Thursday, 7 November 2013

Eighties Style – the Good, the Bad and the Downright Awful!

A personal reminiscence -

Hearing the 1980s referred to as ‘retro’ or even ‘vintage’ is a timely reminder of my age – to me they don’t seem all that long ago! But then the years and the decades seem to kind of fold into one another, like a telescope, as one gets older. 

And maybe it’s because I still have a drawer full of tapes of 1980s pop music, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, Dire Straits, The Communards, The Pet Shop Boys, Manhatten Transfer, E.L.O. – have I forgotten any of the ‘greats’ of that era?

It may surprise you that I have all this music on tape. 

After all, the 80s was a decade of technological innovation that included the introduction of Compact Discs. But I needed my music on tape to play in my car, even then. As well as CDs, there were the video recorders, the early mobile phones the size of a brick, and the first home computers. The 'Commodore' and the 'Amstrad' stick in my mind - with white text on black! 

But the first one I bought, purely for my family to play a single game, was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum - and you needed a tape player and a television to use it!

On the other hand,when it came to some aspects of daily life, particularly things to do with design, it was an era when many looked back to more elegant times than the Sixties and Seventies. 

These were ‘The Thatcher Years’ – something I’d prefer not to dwell on except inasmuch as they gave the comedian Ben Elton plenty of material for his marvellous stand-up comedy and who can forget Spitting Image! 

But maybe that's why this decade was the age of the ‘yuppy’? And at least to begin with it was the yuppies who went in for a fair amount of ‘gentrification’. 

They bought properties in run-down but convenient areas, in particular in London’s Docklands around Canary Wharf and refurbished them in what was then called ‘vintage’, harking back to the Edwardian or Victorian style.

Shopfronts were often 'gentrified' too. Chic dark-coloured paint appeared everywhere in the High Street, black, maroon, navy blue and above all dark green, usually in combination with gold-coloured lettering. 

Dark green cookers appeared in showrooms, again with plenty of old-style brass embellishments. The new ‘boutique-style’ shops like ‘Knobs and Knockers’,  ‘Sock Shop’ and 'Tie Rack' seemed to suggest good old-fashioned quality – but with a modern, slightly humorous twist. 

Newly-built supermarkets began to look like overgrown brick-built houses with pitched, tiled roofs, described in architectural terms as ‘vernacular’, instead of the impersonal concrete blocks of the previous decades. 

I spent a couple of years in the early Eighties studying Interior Design. And soon afterwards, I undertook my first major home renovation, using what I had learnt on the correspondence course to 'put back the style' in an Edwardian house. It’s a style I love, partly because it accommodates my somewhat untidy and squirreling habits! 

But what did we wear in the ‘80s? 

One thing’s for sure, our fashions didn’t get the same ‘gentrification’ treatment as our bricks and mortar! 

Power-dressing was maybe the most remembered theme – the huge shoulder-pads and ‘big hair’ as sported by the cast of Dallas and Dynasty! If you think that huge shoulder-pads are horrendous, what about the shell-suits that seemed to pop up everywhere!

Men’s clothes, on the other hand, seemed to go in the opposite direction, becoming less formal, with softer outlines and maybe even slightly ‘feminine’! 

For most women and girls, this was the era of leggings, leg-warmers and slouch socks, which I owned in abundance, the perfect disguise for my somewhat thin ankles, all bought, of course, from Sock Shop! 

Men’s shoes tended towards the casual – often in light colours, worn with white socks; ‘dockers’ were popular for men and women alike.

Trainers replaced plimsolls and ‘gym shoes’ and morphed into an everyday style of footwear. Designer labels began to be enormously important and were worn visibly and as part of the design on trainers and sports bags. Sadly even quite young children would be mortified if asked to go to school in trainers that were perfectly good but didn’t sport the right label.

If the Sixties and Seventies are remembered for their revolutionary ideas, such as ‘Free Love’ and ‘Feminism’, the Eighties stands out for me as the decade when feminism was rarely talked about any more but when women en masse read books like ‘Women who Love Too Much’ and ‘The Cinderella Complex’ – packed their bags and left their frequently uncomprehending husbands!

But sandwiched between the ‘winter of discontent’ of the Seventies and the ‘grunge’ of the Nineties, my memories of the Eighties are mostly of the optimism expressed in the term, 'Yuppie' – even though I was neither particularly Young or Upwardly Mobile myself. 

What do you remember most about the Eighties?


Crystal said...

Interesting post Judy. You know my daughter still makes fun of my 80's hair and we still have a brick phone in our basement gathering dust, I have no idea what for except that my husband seems to never get rid of any electronic device. The real eye opener though, is that kid's dress in 70's garb for Halloween!!!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Crystal - if that were my daughter, I'd tell her not to be so quick to mock; everything comes round again in due course and I'm sure she'll be wearing her hair 80s style when that comes back into fashion! And I don't suppose that time is far off :)