When you think about what was popular in the 80s, besides the iconic TV shows and films, the decade was full of weird and wonderful fads such as Koosh Balls, Shoulder Pads, Hacky Sacks, Parachute Pants, M.U.S.C.L.E. Men and more! They were frequently made of ‘jelly’ and came in bright colours. Some 80s fads were quite dangerous, like car surfing, and others were just silly.
Every decade has its fads and crazes, and the 1980s was no different! It was bursting at the seams with crazy toys and questionable fashion choices, but let’s be honest – it’s a relief that some of them stayed in the 80s (mullets and hair crimping, anyone?). Most 80s fads were either cringeworthy, hilarious or just completely bonkers, and in the article below we’ve brought you 25 of the biggest crazes of the 1980s. Roll up your Miami Vice jacket and get your leg warmers ready, because we’re about to go into full 80s mode! How many of these 80s fads and crazes do you remember?
1. Koosh Balls
Who remembers these toys appearing in the playground? They were balls made of rubber filaments and attached to a soft core, which came in lots of different colours. Koosh balls were collectable too, so people would get as many colours as they could. It was hard to say what the exact aim of these toys was, but whether it was just for the feel of the ball itself, or to throw around to each other, they were still great fun!
Launched in 1988 by USA company Hasbro, this ball was one playground treat. The only issue was when someone had a Koosh that was a better set of colours than yours and you would become insanely jealous! Now, who’s for a game of piggy in the middle?!
2. Jelly Shoes
Who remembers jelly shoes? For 80s girls everywhere, these shoes were a delight to wear! They were light and airy, meaning your feet never got too sweaty (which is always a positive), plus they came in many different styles and colours. They only cost a few quid, too. Of course, the glitter jellies were the Rolls Royce of the jelly shoes world – did you manage to pick up a pair?
They were great for at the seaside when you wanted to have a paddle in the sea but keep your shoes on. No fear of having a nip on your toe from a crab! Your Jelly shoes dried in minutes too which meant they were definitely the perfect beach wear accessory. Which was your favourite pair of Jelly Shoes?
3. Car Surfing
80s kids will remember that this craze involved getting on top of a friend’s car whilst they drove it and trying to look cool and like you were surfing. We can’t condone this in any way and can’t even start to say how dangerous it is – please do not try this at home!
4. Shoulder Pads
This was one of the biggest fads of the 80s and one of the few that was adopted more by the middle and upper classes than anyone else. The 80s was the start of women in the workplace who wanted to make it clear that they were capable of doing every job a man can do. With that came power dressing and the desire to present oneself as a serious, intelligent and strong woman. Just like Joan in Dynasty…
5. Hair Crimping
Crimping was the Marmite of the hair style world – you either loved it or you didn’t like it at all. There was no middle ground and no “meh” take it or leave it! This hair style appeared at many an 80s school disco, usually paired with very large hoop earrings and some leg warmers to complete the look.
Often a hair crimped look would be accompanied with some coloured hair spray too, from pink, red, blue, anything bright. It wasn’t just about the crimping but about being noticed for the fact that you were a part of this trend!
6. Hacky Sacks
Oh yes! Hacky Sacks were the mini leather beanbags which came in many colours, complete with different facial expressions slapped across them. They were just awesome for a game of catch, or kicking up in the air to another person who passed it back (all without using your hands). Hacky Sack is actually considered a proper “sport” in the US, so they obviously have simple tastes when it comes to certain things. I mean yes they’re fun, but only for about 5 minutes!
One of the best things to do was to line all the Hacky Sacks up on a swing, then push the swing. The person whose Hacky Sack is the last one remaining on the swing, after the others have fallen off wins. Hours of fun there! Well, hour. OK, minutes. Maybe. Did you have Hacky Sacks at home?
7. Parachute Pants
Breakdancing boys of the mid 80’s could not get enough of these trousers! Parachute pants were tight fitting trousers characterised by their interesting shape. The nylon material was similar to that of a parachute and they often had a very large crotch area that could sometimes come down lower than the knees!
Yes, they looked absurd. Yes, we all know someone that thought they looked amazing in these. And no, we know that they didn’t. At all. Ever. Thank god this fad didn’t last long, despite MC Hammer’s best efforts!
8. Freezy Freakies
What a fad these were in the mid 80s! Freezy Freakies were snow gloves which revealed fun colours and designs in cold temperatures.
They couldn’t be used too often, but were great if you had rich parents who were taking you on a skiing trip in the school holidays. Did you know anyone who had these? Did they work well, or was it never cold enough to see properly the effect they were meant to have?
9. Slap Bracelets
These little rascals were banned from many schools in the late 80’s due to injuries. They were a massive trend, though and people had loads of these tucked away at home, in all sorts of different colours! Slap bracelets were so popular that they lasted well into the 90s too. They came in many different patterns and were composed of a layered flexible stainless steel bistable spring band sealed within a fabric cover.
The band would straighten out and slap around your wrist! Some recent media outlets have revealed that slap bands are actually bits of tape measured wrapped up in fabric, which are very sharp and very dangerous… oops.
10. Leg Warmers
In the decade of Flashdance and Fame, leg warmers were at their absolute peak of popularity! They were designed for cold days, but seemed to be used more in the gym. People who exercise are normally already pretty warm, so leg warmers must have been more than a little bit sweaty!
Leg warmers were around long before the 80’s, but the 80’s saw them peak in popularity. They came in every colour, and in tonnes of designs. They weren’t just for dancers, they were used as part of day to day outfits too – even over tights, with a skirt! But, hey, it was the 80’s, the fashion capital of all time, so fair enough…
The mullet was one of the ultimate in bad hairstyles, yet one that many men over the course of the 80s would inexplicably partake in. It didn’t look particularly great then and looking back, it looked even worse than we thought!
Pat Sharp managed to single-handedly keep the “fashion” going with his time on the spotlight in Fun House and inspired a generation of idiots to copy his style. Thankfully mullets are long gone!
12. Big Hair
It wasn’t just men who had big hair… 80s women were equally guilty of bad hairstyles and it seemed at times that bigger was meant to be better. We’ve all looked over old wedding photos and felt a sharp pang of regret over our choice of hairstyle…
This was one trend that continued well after the 80s when Jennifer Aniston managed to help keep the big hairstyle thanks to her turn on Friends. Luckily it has calmed down a bit now, but big hair still rears its ugly head from time to time!
13. Garbage Pail Kids
These were the ultimate collectable cards and yet some of the designs were really quite disgusting. At the time, it just seemed like they were very gross, disgusting characters that the manufacturers had made up, and we felt really grown up collecting them.
Looking back, these were actually really inventive, and it’s amazing to see how many of the characters were based on other creatures or characters that were already around and had been adapted.
Yo-yos often come and go as a fad and every generation experiences these wonderful toys at some point. However, they were a particularly massive fad in the 80s.
We had the light-up yo-yos that looked great but were too heavy to use properly. However we also had a Coca-Cola branded yo-yo with his silver and gold collectable yo-yos that took the country by storm!
It’s amazing just how much ahead of its time the Walkman seemed in the 1980s. It was literally like you were owning a little bit of the future right there in your hand!
Being able to go out and take your music with you was awesome and didn’t seem quite real at the time, but it really makes you realise how much we take it for granted now when we can have thousands of songs at hand in our pockets.
16. Finger Monsters
These little critters were cute and very cool. It was impossible not to smile at someone when they showed you their hand with several of these on their fingers!
Even the hardest heart would melt – do you remember them? How many of these did you and your friends have between you? Did you swap and change, or did you have a particular favourite which you simply wouldn’t let out of your sight?
17. Cabbage Patch Dolls
We’ll be totally honest here – we have never been able to understand this particular fad. What were the Cabbage Patch Dolls all about? Cabbage Patch Dolls were not attractive toys, they didn’t look nice and they didn’t look friendly.
In fact, these things looked creepy as hell! And yet they were incredibly popular at the time and sold in their millions. Each to their own!
18. M.U.S.C.L.E. Men
These things were totally bizarre. However, they were cool, collectible and extremely popular in the 80s. Everywhere you looked in a school playground there would be M.U.S.C.L.E Men, and some people would have dozens in their pockets every day!
How many of these did you have? Did you try and stick to the relatively “normal” looking ones, or was it all about the more unique designs, with multiple limbs, block-shaped heads and random body parts sticking out in every direction? Whatever the case, they looked good, and had that particular smell of rubbery-plastic that takes you instantly back to your childhood days!
19. Micro Machines
Coming along in the late 80s, these took the world by storm and were a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic! They were so easy to collect and would usually come in packs of 3 or 5. Micro Machines were also great to swap with mates if they had a particular one you desperately wanted.
There was one draw back with Micro Machines, though. They were so small, and people had so many of them, and they had wheels… meaning that accidents could very easily ensue if an unsuspecting parent walked in and didn’t look at where they were standing!
20. Rubik’s Puzzles
The Rubik’s Cube took the World by storm and was insanely popular (arguably it still is today). These days it’s about who can complete it the quickest, but in the 80s it was just about trying to crack it at all. In the end, far too many people simply resorted to one of two things – either give up, or peel off the stickers and cheat!
But it wasn’t just the Rubik’s Cube. There were several other puzzles released by Rubik’s, all of them incredibly inventive, but none of them taking off in the same way as the infamous Cube! Which of the Rubik’s puzzles do you remember attempting – and failing?!
21. Ghetto Blasters
This was considered a portable radio! These things were big and the people who would walk around with them thought they looked ridiculously cool. Ghetto blasters were heavy, too, so you had to be pretty strong to lug one of these around with you.
It was funny how everyone who had these were into heavy rock or heavy metal, though. It was rare to hear anyone banging out Mozart, Beethoven, or even just Spandau Ballet! It might have given the wrong impression if they had.
22. Monster Balls
These things were really different and looked the business for those who wanted to be part of the cool crowd at school. Monster Balls were based around different famous monsters from different eras and were very well designed.
Monster Balls were slightly too hard to be used as regular balls though, and if you threw them at each other with too much force there was a good chance one of you would get a serious injury. These weren’t about them being balls though, it was about them being just a little bit bad-ass!
Another cool monster-related product, Boglins were basically meant to be friendly little Goblins that came in a box, hence the name, Boglins. They looked the part and they also felt the part too – they were made of a kind of latex that felt really skin-like which was even more creepy!
For the ultimate in fun, wait until fairly late, and balance one on top of your big sister’s door. Wait for her to open the door and for it to fall on her in the dark. Wait for the scream… Then get beaten up because she’s bigger than you! All good fun!
24. Polly Pocket
This was one of the biggest toy crazes aimed at girls of the 80s. You had Barbie, Cindy and of course, Polly Pocket! The difference was you could take a couple of Barbies or Cindy’s when you’re out for the day, and maybe a change of clothing for them.
But you could take Polly and her whole world with you! These were really inventive and really encouraged kids to use their imaginations. They released dozens of different sets and people would collect as many as possible. Apparently there are signs that Polly Pocket is about to make a big comeback, and all we can say is it’s a welcome return, long overdue!
25. Monster in my Pocket
Which young kid didn’t love monsters? Monster In My Pocket capitalised on kids’ love of the different and the macabre and created a wonderful world of weird and wonderful creatures. It was easy to collect dozens of them, and even if you had the same one twice, it didn’t matter too much – you can have more than one vampire or werewolf in a movie, right?
The characters in this series were particularly good as they didn’t just stick to the tried and tested Universal Monster catalogue, of mummies, vampires and werewolves. They drew on influences from all over the world, different ages and different cultures, from old English folk lore like Jack the Ripper, to Greek Mythological creatures like Medusa. How many did you have?