by Catriona Mills

The Existential Horror of the 1980s

Posted 25 July 2010 in by Catriona

My students seems quite fascinated by the 1980s. I suppose, when the majority of them were born in the 1990s, it seems oddly exotic and ancient to them, a state of mind that in turn makes me feel ancient, though not particularly exotic.

So I tell them the 1980s was a time of unremitting horror, and they should be lucky they don’t have to revisit it.

(I’m actually quite fond of the ’80s, myself, in a nostalgic kind of way, but I seem to have gone a little mad in front of my classes, ever since I started teaching students who were born while I was in high school.)

I could tell them about the sense that we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust or, this being a giant isolated island, survive in a nuclear wasteland among mutant kangaroos before committing suicide with Armand Assante.

(I may be mixing up Tank Girl and the 2000 adaptation of On the Beach, there, but, hey, it was a confusing time.)

But to drive home the true existential horror of the 1980s, all I really need to do is to show them the covers of Paula Danziger novels:

The tight jeans!

The short jeans!

The socks that match your magenta-and-black-striped jumper!

The magenta-and-black-striped jumper!

The blue slip-on shoes!

The polka dots!

Truly, an impending nuclear holocaust would always have been slightly less terrifying than those lemon-coloured, three-quarter-length leggings with white high heels and matching plastic bracelets.

Share your thoughts [13]

1

Matthew Smith wrote at Jul 26, 12:27 PM

Priceless, I love it! Steph sends her regards and wants to let you know that Paula Danziger came to her school once and in her recollection, she was not trendy, even for the eighties.

2

Catriona wrote at Jul 26, 12:33 PM

Paula Danziger was always a bit of a hippy, is my understanding. She lives—lived, actually: I’ve just found out she died in 2004, though she was only my parents’ age—(mostly, but I think not exclusively) in Woodstock, which is why so many of her novels revolve around there.

But Steph actually met her? Awesome.

I was very fond of Paula Danziger: her teen voices are authentic, though her novels are slight; her happy endings are always a bit open-ended; and she manages to make her characters a bit selfish (in a typically early teens kind of selfishness) without making them hateful or inaccessible.

I just think these 1980s’ British reprint covers are truly terrifying in retrospect.

3

Melissa Graf wrote at Jul 31, 12:43 AM

I was born in the mid-80s, so I think I had a mediocre blend of 80s fashions that wouldn’t die, and the 90s. I remember fluoro lycra bike pants (or fluoro anything, really), scrunchies on side ponytails, waistbands that actually came close to my waist, lots of cheongsam dresses and miniskirts, and leg warmers. I blame ‘Clueless’ for the way a lot of my classmates dressed in high school.

I think I still have my school dance dress from primary school. It was hot pink with black, puffy sleeves, a bow on the back, with had multiple layers of ruffles sticking out of it. I have to find it, one day; I think it is in a box, somewhere…

4

Catriona wrote at Jul 31, 02:00 AM

I was born in the mid-70s, so I was very much a child of the ’80s and then a mid-teen in the early ’90s. So I remember a great deal of fluoro, polka dots, ruffles (many, many ruffles—it wasn’t a little-girl ’80s dress if if didn’t have at least two ruffles and a dropped waist), those wide elasticated waistbands that actually looked rather great until you sat down and they rolled up, skinny jeans, and enormous jumpers. And then there was flannel—felt like we lived in flannel shirts for a while there in the early ’90s.

Much ’80s fashion I actually rather like, but I was thrilled when hipster jeans came in the ’90s. Not the super low-ride jeans that came a bit later: those were awful. But the ones that just hit you on your hipbone? I loved those. Shame my days of hipster jeans and crop tops are past, really.

5

Melissa Graf wrote at Jul 31, 08:51 AM

I saw a girl crouching down in a pair of those the other day, in the city. It was fairly horrifying, since from the back it looked like she wasn’t wearing any pants at all.

6

Gritchen wrote at Jul 31, 10:42 PM

Oh Treena! I have such a fondness for these covers. I read each of these books countless times and always wished I could dress like the girls on the covers. Especially that black and white polka dot outfit. I see nothing horrifying here at all!

7

Catriona wrote at Aug 1, 06:24 AM

Not even in the too-short jeans? Or the blue slip-on shoes?

8

Heather wrote at Aug 17, 09:12 AM

In that last cover…is that a lesbian? The one who looks like a lesbian. Not the one in the bogus sweater.

9

Catriona wrote at Aug 17, 09:24 AM

If you mean the one on the right (she says, uncertain how she should respond to the phrase “looks like a lesbian”), then nope. That’s a boy. A boy who’s a whole year younger than the heroine. Gasp!

10

Red wrote at Apr 20, 06:07 AM

I miss seeing those too short jeans and socks. I think that little bit of leg showing looks sooo sexy!

11

Catriona wrote at Apr 20, 07:53 AM

I’ve always been much more of an Armani crease woman myself, Red. Maybe I’m just ankle-phobic?

12

Red wrote at Apr 22, 08:13 AM

Hah! Maybe you are an ankle phobic :) What is an armani crease? Its ok to have a crease as long as I see a little leg between pants and socks! :))) Seriously, for a leg man, that little bit of bare leg is a great tease!

13

Catriona wrote at Apr 22, 12:14 PM

Hmm. I’m wondering now if the Armani crease is something I just made up. I mean that crease you get across the front of the trousers where they rest across the top of the shoes. (Definitely no visible ankle.) I could have sworn that was called the Armani crease, but I’m not seeing the term on any Google searches.

My theory’s always been that if you want ankle, wear a nice swooshy skirt. Short trousers just don’t cut it for me!

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