I was in high school during the 80’s. A long time ago. To teenagers today, we are old and weathered. They don’t know that at one time we were cool, with-it, chic and hip…. at least in our own minds.
We wore button fly jeans, shoulder pads, neon anything and everything, OP half tops, and acid washed jean skirts. Names like Chemin de Fer, Jordache, and Sasson were the cool pants to wear and the tighter the better. $40 jeans were considered fancy and my mom would have told me I was outside my mind asking for a pair. “Money doesn’t grow on trees” was her favorite saying.
Our hair was poofy, teased high and often in a cute side pony tail with a colorful scrunchi. Perms and mullets were in. Boys wore skinny ties, muscle tank tops, parachute pants and Z Cavaricci jeans- a look I am so grateful has never come back. Our feet wore huaraches, jellies, Reeboks or penny loafers if you were a preppy. Of course, Run DMC made Adidas cool but Michael Jordan took Nike to a new level with his Air Jordan’s. We looked good and we knew it.
To smell good we sprayed Love’s Baby Soft and if we were edgy, Poison by Christian Dior. Boys wore Drakkar and the ever popular Polo by Ralph Lauren. We swooned over that smell so boys bathed in it to appease us. We rocked fanny packs, Members Only jackets and at least fifteen bangled bracelets at a time.
We idolized Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, The Beastie Boys, and big hair bands like Poison and Def Leppard. Popular movie’s were “Ferris Buellers Day Off”, “Flashdance” (leg warmers!) , “Top Gun”, “Footloose” and my personal favorite “16 Candles”. Who didn’t fall in love with Jake Ryan?
Life was simple and relatively easy. Frankie said to relax, so we did.
Life at home was different as well. We had one home telephone line so phone calls did not offer a lot of privacy. If the phone rang during dinner, we didn’t answer it. My dad would look at me as if to say “Why are they calling right now?” He expected everyone to know exactly when we were eating and I wouldn’t dare tell him the call from my friend was more important than my mom’s meatloaf.
The best Christmas present my brother and I scored came in a very small package that gave us great independence. It was a telephone extension cord. We were suddenly able to take the phone from the kitchen to our bedroom and talk without anyone hearing us. It was amazing and life changing. We felt like we hit the jackpot!
Even with the new phone cord, my parents still knew who and when someone called. Not much was kept a secret. With only one phone line, most conversations were brief because other people in the family were expecting calls as well.
If you called me after 9pm, something tragic better have happened because there was no other reason that late night calls were acceptable. When we went to sleep, we slept. If something important occurred after 9pm, we learned about it the next day when our friend called (not too early) to share the news. If we made a social mistake over the weekend, we had until Monday to come up with a good story to explain why we messed up. Rumors spread back then but not at the speed of light like today.
We had just three TV channels, clock radios to wake us up for school and cassette players in our cars, if we were lucky. We read books and memorized the phone numbers of our best friends. We played Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit into the wee hours and learned patience waiting our turn. We would drown out our parents voices with Walkmans and bought big boom boxes to crank up the jams. Having an Atari 2600 was cool and going to an actual arcade was a big deal. We had to leave our bedrooms and our homes to connect with people and we spent a lot of time being outside. We entertained ourselves and we found creative ways to have fun.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had earned the right to go out with my friends and my curfew was midnight. As I headed out the door–and out of touch with my parents for four or five hours– they reminded me to be sure to have a dime to call home “in case something happened”. To be honest, they were really talking about my old beater car breaking down, not me breaking down personally. Somehow we seemed to figure things out on our own and I rarely used that dime.
When friends set a place and time to meet, we were there. If you were late or missed connecting up, you might not find them for the rest of the night because there was no way to reach them. Plans didn’t change much because, honestly, there wasn’t too much to do. Most weekend nights found us driving around looking for people to hang out with, going to the drive-in movies or sitting at Carl’s Jr. hoping people would stop in. It was part sleuth, part hunt and part guess to find our friends. Somehow just trying to find your friends could make for a fun and interesting night.
Football games were less house party, more cheering and rooting for the team. We didn’t have distractions so everyone just watched the game. We had school spirit and we were proud of where we came from. Pep rallies were exciting and we had them often. I don’t recall many of memories of math or history, but I do remember the skits, pranks, rallies and dress up days. Those are the fibers that make up high school memories.
One of the best classes I had in high school was “Know Your Auto”. It was helpful, hands-on and practical. My friends and I bedazzled our mechanic coveralls and learned how to use jumper cables, work on brakes and do an oil change. It was a great class and it helped teach a life skill. I am grateful for my 80’s education- I believe it prepared me to be a well-rounded, balanced adult.
I know we are not going back to the simpler times and technology is only moving forward. I get it, we are an “advanced society” today, but I’m not convinced it’s better. It feels like we took a step back in our emotional well being and having quality family time. This digital revolution is challenging and we have instant access to so much. More knowledge is at our fingertips but so is more danger. Everything is done with a click or a swipe. What was supposed to streamline our lives has complicated it even more, because we seem to want more and we want it now.
Being a teenager in the 80’s wasn’t perfect but looking back, it seems a lot simpler. I’m so thankful I didn’t have the ability to tweet my 16 year-old thoughts out to the world or have viral videos of the dumb things I did during puberty. I’m grateful for the lack of technology we had and the basic ways we communicated with each other. I feel blessed that we didn’t have social media as teenagers and we grew up during a era where people actually talked to each other.
Of course, there were still bad people then but they didn’t have the easy access to us like smart phones offer. We had insecurities, like teenagers today, but we were not bombarded with how perfect and amazing everyone else’s life is like social media presents. The only apples we carried around were the ones in our lunch bag and thongs were something we wore on our feet during summer.
I’m sure my parents felt the same about growing up in the 60’s and our kids will say the same about their teenage years when they are older and have teenagers themselves. While life in the 80’s wasn’t perfect, looking back it seems so much less complicated, almost innocent. We learned how to survive, struggle and figure things out for ourselves. But most importantly, we learned that nobody puts Baby in a corner.