10 Popular Things From The '80s That We've Since Abandoned

Nostalgia is a weird thing. People who live through a particular decade sometimes either embrace its trends or find themselves eager to see their demise, only to find themselves with an odd longing for them a couple of decades later. The news that Columbia House Record Club is going out of business made me simultaneously think "They were still in business?" and also got me looking back on stuff that is long gone from the past. I grew up in the 1980s and '90s, and here are a few things that were once common that have mostly disappeared now.

10. Glamour Shots Photography.

Well, there are still quite a few Glamour Shots studios in business, but the heyday for going to get your photos done at one of them seems to have been sometime in the early '90s. With the Internet age, the soft focused, often ridiculous looking results of a Glamour Shots photo session are more often fodder for online jokes than something many people want sitting on their mantels.

9. Waterbeds.

Waterbeds were a big thing in the 1970s and 1980s, and I recall them still being relatively common in the '90s, but hardly anyone I know seems to own one now. A little research reveals that the modern day waterbed was invented in the early '70s, and was a popular type of bed throughout that decade and the '80s. There was always a slightly seedy aspect to waterbeds. One of the earliest was initially named "The Pleasure Pit," so perhaps that's part of the reason they're not as popular as they used to be? Associations with custom vans and weird suburban "key parties" might have contributed to a decline in popularity. Many rental properties have leases that forbid them because of the possibility of them leaking, so maybe that also made them less viable for some people. Whatever the reason, I don't know too many people who have waterbeds anymore.

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8. Video Rental Stores.

In the 1980s, going to video rental stores was a huge part of many people's weekly routines. During that decade, they popped up in nearly every populated area, providing entertainment options for people who preferred to watch movies at home, without relying entirely on whatever was on TV or cable. If you were lucky, a good mom and pop place would be nearby, where a person could find rare stuff that big chains like Blockbuster didn't or wouldn't carry. They're all mostly gone now, replaced by Netflix and other services that allow customers to stream movies at their leisure. Those services are superior in many ways - for instance, no one enjoyed late fees, or the disappointment when a popular movie was out of stock. Still, there was something cool about browsing the shelves of a good video rental place, and they've mostly disappeared.

7. Big Hair.

Looking back, the 1980s definitely were the decade where big hair was most in fashion. Sure, during the 1960s women wore large bouffant hairstyles, and plenty of women kept a big head of hair in the '70s, but it seems like EVERYONE teased and sprayed their hair huge in the 1980s. Styling products that were as strong as industrial glues flew off the shelves, as popularity for gravity defying hair grew and continued throughout the decade. Some people still do the big hair look today, but it's nowhere near as popular as it was back in the pink and teal years.

6. Shoulder Pads in Clothing.

The 1980s were a time marked by certain extreme fashion trends that now look dated and funny. Shoulder pads sewn into clothes was one of those. By the mid to late '80s, it was almost impossible to find a jacket that didn't have huge shoulder pads built into it, and I guess a lot of people wanted their upper bodies to look triangular or something. I personally hated it, as I'm a big guy with wide shoulders anyway, and didn't enjoy buying clothing that made me look like a linebacker. I look back on those fashions and it's like the big hair trend - I don't really miss it, but it's strange how popular those shoulder pads used to be.

5. Columbia House Record Club.

As mentioned previously, the mail order music company Columbia House announced its bankruptcy recently, and was a reminder of a time when the services it offered was a major part of American life. The company was founded in 1955 as a way for Columbia Records to sell music through the mail, making its albums available to people who weren't fortunate enough to have a record shop nearby, or who didn't want to bother going down to one in person. The business model is well known to anyone who ever got roped into a membership. They offered an initial deal where the customer received a large number of recordings for next to nothing, "10 records for a dollar" or something, then had to buy several more over the next couple of years, but those had a huge markup from what was the norm down at a brick and mortar record store. It's not surprising that this business model couldn't withstand the change towards downloadable and streaming music, but it's incredible that Columbia House stuck it out as long as it did.

4. MTV Playing Music Videos.

Yes, I realize that in between terrible reality shows MTV still sprinkles in music videos, but it is nowhere close to the way things used to be in the '80s and '90s. Back then, MTV was an enormous trend-making force, and having a popular video on the channel could catapult an unknown band to fame overnight. Does anyone actually care what videos play on MTV anymore? It's still popular, but MTV just isn't the music spreading giant it once was.

Her name is probably Rio, and she hangs in Mom's house.
Her name is probably Rio, and she hangs in Mom's house.
Photo by Chris Lane

3. Nagel Paintings.

Patrick Nagel's iconic painting style is associated strongly with the 1980s, and for good reason. His stuff was everywhere! Nagels and Nagel knockoffs were as popular as Margaret Keane's paintings of big eyed waifs had been 20 years earlier, and could be seen on album covers and bachelor pad walls all over the country. Nagel's striking paintings of beautiful women seem stuck in the era, but are just as awesome (to borrow a decade-appropriate descriptor) now as they ever were. It's strange that they don't seem to be displayed very much anymore. My mother lives in a very quaint Arts and Crafts style home that's furnished with antiques from the same era. Inexplicably, she has a framed Nagel print in one room. No one knows where it came from or how it got there.

2. Shopping Malls.

Huge standalone shopping malls like Memorial City Mall or Sharpstown Mall once were a huge part of many people's lives. When Frank Sharp developed the Sharpstown neighborhood back in the late '50s and early '60s, the mall was seen as a new kind of retail environment that was a major quality of life perk for the area's residents. Malls opened up all over the country, and by the 1980s were not just a place to shop, but were also a major social hub for young people. Many enclosed shopping malls around the United States have fallen on hard times, as people abandon them for online shopping and other forms of retail. As a result, it's projected that, within 20 years, as many as half of the countries remaining malls will either be closed down or repurposed in some way. Many of them just can't compete as retail centers in the way that they once did. People no longer have to shop at a brick and mortar store, and we increasingly socialize online. Old fashioned malls just don't make much sense anymore.

1. Arcades.

In the early '80s, arcades sprung up all over the country, as people tripped over themselves trying to pour quarters into arcade games. It was a golden age for coin operated video games, with iconic creations like Pac-Man and Tempest capturing the attention of millions of Americans. Almost anyone who could manage to fill a dark room with 10 or 20 games was almost assured a solid stream of income, and arcades became a major hub for people to meet and hang out. Then everything changed. Arcades didn't disappear overnight, but increasingly good home video game systems kept a lot of their former customers away, and the number of arcades began to decrease. There was also pressure from some watchdog groups (busybodies allergic to fun) who thought arcades were somehow morally detrimental to kids, and that didn't help things any. Nowadays, arcades are a rarity. Yes, there are places like Dave and Busters, but those are very different than the arcades from earlier, and there are also a handful of retro-arcades that still operate. Those are treasures to anyone who grew up loving classic arcade games, but they are few and far between. Still, they are a fun connection to an era that is fading away more and more as time goes on.   


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