Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram

11 Totally Rad ’80s Things That Seem Pretty Strange Today

Elisabeth Edwards

Trends come and trends go but when it comes to the 1980s, trends range from cringeworthy to like, totally rad! From the hair to the leotards to Pac-Mania – check out these “normal” ’80s things that we wouldn’t be caught dead doing today.

All things neon and spandex

Cher in bright colored workout clothes and leg warmers
Singer and actress Cher poses for a fashion session in 1984. (Photo Credit: Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

Is there anything more ’80s than spandex, neon, and legwarmers? We certainly don’t think so! When Jane Fonda hit the at-home workout scene with her instructional aerobics videos she helped spread a trend of bright-colored, high-cut leotards layered with leg warmers and sweatbands. Most of us probably wouldn’t wear something as loud as this today, unless it’s for a Halloween party.

Making mixed tapes

A mix tape
A mixtape with tracks written out on the cover. (Photo Credit: Antony Mayfield via. Wikimedia Commons).

The ultimate way to profess your love to your crush or make your friend’s day was to surprise them with a custom mixtape! Today, we have all the music we could ever want on our smartphones so you won’t need to steal recordings from the radio or accidentally tape over a valuable cassette.

Watching commercials

Children sit on the ground in front of a TV.
A group of young children watching television. (Photo Credit: Express/Getty Images)

Thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix, commercials are (mostly) a thing of the past! Not only are there fewer commercials to endure during your favorite show, but now you also can fast-forward or skip them altogether.


People using payphones
Group of People using a Pay Telephone at LaGuardia Airport, New York, USA circa 1981. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

There used to be over two million payphones in the United States, but that number is now dwindling to around 100,000. Payphones were just as essential as landlines or pagers in the ’80s – but cellphones have replaced quarter-eating machines with a portable, low-cost, and reliable way to communicate.

Looking someone up in the phone book

(Photo Credit: Steven Gottlieb/ Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Steven Gottlieb/ Getty Images)

Speaking of phones, the days of searching for phone numbers in The Yellow Pages are long gone. Since the advent of cellphones and Google, you can find just about anyone or anything online – and you don’t even have to memorize the phone number!

The hair

Picture of rock band Bon Jovi in 1984.
Bon Jovi backstage before a performance in 1984. (Photo Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Nothing quite screams ’80s style quite like the eccentric hairstyles. ‘Hair bands’ like Bon Jovi and Twisted Sister led the bushy, big, flowy styles shaped into mullets and perms that everyone emulated. Today’s hair trends are a lot more focused on taming frizz and keeping the hairspray to a minimum.

Asking someone out over the landline

Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller poses with a phone
Publicity still featuring Matthew Broderick for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures via. MovieStillsDB)

We all remember the horrifying ritual of asking out your crush over the landline. Rehearsing what to say, anticipating if their parent picks up, and taking turns accidentally cutting each other off – modern dating apps and texting have helped make the process way less awkward!

Spending Friday night at an arcade

A child plays a Pac Man game at an arcade.
A young girl playing Pac-Man at a video arcade in Times Square, New York City. (Photo Credit: Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images)

The 1980s are considered the golden age of arcade video games. Games like Frogger, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man became an addicting pastime for everyone trying to reach a new high score. Now that at-home consoles like X-Box and PlayStation (and even earlier consoles like Atari) have become widely available, gaming has become less of a social activity and more of an independent way to wind down.

Wearing a vest everywhere, all year long

Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd)
Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in Back to the Future. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures via MovieStillsDB).

Marty McFly made the style an overnight sensation, but puffer vests are still a mind-boggling year-round ’80s trend. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, colorful puffer vests were a fashion staple throughout the ’80s. Nowadays, we recommend avoiding winter wear in the middle of July.

Waiting to see your photos

A girl holding a disposable camera
Fujicolor Quicksnap disposable camera from 1987. (Photo Credit: Mohamed LOUNES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Until recently, having access to your photos directly after taking them was practically unheard of. Disposable and film cameras were widely available in the ’80s, but unlike today film had to be processed before you could see if you got the perfect shot.  Today, smartphones give us results instantly!

Hoarding vinyl and cassettes – and paying full price for them

Two men at a table covered in cassette tapes
Lee Ranaldo (left) and drummer Steve Shelley from the American group Sonic Youth posed with a table of cassette tapes in 1987. (Photo Credit: Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

More from us: They Were All Over the Tabloids in the 1980s, But Where Are These Famous Faces Now…?

Before all of our favorite albums could fit on an iPod, cassette tapes, CDs, and vinyl records took up so much space – and at a higher cost. MP3 players and smartphones now have the capability to hold thousands of songs – and the best part is you can buy exactly what you want. Recently, vinyl and cassettes have become popular for younger generations because of collectability and sound quality – so if you’re still holding onto your records consider yourself on-trend!

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast