Highlights of the Major Pop Culture Trends of the 1980s

The 1980s is one decade that we can’t seem to forget. The television shows of that time are being rebooted today, while remakes of the 80s movies are already out or in the works. The fashions, styles, and several other aspects of that decade are also attractive to many of us. Perhaps it was a more carefree time for many, or just a simpler time that everyone enjoyed. Whatever the case, looking back on the 80s is always a fun and informative exercise.

Let’s now see what the major pop culture trends of this decade were:


  • The launch of MTV, or music television, was one of the most iconic moments in music history. It began in 1981 with the statement ‘Ladies and gentleman, rock and roll’. The first video it played was The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’.
  • Madonna’s outrageous performances raised eyebrows all around during the 1980s, but she was well-loved by many fans. She performed in the very first MTV Video Music Awards, wearing a wedding gown and writhing around to the beat of ‘Like a Virgin’.
  • However, Madonna’s music video for ‘Like a Prayer’ might have been too much for certain audiences to stomach. Though it did receive praise for dealing with difficult issues, the video caused Madonna to lose her position as a spokesperson for Pepsi.
  • NWA released a gangsta rap album in 1986. This work quickly established the band as a force to be reckoned with. The ‘Straight Outta Compton’ album was among the first to have the label ‘Parental Advisory’ on the case. While the group itself was controversial, it did speak on many real-life issues for black youth.
  • Michael Jackson’s career was at its peak in the 80s; this was when he accumulated the most of his wealth and fame.


  • The big hair of the 80s was a symbol for the whole decade. Those huge permed hairstyles required a lot of hairspray; especially Aqua Net, which couldn’t have been good for the environment.
  • Jelly shoes might look like garbage now, but they had their perks. The material was light and airy, so you didn’t have to deal with sweaty feet. Plus, they came in all sorts of colors and designs, helping you complete that outfit in a jiffy.
  • Shoulder pads were seen on almost every powerful female character on TV during the 80s. Real people obviously wore them as well, though we can’t imagine how they managed that extra burden throughout the day.
  • Leather jackets, denim jackets, and aviator jackets were trending throughout the 80s, sometimes simultaneously.
  • In fact, power dressing in itself was a major trend. This trend started when women started to move into the workplaces and had to assert themselves in a world still dominated by men.
  • Parachute pants were also a thing, though they also had a practical purpose. Break-dancers found these clothing items useful when they showed off their moves. The pants were tight-fitting, but their nylon material and a largish crotch area made them quite flexible.
  • Since movies like ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ were reaching new heights of popularity, this also meant that aerobics wear was in. Leg warmers were a part of such ensembles, though they probably weren’t very comfortable. You could find several different colors and designs; some fashionistas may also have simply cut the feet off their knee socks!
  • Tying in with the permed hair was the mullet, one of the iconic make hairstyles in the 80s. Some women also sported mullets, though this hairstyle has yet to come back in style.
  • Jeans are an everyday clothing item for most of us, but the 80s added their own touch to them. Fashion-conscious youngsters would either buy jeans with an acid wash effect or try to bleach their current pair for those white streaks. If there were rips at the knees, the jeans would be even more in keeping with 80s fashion.
  • The Madonna effect on fashion in the 80s is undeniable. Fingerless gloves, leggings with tulle skirts, beaded necklaces, fishnets, bangles, busty tops and huge hair bows…the influences were shocking at times, but you can’t deny they were easy to follow.
  • Several styles of the 80s are still relevant today. Just a couple of examples include women having several earrings in one ear and wearing denim jackets on denim jeans.
  • The Jane Fonda workout videos were also a major contributor to the popularity of aerobics wear and sportswear. The first tape from Fonda was released in 1982, with over a million copies sold.



  • The ‘Miracle on Ice’ was the moment when the underdog team from America beat the experienced Soviet hockey team. This victory occurred during the Winter Olympics in 1980. With the whole of the United States tensed up about the Cold War, it was certainly a nice change to see a glorious win like that. After this point, we might have believed in miracles a little bit more than before.
  • Several now -famous professional wrestlers started their career in the 1980s. Think Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Ultimate Warrior, and several others on your screen every single night. The WWF was very popular at the moment, with body slams and elbow drops being showcased across America. This was also the first time that the WrestleMania was established.
  • George LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France, putting an end to the European dominance in that area. He actually won this event twice in the 80s, once in 1986 and once in 1989.


  • The arcade game Pac-Man was one of the most popular and iconic trends of the 80s. It was released in the United States in October 1980 and was immediately popular among all video and arcade game lovers
  • The Rubik’s Cube debuted in the 1980s and soon triggered a worldwide craze. It’s now considered to be the best-selling toy ever.
  • For more information on these popular 80s toys, read our Top Pop Culture Toys of the 80s guide.
  • Other amazing toys that hail from the 80s include Micro machines, cabbage Patch Kids, G. I. Joe, Transformers, Care Bears, masters of the Universe, etc.
  • The Sony Walkman made its first appearance during the 80s. Soon, every portable cassette player was called a ‘Walkman’ whether they were associated with Sony or not. If you were strolling along with a Walkman in your hands or attached to your belt, you were probably one of the cool kids.
  • The Popples animated TV series aired in 1986. This particular TV show is based on a line of transforming stuffed toys of the same name that was created by American Greetings (a popular producer of greeting cards) and produced by Mattel (one of the biggest toy companies in the world). Check out The Nostalgic History of Popples, A Popular Toy Line of the 1980s for more information.


  • The popular TV show entitled ‘Dallas’ had a major cliffhanger in 1980. he villain J. R. Ewing was shown to be the victim of a murder attempt, but it wasn’t knownexactly who killed him. Audiences had to wait a whole summer, all the while questioning ‘Who Shot J.R? The question became a catchphrase which was even used by the Republicans in the 1980 election.
  • While it technically started in 1979, ‘The Facts of Life’ saw a lifesaving revival in 1980. This TV sitcom was unique in having an all-female cast, though it had to be pared down in order to work. The gentle, nurturing presence of Charlotte Rae (brought over from Diff’rent Strokes) and the chemistry of the four main girls kept the renewals coming for a total of nine seasons.
  • The season finale of ‘M*A*S*H was the most-watched finale ever, at least when we talk of television series. This was a sitcom that was based on the Korean War and dominated the airwaves during the 70s. In fact, it’s estimated that only the Super Bowl in 2010 had a larger audience than this finale so far.
  • Yet another iconic show to make its debut here was ‘Baywatch’. This offering had David Hasselhoff patrolling the Los Angeles County beaches. While the show’s start was a bit slow, it soon became a worldwide phenomenon. It is even among the most-watched shows in the whole world at one point.


  • No discussion about pop culture in the 80s would be complete without mentioning the Indiana Jones series. Harrison Ford was the biggest action star of the decade, though his work on Star Wars cannot be ignored.
  • Speaking of which, the other notable movies of the 80s included the fourth and fifth installment of the Star Wars Series
  • The Breakfast Club and other ‘Brat Pack’ movies were also a major part of the 80s movie offerings. ‘Brat Pack’ simply refers to a certain group of actors who usually appeared together in several movies. These included names like Molly RIngwald, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, and Judd Nelson.
  • The first installment of the Batman series, Top Gun, Die Hard, Terminator were all within the 80s decade.
  • Other notable movies of this time include ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Willow’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Goonies’, ‘Predators’, and ‘Gremlins’.
  • “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ probably deserves a separate mention, as this movie is still well-loved for its super confident, supercool protagonist.
  • Car surfing is a dangerous activity, but it became something to try out at least once. We can thank Michael J. Fox for that, as his car surfing scene on ‘Teen Wolf’ made quite an impression on the minds of 80s kids.
  • The ‘Risky Business’ dance had Tom Cruise dressed on just a button-down collared shirt, underwear, and socks. He was lip-synching to ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’ by Bob Serer. This moment may have catapulted the actor into his brilliant career in movies. Cruise is still asked about that minute, which has already been recreated many times.
  • Steven Spielberg and John Hughes ruled the roost in the 80s film industry. They were responsible for several iconic works such as ‘Pretty in PInk’, The Breakfast Club’, ‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, ‘The Color Purple’, ‘E.T’, and so many more. ‘


  • NASA launched several space shuttles during the 1980s. Most of these missions were successful, though it’s hard to forget the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. This occurred in 1986 and caused the loss of seven lives.
  • This was also the year of the first untethered space walk
  • The first fiber optic cable was laid during this era, while the hypertext, URL, and other components of the internet also came into being. This was paving the way for the kind of technology that we enjoy now.
  • Other iconic technological advancements included cable television, the Graphical User Interface (GUI), VCRs, CDs, video game consoles, and so on.
  • Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. which made up for the lack of enthusiasm with the original Super Mario earlier in the decade.
  • The first Apple computer came on the market, and the rest was history.
  • It was in 1985 when Nintendo launched the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES in North America. The NES would be deemed as the savior of the video game industry after it crashed in 1983 due to poor quality of games and oversaturation of video game consoles on the market. To know more about the NES and other 80s toys and gadgets, read our article titled “The Most Nostalgic Toys from the 80s.”


  • The wedding of Princes Charles and Lady Diana was probably one of the most-watched events of the 80s. While tragedy was to follow soon after, the wedding was like a fairytale come to life for many of the viewers.
  • John Lennon was murdered by David Chapman right outside the musician’s New York apartment. Howard Cosell, a sports broadcasting legend in his own right, announced the news while he was on the air with ‘Monday Night Football’. Lennon had even given an autograph to his murderer about six hours before he was killed.
  • On October 14, 1987, most American were on the alert for any updates regarding little baby Jessica. Baby Jessica had fallen in a well and was 18 months old at the time. The odds weren’t too good, but the little girl was thankfully saved.
  • The photograph of Baby Jessica with a rescuer won a Pulitzer Prize. CNN also aired the rescue mission around the clock.


There’s no doubt that the 80s was an important and instrumental decade for those who experienced it. We’re still seeing many TV shows like ‘The Goldbergs’, ‘Young Sheldon’, and ‘Stranger Things’ pay tribute to the 80s. The music of that era is genuinely enjoyed today. While we can’t literally bring the 80s back, it’s evident that several people want to experience those special years all over again.

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