The 1980s were a time of wild fashion and wilder hair, gaming at home or in the arcades, strange family photos, Walkman personal stereos and boomboxes, Star Wars, E.T., punk rock, boxed Halloween costumes, and so much more. Whether you remember the decade well or hardly at all, don’t just take our word for it. Travel back to the future (well, to the ’80s) with these vintage photographs that show life from the grim subways of New York to the street skateboarders of Los Angeles.
Tailgating At A Bruce Springsteen Concert
Back before tailgating predominantly meant driving really closely behind someone, people tailgated at concerts and other social gatherings. This version of tailgating entailed gathering behind a parked car in the parking lot, playing music, snacking, and having a beverage before the event.
These young adults are waiting to see Bruce Springsteen live, as is indicated by the “Springsteen” bumper sticker. They were probably listening to the legendary rocker’s music on that big boombox in the trunk when this photo was snapped.
Carrie Fisher In A Trash Can
Carrie Fisher was on top of the world in the ’80s since she starred as Princess Leia in Star Wars starting in 1977. Aside from being an actress, Carrie was a jokester in her twenties who used comedy to cope with her bipolar disorder.
She once said that her big personality helped her make light of her illness so that it became something funny, rather than something dangerous. We’re sure that her movies helped others escape from the hard times of the decade, too.
Tippi Hedren On A Cell Phone With A Lion
You may recognize Tippi Hedren as the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which was her debut film and earned her a Golden Globe. By the 1980s, the model and actress turned her attention towards animal activism.
Here she is casually talking into a giant cell phone next to an even more gigantic lion circa 1983. She’s at the Shambala Preserve in California, which she is currently the president of and serves alongside fellow actresses Lily Tomlin and Betty White.
Steve Jobs On A Motorcycle
A 1982 edition of National Geographic showed this photograph of Steve Jobs riding his motorcycle. Not only did the Apple legend ride this BMW bike to work, but he also parked it inside the building’s lobby.
Job’s strange habit was a way for him to inspire his workers since he felt the bike was a symbol of craftsmanship. By the looks of it, he has his rebellion to thank for his innovative climb to success.
The Soda Aisle In The ’80s
Considering the way that this mother and her two boys are perfectly positioned and all wearing priceless smiles, we’d guess this photo must have been taken for a soda ad. Aside from their style, there are a few other signs that this vintage photo was from the 1980s.
For one, the soda bottles are glass instead of plastic. For two, the floors and small “P” signs between the aisles give away that this was a Publix, a supermarket that was beginning to become hugely popular in the 1980s.
Guardian Angels On New York’s Subway
In 1977, a man named Curtis Sliwa created the “Magnificent 13,” a group committed to intervening in New York City subway crime. Two years later, the group was renamed the Guardian Angels, and given the logo of an eye in a pyramid with angel wings on either side.
The organization thrived by making citizen’s arrests, and eventually won over the support of the city’s mayor. In the early ’80s, the group expanded to the west coast, and today they help protect those in dangerous cities across the world.
Drew Barrymore Handing E.T. To Princess Diana
At this moment, the youngest star of ET, seven-year-old Drew Barrymore, is handing Princess Diana a stuffed toy version of the movie’s adorable alien protagonist. They are at the Empire Cinema in London, where the film debuted in the UK.
Next to Drew, you can barely make out the top of fellow star Henry Thomas’ head, followed by Robert MacNaughton and the legendary Steven Spielberg. Just imagine being a little girl and offering a gift to a princess; that was the power of cinema in the ’80s.
A Legendary All-Girl Skateboarding Group
Known as “The Hags,” this group of skateboarding women formed in Los Angeles in the early ’80s. Members had a punk style and wore a specific canvas patch that indicated who they were.
They met through skating, which was a male-dominated sport at the time, and gained a presence by frequenting punk shows. The group’s founder Sevie Bates says that during the ’80s, women weren’t supposed to have an attitude, and so the group gave her an outlet for her anger.
Filming The Opening Of Star Wars
After the first Star Wars movie became a hit in 1977, crowds eagerly awaited The Empire Strikes Back, which premiered at the start of the new decade in May of 1980. In this photograph, you can see the way they filmed the opening of the famous film.
Back before the days of CGI, many things had to be done manually through film layering and paintings. This craftsmanship makes timeless movies like this one all the more incredible.
The Empire Strikes Back Opening
Speaking of The Empire Strikes Back, here’s the opening of the film in Houston. As you can see, people were lined up all the way around the side of the Alabama Theater, which is now closed.
The historic theater was built on the corner of Alabama Street and Shepherd Drive in 1939. Today, it has been transformed into a Trader Joe’s of all things, but they did preserve the theater’s original entrance.
These Sunglasses Were An ’80s Fashion Statement
We’re not sure what these sunglasses are trying to say, but they certainly scream ’80s. The left side doesn’t look far off from the dark, slick sunglasses you still see around today.
But then you go to the right and see a triangular, white sunglasses frame that’s bound to leave an odd tan line. Based on some of the outlandish styles of the ’80s, it seems like the less sense your outfit made, the better.
Check out this totally ’80s dad and son. They’re both decked out in clothing and hairstyles from the decade, and are riding some amazing bikes.
They’ve obviously switched out their rides for this cute photo op. Dad sits on the little boy’s Big Wheels bike while the kid straddles Dad’s Yamaha motorcycle. They both look happy as can be — wonder if this was Christmas day or some other special event.
Boxed Halloween Costumes Were A Frightful Sight
Boxed Halloween costumes were exactly what they sound like: themed outfits from a box. Available at your local store, these plastic costumes usually came with a cheaply-made mask and plastic apron.
The mask was usually a poorly-detailed depiction of the character your were supposedly dressed up as, while the smock was not so much an outfit as it was an advertisement for the show or film the character was from. What kids were left with is a Halloween costume that was hard to identify but dutifully petrifying.
Meat Loaf And Debbie Harry Sharing The Backseat
If you’ve never seen the 1980 musical comedy Roadie, you may be shocked to discover that rocker Meat Loaf landed his first starring role in the film. He plays a carefree delivery man who gets caught up in roadie life.
The film features cameos by a number of 1980s rock giants such as Alice Cooper and Roy Orbison. Debbie Harry was also featured alongside her Blondie bandmates, which is how she ended up sitting next to Meat Loaf when this photo was taken.
The Hairdo Of The Decade
The word “mullet” is practically synonymous with the ’80s since you can’t imagine one without the other. The hairstyle consisted of short hair on the top and sides of the head and long hair in the back.
While David Bowie rocked the look in the ’70s, it wasn’t until the ’80s that the mullet suddenly seemed to be on heads everywhere. From Patrick Swayze to Billy Ray Cyrus, Little Richard to George Clooney, this was the hottest hairdo of the ’80s.
Back When Pizza Hut Was A Dine-In Restaurant
These days, you’re more likely to order delivery from Pizza Hut and only if you’re sticking to a budget. Back in the ’80s, though, Pizza Hut was on an entirely different playing field. Equipped with booths, waiters, and crusts made from scratch, it was the place to hang out with family and friends.
The most quintessentially ’80s things about the vintage Pizza Hut were its arcade games and old fashioned jukebox. Price cuts left little more than an ordering counter in the Pizza Huts of today.
Pac-Man Was THE Arcade Game In The ’80s
Pac-Man was released in 1980 and was an instant hit. The creator, Toru Iwatani, was eating pizza when he came up with the game’s lead character, which looks like a pizza with a slice taken out of it.
Namco, the company that produced the game, wanted something that would appeal to both girls and boys, and the maze game with cute ghosts was just that. The same decade, Mini Pac-Man came out so that children didn’t even have to go to the arcade to enjoy the beloved game.
Playing Donkey Kong On The Floor
1980s videogame consoles didn’t have the flexibility of today’s wireless connections, so you’d likely have to play on the floor. Televisions weren’t as crystal clear as they are today, either, so being closer to the screen probably helped your game skills.
This little guy appears to be playing Donkey Kong, a game that first came out in 1981. The game was such a success that one of the characters, Jumpman, got his own game called Mario Bros.
Roller Skating With A Sony Walkman
The Sony Walkman wasn’t only an early precursor to the iPod, but was also the start of a musical revolution. Suddenly, people could listen to whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and no one they were with had a say in the matter.
In this photo, you have a woman rollerskating outside while listening to her Walkman, which is attached to her waistband. She doesn’t look that far off from the youth of today, who often have their headphones plugged into their smartphones.
The Famous Boombox
Before the Walkman, the only way you could listen to your own personal music while away from home was by lugging around a giant boombox. This man has a strap on his boombox so that he can ride his bike and listen to his jams.
In the ’80s, it wasn’t unusual to see someone holding a boombox on their shoulder at a party or setting one on the curb outside for a quick breakdancing session with the neighbors.
Winner Of The Most ’80s Family Portrait
So much about this photograph is pure ’80s. For one, where are all of them looking? The dramatic stare into the distance was a hallmark of portraits from the decade. Then there’s the cheesy way they layered the photos so that the mother looks like a ghost.
We can’t forget the fact that the girls are holding Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, one of the most famous toys of the ’80s, or that the girl in the middle is rocking that famous mullet!
A Beloved New York Restaurant
Nestled in the SoHo region of New York City, Dave’s Corner Luncheon was a favorite of locals in the ’80s. As The New Yorker once put it, “The neighborhood was apparently deserted it turned out that everyone who was ambulatory was inside Dave’s Corner.”
The reporter went on to say that all walks of life enjoyed the restaurant, from white-collar workers to taxi drivers and truckers, and called Dave an agreeable man. Sadly, the corner of Canal Street and Broadway doesn’t look the same today since a hotel has taken over the spot.
The Smurfs Were On Everything
Back in the ’80s, many brands offered beloved television and game characters in toy format to appeal to kids. The Smurfs were all the rage at the time, so it’s not surprising that this boy landed a Smurf drum set for his birthday.
The present isn’t the only thing that tips off the fact this photo was taken in the ’80s. You also have the boy’s deep V-neck shirt and his older sister’s Michael Jackson tee as evidence of the era.
A Family Photo With E.T.
This family photo seems a little strange for a few reasons. First off, they’re inside what appears to be a playroom, and half of them are holding stuffed animals even though only one of them is of toy-playing age.
Secondly, there’s the life-size E.T. figure that they’re all centered around, which happens to be dressed in a floral gown and a blonde wig. We can’t say what compelled these people to preserve this moment, but for humor’s sake, we’re glad they did.
Buddies In The Bronx
These buddies look like they’re having the time of their lives hanging out on the streets of the Bronx in New York City. They also look like they are undoubtedly teens of the ’80s, judging by their short shorts and high socks.
The hats turned to the side is another telling sign of the decade. In case you still had any doubts about when this photo was snapped, just consider the fact that none of them have a cellphone in their hand.
Before You Could Preview Your Photos
Unless you’re someone who loves vintage cameras, odds are you preview your photographs after taking them, either on a digital camera or a cell phone. Back in the ’80s, you just had to snap a photo and hope for the best.
This children’s birthday party group shot is a perfect example of a photograph that would have been retaken by today’s standards. You have one kid frowning, another one blinking, another on looking the wrong direction, and a couple of silly faces that don’t quite match the rest of the group.
Big Denim And Bigger Hair
We can’t decide what’s harder to miss in this photograph: her denim skirt or her tall hair. Denim skirts have all but vanished from fashion more recently, but even when they were still around they didn’t have those large denim pockets like they did in the ’80s.
Her hair doesn’t look like it could get much taller, unless she spontaneously morphed into Marge Simpson. We’re not quite sure what’s holding the headband up since her scalp can’t possibly be that tall, but perhaps that’s why she needed so much hairspray.
Metallic Suits Were A Good Idea
Once upon a time, metallic suits were socially acceptable. That time was called the 1980s. You can tell by this young man’s smirk that he thinks he looks really great in that shiny outfit with a plaid tie.
Not only is the jacket’s color a sign of the decade, but also the style of it. Instead of the buttons running vertically up the opening, there are just two horizontal buttons at the bottom of the jacket near the pants.
Heading Into Sears At A Busy Mall
Remember Sears? Wait, let’s backtrack. Remember malls? With all of the convenience that online shopping has to offer, stores have been dropping like flies and malls feel more and more like a ghost town each year.
Mall entrances in the ’80s were packed with shoppers, especially at the doors of Sears. At that time, Sears was a one-stop shop. Today, websites are your one-stop shops, and Sears, and malls altogether, are struggling to keep up.
A Punk Rock Couple
Ah, young romance. You can tell these two really love each other because of their complementary punk rock hairdos. In the ’80s, it was common to see young people dolled up like this.
Mohawks were especially popular in the ’80s and have come back a couple of times since then. The hairdo is seen as anti-establishment. Back in the day, kids would use Elmer’s glue to create these looks, which makes the style that much more non-conformist.
Choosy Moms Choose Gameboy
Gameboy didn’t come out until 1989, but you can tell that this photo must have been snapped shortly thereafter since the entire family seems amazed at the toy’s novelty.
The best part is that the mother is the one playing, and she looks like she’s taking it very seriously. The kids must be thinking that they have the coolest mom ever considering they all look entranced and no one is fighting over whose turn it is next.