57 Fashion Trends, Music, Movies, Events, and More That Were Popular in the 80s

57 Fashion Trends, Music, Movies, Events, and More That Were Popular in the 80s

What do you think of when you think of what was popular in the 80s? Most people think of the bright colors, historical events, blockbuster movies, MTV music videos, and iconic toys and video games of the era. The events and culture had a significant impact that still resonates with people today. 

For over 20 years Capture has been dedicated to preserving memories, home movies, precious photos, and cultural icons of prior decades. If you want to reminisce about what was popular in the 80s or simply want to learn more about the iconic decade, this article covers 56 popular 80s trends. 

Keep reading to learn about fashion, toys, music, movies, TV shows, historical events, pop culture, and more, including the most memorable trends that defined the 1980s. 

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Fashion and Style in the 80s

1. Shoulder pads

Power dressing was popular in 80s fashion with more women in the workforce than ever before. This included the iconic shoulder pads not only used in suits, but also in jackets, sweaters, and even dresses for an authoritative appearance

2. Leg warmers

To go along with the popularity of workout VHS videotapes, leg warmers became popular fashion trends to be worn with leggings, spandex, tights, and even jeans. Some people even expanded their use to wear casual clothing, not only casual wear. 

3. Acid-washed jeans

Acid-washed denim was enormously popular in the 80s with supermodels and celebrities. In addition, the high waisted style that’s making a comeback in the 2020s was popular in the 80s as well. 

4. Big hair

Big hair was literally huge in the 1980s in both men and women. 1980s metal hair bands like Motley Crue and Bon Jovi graced us with great music and even better hair styles. You can basically smell the hairspray from here. 

5. Neon colors

If you look up 1980s culture online, you’ll be greeted by bright, vivid, and neon colors to coincide with the other fashion trends of the decade. Bright pinks, blues, teals, and yellows were not only common in fashion, but everywhere in pop culture. 

6. Members-only jackets

While Members-Only jackets were created in 1975, they weren’t introduced in the United States until 1980. These racer jackets were extremely popular as part of the preppy style along with pastel colors, miniskirts, fanny packs, and sweaters. 

7. Jelly shoes

Jelly shoes were plastic shoes that came in vibrant colors and were perfect for a day at the swimming pool or beach. They debuted at the 1982 World’s Fair and continued to be popular into the 1990s. 

8. Ray-Ban sunglasses

Due to the popularity of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Blues Brothers, and other films, Ray-Bans became a popular fashion choice during the 1980s. Tom Cruise even wore them in Risky Business and he’s often credited with saving the brand.

9. Parachute pants

Parachute pants like those worn by MC Hammer were all the rage. While you might think they look ridiculous now, they were perfect for anyone who wanted to dance to Hip Hop. 

10. Fingerless gloves

Worn by popular celebrities like Billy Idol and Madonna as well as Bender from The Breakfast Club, fingerless gloves were a popular counterculture fashion choice to go along with full leather jackets, plaid shirts, and white t-shirts. 

11. Flashdance Fashion 

The movie Flashdance inspired a clothing style with a torn sweatshirt that was worn off the shoulder. This was a style that reflected the fitness craze and was worn by huge stars and everyday people alike. 

Toys and Entertainment of the 80s

12. Boomboxes

Boomboxes were a huge part of early Hip Hop culture and define the decade. Recently, due to the rising popularity of cassette tapes in 2023, boomboxes have been making a comeback! Combined with classic 1980s cameras, the Walkman, Casio calculators, and affordable microwaves, these technologies defined the 80s. 

13. Rubik's Cube

While you may just associate Rubik’s Cubes with frustration, they were very popular in the 1980s (and it was also popular to rearrange the stickers to create a perfect cube without complex algorithms). 

14. Cabbage Patch Kids

Cabbage Patch Kid dolls were a huge fad in the 80s and are still collectibles today. The cute baby cheeks were so adored that riots broke out in stores and parents drove across the country to get their hands on the perfect Christmas gift for 1983.  

15. Pac-Man

Video game graphics have come a long way, but whereas Pong and Pinball defined gaming in the 70s, Pac-Man was the big hit of the early 80s with 30 million Americans playing it in 1982 (spending $8 million a week!). 

16. MTV

The MTV craze had a massive impact on 80s culture with iconic music videos like “Money For Nothing” by the Dire Straits, “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. 

17. Walkman Cassette Players

The Sony Walkman made it possible for everyone to take their cassettes and cassette players everywhere they wanted to listen to the songs they had heard on MTV. What a wonderful time to listen to music! 

18. VHS tapes

While it had to beat out Betamax first, in the 1980s VHS dominated the home recording industry and everything from camcorder home movies to the biggest blockbuster releases of the day were found on VHS tapes. 

19. Transformers 

Long before the live-action Transformer movies featuring Shia LaBeouf, the comics, toys, and animated TV show were incredibly popular. GI-Joe deserves an honorable mention as another Hasbro toy with an animated TV show, new characters, and smaller action figures than the larger 1970s dolls. 

20. Care Bears 

Over 40 million Care Bears were sold between 1983 and 1987, all because of a greeting card in 1981. Pretty soon, Care Bears were featured on everything from TV shows to clothing.

21. Atari video game consoles 

Due to the popularity of Pac-Man, Atari sold 12 million units in 1982 and was groundbreaking for the home video game industry. Along with Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Pong, Atari became an iconic technological advancement of the 1980s. 

22. Teddy Ruxpin 

This loveable plush toy can be preloaded with a cassette tape that allowed Teddy to tell stories while his mouth and eyes moved. It became the best-selling toy in 1985 and a cherished collector’s item today. 

23. Nintendo Entertainment System

The original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released with popular classics like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, and Duck Hunt. 

Music and Artists of the 80s

24. Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

By the end of 1983, the Thriller album sold 32 million copies and became the best-selling album of all time. The music video was all over MTV and everyone was doing the dance and singing along with Michael Jackson. 

25. Madonna

Everything about Madonna was popular in the 80s. Her music, fashion, attitude, and image influenced young girls and women and hits like “Lucky Star,” “Like a Virgin,” “Diana,” and “Material Girl” stand the test of time and became soundtracks of our most precious family memories. 

26. New Wave Music

New Wave music evolved out of 70s punk rock and included Devo, The Talking Heads, The Cars, and Blondie which helped define the music of the 1980s. This music also influenced the pop of the time including Prince, Madonna, and Bruce Springsteen. 

27. Boy George and Culture Club

With “Karma Chameleon” and a handful of other hits in the 80s, Culture Club along with Boy George was immensely popular mixing new wave with pop, reggae, and even country music. 

28. Prince

“Little Red Corvette” got tons of MTV airplay, launching his superstardom, and leading directly to the release of Purple Rain, his bestselling album and movie of the same name. Then, pretty soon everyone wanted to imitate his perm, flashy blazers, and shiny earrings. 

29. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was one of the most popular female artists of the 1980s with several hits including “How Will I Know” and “Saving All My Love for You.”

30. Guns N' Roses

Guns N’ Roses were huge in the 1980s and were one of the biggest glam rock bands. Axl Rose’s iconic voice combined with Slash’s shredding guitar gave them a distinct sound that eventually landed them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

31. Bruce Springsteen 

The Boss was so popular in the late 1970s and 1980s with the Born in the U.S.A. album of 1984 launching him into superstardom containing hits like “I’m On Fire.” And “Glory Days.”  

32. Cyndi Lauper

Not many people emulate 1980’s style as much as Cyndi Lauper and her music still gets radio play today, particularly “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Time After Time.”

33. Queen

Queen was already popular by the time 1980 came around, but they continued to rock the charts with huge hits like “Under Pressure,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

34. Duran Duran

With 5 studio albums released in the 1980s, Duran Duran was played everywhere throughout the entire decade. Their synthpop tunes are distinctly 1980s era MTV.

Movies and TV Shows of the 80s

35. The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club featuring the Brat-Pack offered a character that every youth of the era could identify with (the jock, the brain, the prom queen, the weirdo, and the punk). Plus, it had Emilio Esteves and Molly Ringwald, a classic soundtrack, and a quirky combination of drama and comedy.

36. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Everybody knows the classic “E.T. Phone Home” line, but this was one of the biggest blockbuster movies not only of the 80s, but of all time. With a great message, memorable characters, and fantastic special effects, this classic stands the test of time. 

37. Back to the Future

Back to the Future and the two awesome sequels were not only fantastic movies starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, but they also featured some great 80s technology and toys like Polaroid cameras, laserdisc, skateboards (as a hover board!), and more. 

38. Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters was a hilarious, fun, and memorable movie for both kids and adults alike and had a blockbuster cast with Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, and Rick Moranis among many others. 

39. Dirty Dancing

Patrick Swayze of Dirty Dancing is credited with popularizing mullets in the 1980s (though they weren’t called mullets yet) and the movie continues to be remembered as one of the best movies of the decade.  

40. Miami Vice

When you think of what was popular in the 80s, Miami Vice might be one of the first things you think of. It influenced fashion, hairstyle, blazers and Hawaiian shirts, denim jackets, and more.  

41. The A-Team

The A-Team featuring Mr. T and friends was a fun show that spanned the entire middle of the 80s decade from 1983 to 1987. Full of fun action, synthesizer music, and clever humor, there; s few shows that embody the 80s as much as this one. 

42. Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

While the original Star Wars came out in the 1970s, the second and third films concluded the trilogy in the 80s. In The Empire Strikes Back, we all found out that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s dad making it one of the most famous movie scenes of all time. 

43. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

We all felt like we took a day off when we watched Ferris Bueller’s classic adventure in 1986. This film stands up today while still offering the youthful exuberance of the 1980s.

44. Top Gun

Top Gun was huge in the 1980s and it’s surprising that it took multiple decades before a sequel was released. Plus, it changed the history of home motion picture technology because the VHS version used ads before the movie so they could sell it at a cheaper cost.

45. The Goonies

While there were plenty of Disney animated and live-action kid adventure movies during the 1980s, the Goonies is possibly the most iconic. It speaks to people who don’t fit in, includes hilarious but relatable characters, and made lots of people crave a Baby Ruth bar. 

46. Dallas

“Who shot J.R.?” That’s the question everybody was asking in 1980 and the episode “Who Done It” is the second highest-rated primetime telecast of all time. Plus, it continued into the 1990s, which means some people watched new Dallas episodes every year of the 1980s. 

47. Cheers

Cheers is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time and made us all feel like everybody knew our name at the bar in Boston. With iconic characters, hilarious plots, and a feeling of comfort, this rewatchable classic also inspired Frasier of the 1990s. 

Events and Historical Moments of the 80s

48. Space Shuttle Challenger launch

In 1986, tragedy struck when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just over a minute into its flight, killing all crew members including school teacher Christa McAuliffe. 

49. The fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized the end of the Cold War as well as the fall of the Soviet Union. The hope of the 80s culminated in this historical event that reshaped history through the 90s and into today. 

50. Reaganomics

President Reagan’s approach to the economy involved cutting federal income taxes, scaling down the government, and encouraging a free-market. This formula still influences law, economy, and inflation into 2023 and will likely continue to do so for years. 

51. Chernobyl disaster

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was a nuclear accident that killed 31 people and spread radiation throughout the entire area. It helped to shine a light on the Soviet government’s practices with Mikhail Gorbachev even saying that the Chernobyl event was “perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

52. Iran-Contra affair

The Iran-Contra Affair was a political scandal where the National Security Council was involved with secret weapons activities and other shady deals. It signified a change in foreign policy and relations with Iran and the Middle East. 

53. Tiananmen Square protests

In 1989, Chinese government troops violently suppressed student demonstrators and protesters who were trying to block the military’s advance. This drastically altered the public opinion of China and was a major talking point for politicians in the next election cycle. 

Fitness and Pop Culture of the 80s

54. Aerobics and Jane Fonda workouts

Jane Fonda was responsible for popularizing the aerobic outfits of the 1980s due to her workout videos that have now been digitized into DVD copies. With over 22 titles selling over 17 million copies, we were all getting into shape!

55. Jazzercise

Jane Fonda wasn’t the only one creating aerobics programs and Jazzercise became a huge popular culture fad with thousands of instructors, hundreds of thousands of students, and a lasting dedication that continues to this day (though it’s not as popular as it once was!)

56. "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign

The “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign was drilled into children’s heads during the 80s and 90s encouraging abstinence from recreational drug use. While these PSAs may seem dated, the ads contained celebrities and iconic characters including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

57. Breakdancing (b-boying)

The B-Boying form of breakdancing that uses stylized footwork, back spins, head spins, and energetic dancing was popular during the 1980s. It was featured in MTV videos and our old photos and videos that captured us trying our best to breakdance. 

Conclusion

If you’ve ever wondered, “What was popular in the 80s?” then know that neon colors, big hair, the Brat-Pack, iconic toys and games like Nintendo and Transformers, as well as Madonna, Duran Duran, and MTV videos helped define the decade. With new technology that led to the first digital camera only a few short years later and nostalgic memories of Jazzercise, Star Wars, Dirty Dancing, and Cyndi Lauper, the 1980s lives on in our memories. 

If you have memories of the 1980s on videotapes or in photo albums, Capture can help you preserve them for future generations. Click here to learn more about our state-of-the-art digitization services! 

 

 

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