, and people understood that. That’s why it kept going, that and we played an awful lot and went on very, very long tours.
David Lee Roth's hotel room during the 1982 Van Halen tour
By 1982 Van Halen was on top of the world. With the release of “Diver Down” the band went on the grueling “Hide Your Sheep” tour that took them across the world. Known as much for their hard partying as their stellar sound, rock ’n roll pirate David Lee Roth led the boys through a hedonistic ocean of fun and fame. Roth definitely loved the ladies, but when asked if he was thinking of settling down he said:
When you’re on the road for nine months a year and you always have all these cute little chiquitas running around in their halter-tops, it’s kind of hard to worry about things like nuclear proliferation.
Kids are dressed up and ready for Halloween on the bus
The 1980s were the last decade where it was totally cool to wear your Halloween costume to school; it wasn’t just sanctioned, it was encouraged. Kids could throw on their costumes - be it a funky plastic smock or a well thought out witch costume - and head off to school for a day of Halloween hijinks. The best part about these dress up days was the fact that there was no way anyone was going to get any work done. Not only were the costumes one more barrier to separate the students from their teachers, but the students were likely so sugar high that they couldn’t focus anyway. Long live Halloween.
A thrilling game of Pac Man in 1982
Remember the struggle of playing Pac Man? Regardless of whether you were using the classic sit down cabinet, standing in an arcade, or hunched over one of these mini-machines the rules were simple - lead Pac Man through a midnight maze while he munched down little dots and tried to avoid get gobbled up by ghosts. The game was a phenomenon among the American public who showed up in droves to guide the little yellow guy around. As hard as the game could be, it was even harder when someone was trying to give you advice while you played. There was nothing worse than an arm chair Pac Man player.
Which bike do you think is faster?
When you’re a kid the most important thing that an adult someone can do for you is make you feel like you’re grown up. When they treat you with respect and make you feel like you’re one of the gang it instills a feeling of respect. This kid is obviously excited that his uncle is letting him get his first taste of riding a real deal hog, even if it’s going to take a few years before he’s road ready. This is such a heartwarming photo because it shows a kid growing up in a tough decade with a family that cares about him and treats him like an adult. And, it’s a really cute photo, we can’t forget that.
Behind the scenes of E.T.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is one of those movies that kids from the ‘80s can return to time and time again and be transported back to their childhood. The making of the film was just as magical as the movie itself, and its effects are truly some of the most inspired tricks of the decade. In the famous scene where Eliot and E.T. fly their bike in front of the moon Industrial Light and Magic used a real shot of the moon coupled with a puppet of the two characters superimposed over the shot. In order to find the right shot of the moon Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren spent weeks looking at maps and charts to find the right spot for filming.
Denim fashion on King's Road
King’s Road in Chelsea is the mecca of fashion. It’s always been the place where you go when you want to change your look or show off your new style. It’s also the site of some of the coolest street photography that’s ever been taken. It began as street full of punks showing off their spikes and leather and softened as the ‘80s came on strong. This look is definitely more in line with the yuppie style of the day, but it’s still a lot of fun. Can you imagine a time other than the ‘80s when you’d see a pair of denim boots to match a denim skirt? Who knew they had rodeos in England?
Nothing beats a game of Donkey Kong on the living room floor
Sure, there’s a sublime feeling that accompanies the journey to the kill screen in the arcade version of Donkey Kong, but sometimes you just don’t have the quarters and you really don’t want to go to the arcade to stand in line and wait to have your noggin bashed in by some unruly, princess obsessed ape. Thank goodness for the Atari, the home gaming system that allowed us to stay indoors for days at a time while we worked on a strategy to save the princess and dodge the Kong’s ballistic barrels. The game, which followed “Jumpman” as he raced through the early platform was a hit from right out the box, led to the creation of the Mario franchise which continues to bolster sales for Nintendo decades later, but we’ll always have love for his first appearance on the Atari.
This maroon birthday takes the cake
People have been having birthdays since the beginning of time, you don’t need some know it all writer telling you that, but in the ‘80s it’s as if everyone needed to have a themed birthday of some kind, or at the very least have a birthday party at an arcade or a pizza place - preferably with a buffet. This birthday is a classic Saturday afternoon affair that everyone who grew up in the ‘80s remembers; the oddly colored walls, the vaguely themed table spread, and the friends that your mom made you invite cheesing for the camera. Here’s the thing that’s confounding about this photo, did the kids eat half the cake? Or is it just really small?
Portrait day at heavy metal high
What do you love? What’s the thing that defines you? More often than not when it came time for senior portrait day students were asked to bring in something that was important to them, that resonated with their souls. Obviously this isn’t a senior portrait, but a more personal shot that was set up outside of the classroom, unless this guy went to some whackadoo high school were tattered American flags were considered a cool backdrop. Everything about this photo screams “1980s,” from the hair to the jeans, to the sneakers and the snake print stretch leggings. For those about to rock, this guy salutes you.
Guys kicking it in the Bronx
In the 1980s hip hop culture and fashion were growing at the same time. Both things blossomed from the same nucleus and they mutated and morphed at the same time. In those days young guys hung out on the street corner and talked shop in between working on raps and doing their best to get by. New York City in the ‘80s was a jungle, but the people who came up from the concrete wasteland became some of the most influential people of the 20th century. Even though the city was consistently on the verge of burning down, everyone was living their life and having fun.
What? Didn't your family pose with an E.T. doll?
When you think about it, it’s hard to grasp why a movie about an alien who dresses in drag while hiding in a closet and eating Reese’s Pieces was such a big deal. The movie made $792,910,554 worldwide and it cemented Steven Spielberg’s status as a blockbuster filmmaker who worked for the entire family. Even though the film made a play for the younger members of the audience, it was a story that everyone watching could connect to. Honestly, who didn’t tear up when E.T. told Eliot that he had to go home? That being said you probably didn’t pose with a doll of the alien in a closet. That kind of thing was for super fans only.
Look at the size of that thing, the Walkman is almost as big as he is
The day that you received your Sony Walkman was the demarcation of a new way of life. No longer would you have to listen to what your parents wanted to on a long car ride, and the bus to school would never be the same. You could put on your headphones, slip in your favorite cassette and drift away. Everyone had their favorite cassette, be it an album by Weird Al or a mix tape made by a friend, the possibilities were endless with a Walkman. The first versions of these portable cassette players were majorly chunky, and as time went on they slimmed down, but nothing beats the heavy duty TPS-L2 - the original Walkman.
A date in Central Park
New York City was nowhere near as cleaned up in the 1980s as it is now. The streets were dirty, Times Square was a mess, and Central Park looked like the site of a nuclear bomb test, but that didn’t stop young lovers from taking a spot in the park for a date. It’s proof that no matter how dirty or how dangerous young people will find a place to get together and make out. Things turned around for Central Park in the ‘80s thanks to The Central Park Conservancy, although it took some work. A representative for the CPC said:
We learned early on that the park needed a system of accountability in management, and that was the beginning of the zone management system we have in place today. The reason the park is managed so well and so well taken care of is that it is broken down into zones and each zone has a team directly responsible for everything in that zone: from lawns to plants to trees to benches.
Checking out with his boombox on a road trip
The pull of the open road has called to us since the early days of the automobile, but by the 1980s people were well versed in hopping in the car and driving cross country. Whether you’re out with family or friends sometimes you just want to have a moment to yourself. Thankfully by the ‘80s there were plenty of options for catching some alone time around other people. Not only were Walkmen and boomboxes prevalent, but noise canceling headphones had made their way into the public sphere. This guy’s definitely got the right idea for a long car ride. What do you think he’s listening to?
Festival in Pasadena, 1980. Barack Obama happened to be there
While most people think of Barack Obama as a Chicago boy (or as one of the most famous residents of that big White House on Pennsylvania Avenue), he actually spent a couple of years in California while attending Occidental College as an undergrad. While attending college he lived in Pasadena with roommate Hasan Chandoo where he did what normal college students do - go to parties, eat pizza, and even hit up local festivals. According to Margot Mifflin, Occidental College graduate, the future president was a great neighbor who threw rad parties:
In short, Barry, as we knew him, and Hasan (Chandoo), his friend and roommate (who was my boyfriend), had some marvelous parties there, some were huge parties where we danced to the Talking Heads, The Clash, and Bob Marley. We also had study sessions at their apartment.
What a bunch of punks
While punk rock got it’s start in the late ‘70s with bands like The Ramones and The Clash, in the 1980s the subculture became fashion focused and ushered in an era of chic Mohawks and studded leather jackets. Music was still at the forefront of the punk movement, but more so than ever punk in the ‘80s became about standing out from the crowd which meant trying to look wilder than your neighbor. The punk look changed from classic street urchin to something with more of a theatrical flair. Safety pins, colored hair and bondage devices became a way to separate oneself from the crowd.
We're a happy family
Who doesn’t love a family photo from the ‘80s? While they all include goofy hair, clothes that only seemed to exist for 10 years, and pre-Photoshop camera effects, this one really sticks out like a sore thumb. Aside from the god-like presence of the mother, the inclusion of Cabbage Patch Kids and an ALF doll are like a time machine. Who remembers having to bring your favorite toy to a photo session so your love of Microbots or whatever could be frozen in time? Hopefully this family took another photo with less stuffed animals, or maybe with the stuffed animals looming over the family, that would be the better conversation starter.
Hit the two lane blacktop with this Ford Spectron
While we hadn’t quite moved into the era of the minivan, the ‘80s saw an influx of vans that were somewhere between the cool party vans of the ‘70s and the soccer mom minivans of the ‘90s. The Ford Spectron was on the crest of the inbetweener wave, and while they’re definitely not as radical as their predecessors, they’ve got a charm all their own. These vans were fairly basic and meant to fit nearly 10 people comfortable and while it doesn’t have the open space that a van from the ‘70s has, the driver does have the ability to put all the seats down. That’s something, right?
A classic boombox on the subway, believe it or not but they could get bigger
The boombox, the ghetto blaster, whatever you want to call it was a staple of city living in the 1980s. Carrying one of these around meant that you wanted the world to know exactly what you were listening to; their gargantuan size was intimidating to the casual listener, and they could reach ear splitting volumes which ensured that your favorite song would be heard around the block. A boombox like this came with built in status, it was cool to be the person with the music. Why were they so big? Boomboxes were meant to provide the home audio experience on the go, which means that the bodies had to be both large and structurally sound to encase an amplifier and crossover electronics. According to one collector:
Practical issues aside, a bigger, louder, flashier box got you more attention on the street—boosting your reputation—and manufacturers could charge more; so win-win. Bigger is better.
Who wouldn't be grinning to ride this Honda Mini Trail bike?
What do you ride when you’re not big enough for a full sized motorcycle? You get a mini-bike, obviously. Honda has been making dirt bikes since the 1920s, but in the ‘80s the thing to have was a Z50 Mini Trail. This bike wasn’t a standard minibike made for puttering around the neighborhood, but a functional and durable piece of machinery that definitely started a lot of two wheel addictions. These were small, lightweight, and reliable bikes that were perfect for a young person who wanted to get comfortable riding a motorcycle. Heck, these bikes were great for adults who just wanted to have a little fun. All in all they were great bikes.
Freddy Krueger doesn't go anywhere without his Vision Skateboard
The ‘80s belonged to Freddy Krueger. There were five Nightmare on Elm Street movies released between 1984 and 1989, a TV show that ran for two seasons at the end of the decade, and all manner of licensing deals. The world had Freddy fever and it wasn’t going away any time soon. Horror movies and skating culture were always heavily intertwined, maybe it’s because teenagers made up the largest demographics of skaters in the ‘80s, or maybe it’s just because skaters like things that are a little more edgy. Freddy and skateboarding culture combined in a big way 1989’s The Dream Child when he actually rode a board to commit a heinous dream death, proving himself to be truly radical.
Dave's Corner Luncheon used to be the place to eat in New York City
Cities just don’t look like this anymore do they? What this area lacks in the clean lines of the modern era it more than makes up for in grit and personality. Taken in the early ‘80s, this shot shows what life was like when there were still corner luncheons and mom and pop businesses could still thrive in an urban setting. Dave’s Luncheonette was a staple of the SoHo area of Broadway, a spot that was mostly full of textile businesses. No one really lived in the area but there were people around all the time and when they needed something to eat they popped into Dave’s, an all night diner that could be filled up at any time with truck drivers, people who’d just been at the Mudd Club, and the strays of New York City.
These guys are either ready to rock or to model tight red shirts
Just one look at these guys and you’re transported back to your teens; to the sound of drums crashing out of a garage, of the same song being played over and over, to endless photo shoots to make sure the band looked just right. In the ‘80s you were either in a band or you knew someone with dreams of making it big. By the mid 80s, bands like Loverboy and Huey Lewis and The News inspired every teenager who just wanted to party to pick up a guitar and start writing their own pop rock tunes. They wore flashy colors, tight pants, and the much sought after headband. If you were in a band and still have any of your demo tapes sitting around feel free to send them our way, we’d love to give them a listen.
Name a more iconic duo, we'll wait
There is so much going on in this photo from a boy’s birthday party. First of all, those Smurf drums are absolutely stellar. They’re from an era when branded toys were absolutely wild, you could own a set of Smurfs drums, a Smurfs watch, and a Smurfs wallet, no matter what kind of thing you liked you could be all in on it. Aside from the totally rad gift this photo sums up so much of what was great about the ‘80s - a smoker forged from a steel drum, a cool Michael Jackson shirt, and a deep V polo that seriously needs to make a comeback.
Breakdancers working out moves on the street
Anyone who lived through the 1980s remembers a truly embarrassing time when they tried to breakdance. Maybe it was at a wedding, at school, or just alone in your room; wherever you were you definitely tried to spin around on your back and looked like a fool, but that's okay because we did too. The love for breaking started in the early ‘80s when dance crews around New York City started battling one another to see who reigned supreme. The acrobatic movements combined with the infectious grooves of hip hop blossomed into its own subculture that’s still influencing people today.
Cops ride the New York Subway, forever on the hunt for crime
In the 1980s the New York subway system had the ugliest trains, they were covered in strange graffiti, and at least half of its passengers were the scariest people you’d ever meet. Crime was rampant in the system, and there were only so many cops to go around. Author Paul Theroux spent a week riding throughout the city and chronicling his experience, these are some of his thoughts on the New York Subway:
The subway is like a complex — and diseased — circulatory system. Some people liken it to a sewer and others hunch up their shoulders and mutter about being in the bowels of the earth… No one speaks... Avoiding the stranger's gaze is what the subway passenger does best. Most sit bolt upright, with fixed expressions, ready for anything.
Two girls hanging at Seaside Heights, 1980
The smell of the salt in the air, the sound of the families and townies shouting as they stomp through the surf or ride the carousel - Seaside Heights was the go to summer destination for people from the garden state. No matter what you were looking for you could find it here, whether you wanted to catch some rays and work on your tan, avoid the sun in the arcade, or troll the boardwalk looking for babes, it was all at Seaside Heights. Since the ‘80s the boardwalk’s been cleaned up and given a fresh coat of paint, but it’s never going to beat the glory days of yesteryear.
Even shirts were postmodern in the '80s
Fashion in the ‘80s was all over the place, but one of the most prominent themes were squiggly lines. These busy geometric patterns adorned everything like the shirt seen here to the walls of your favorite restaurant. They were omnipresent and completely unique to the decade.
These bold patterns are inspired by the Memphis Group, a collective that designed postmodern and abstract architecture that was both minimalistic and maximalist. Bright and in your face, the design was all about fun and breaking with tradition. At the time it was seen as a symbol of trend-chasing yuppies, but in hindsight it actually looked pretty cool.