1980 1989

The 80s saw many changes politically, economically, technologically and otherwise. Ronald Regan was President of the U.S. for the majority of the decade, Madonna and Michael Jackson became style icons, Mt. St. Helens Erupted, John Lennon was assassinated, and the NASA space shuttle Challenger disintigrated in space.






  • Compact Disc
  • Jarvik 7
  • Personal Computers


  • First Female Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
  • Fall of the Berlin Wall

Defining Decades Webpage

Just do it. (1988) Nike


There are two artists that epitomize 80s music.  The first is Michael Jackson.  The songs “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and “Thriller”, were of his tops hits throughout the decade.  The album Thriller has yet to be unseated as the best-selling album of all time.  The other artist is Madonna.  It was her second album, Like a Virgin, that catapulted her to the top of the charts.  Her controversial lyrics and behavior quickly made her a household name, while her look influenced fashion throughout the decade.

Metal and hard rock were influential styles during the 80s. Artist such as Def Leppard, Poison, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi and Megadeth dominated the genre and helped perpetuate the popularity of rock artist from the 1970s such as KISS and AC/DC. This genre included “Hair Bands” (named for their heavily teased tresses), which some of the aforementioned artists were a part of.  Other noteworthy hair bands were Van Halen, Scorpions, and Quiet Riot.

Although it was in the 70s that the genre began, it was during the 80s that hip-hop really gained momentum.  Artists such as Run-DMC, The Beastie Boyz (who opened for Madonna on her first North American Tour), LL Cool J, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were of the most influential.  


The “Blockbuster” film, although having seen previous success in movies such as Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music, Jaws, and Star Wars in previous decades, became an established format for films in the 1980s.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, two Star Wars sequels, the Indiana Jones trio, Top Gun, two Back to the Future films, and Fatal Attraction were of highest grossing blockbusters of the decades.

The 80s were host to a series of coming-of-age films, many times casting actors from other movies within the same genre.  As a result, the term “Brat Pack” was coined to refer to these actors and their films.  Some of the movies from this genre include Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and of course, The Breakfast Club.

During the 80s cable access grew and as a result television reached the majority of Americans.  1981 became a pivotal year for the music industry as MTV (Music Television) was launched.  The night-time soap opera format was also hugely popular, thanks to the success of the shows Dynasty and Dallas.

Because of the growth of the television industry during this time period, more television shows could enjoy popularity.  Night Court, Murder She Wrote, Star Trek: The Next Generation, MacGyver, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, The Jeffersons, Seinfeld, and Married…With Children, are just a handful of examples.


The 1980’s was a decade of styles. With the influence of hit television shows, and a booming market, the 80’s burgeoned designer branding and coined the concept “power dressing,” in conjunction with a number of truly unforgettable fashion trends. It was also a decade heavily influenced by musician and television icons. Some of the dominant trends to come out of the 1980’s are the new romantic, valley girl, and power dressing. The new romantic was a style mostly influenced by the United Kingdom’s nightlife. This style can be defined by “heavy, bold and streaky make-up, spiky hair, outrageous and exuberant clothing inspired by punk and Goth.” Some of the designers of the new romantic are Vivienne Westwood, Colin Swift, Stevie Stewart, and David Holah. The valley girl trend came from the west, in California. Some of the main trends to come out of the valley are headbands, leg warmers with miniskirts, and cheerleader inspired skirts.

During the 1980’s more and more women entered the workforce. Due to this influx of women in the office, a new genre of clothing was born. The 1980’s was a decade of power dressing. Power dressing emulated the popular 80’s television show, Dynasty. Some of the main elements of power dressing are various sized shoulder pads, Velcro, glitzy jewelry, silk, wool and cotton, and bright colored spiked heels. For men, the power suit became popular. Narrow pinstripes, four button vests, skinny and narrow neckties, and button down collars were key elements of the power dressed man.

In addition to the new emergent fashion trends of the 1980’s, two music icons defined their own fashion trends that became legendary. Madonna “first emerged on the dance music scene with her ‘street urchin’ look consisting of short skirts worn over leggings, necklaces, rubber bracelets, fishnet gloves, hairbows, long layered strings of beads, bleached, untidy hair with dark roots, head bands, and lace ribbons.” Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” era “included brassieres worn as outerwear, oversized crucifix jewelry, lace gloves, tulle skirts, and boytoy belts. Madonna also popularized gloves that were lace and/or fingerless, fishnet stockings, short, tight lycra or leather miniskirts and tubular dresses with bolero-style jackets.”

The other icon to come out of the 1980’s is Michael Jackson. Jackson created the “Thriller” look. Some of the key elements are “matching red/black leather pants and jackets, one glove, sunglasses, and the jheri curl.” Other fashion trends inspired by Jackson are over sized faded leather jackets with puffy sleeves accompanied by gloves, which at times were fingerless, and aviator sunglasses.


Car trends of the 1980’s directly correspond with the booming economy. The 1980’s is a decade defined by extravagance, and cars were no exception. With women more prevalent in the workplace, families had additional money to spend on luxuries such as cars. Some of the car designs seen during the 1980’s carry over from the muscle cars of the 1970’s. American car companies continued to sell sports cars such as the popular Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Pontiac Firebird. In addition to the American cars, foreign cars such as BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Jaguar were becoming more popular.

Sports cars continued to be favorites throughout the 80’s. Cars such as the BMW 3 Series, 5 Series, and Z Series were some of the models much sought after. Not only did BMW’s provide drivers with fast and efficient engines, they also provided drivers with the cache and luxury. For the American class, the Pontiac Firebird dominated domestic car sales, as it averaged 100,000 cars sold per year through 1986. One reason for the increase sales is a renewed interest in performance cars, which began in the early 80’s. The 1980’s Firebird models continued its “distinctive look with the low-riding nose and shallow twin grilles and hidden headlamps. Also, the 80’s models came with full-width tail lamps and a smoked lens on some models for a ‘custom’ blackout effect.”

Another American car that dominated sales in 1980’s is the Ford Mustang. Mustangs are one of America’s iconic sports vehicles and this remained true in this decade. In the 80’s Mustangs were in their third generation. In1979 the Mustang was based on the “longer Fox platform. The interior was restyled to accommodate four people in comfort despite a smaller rear seat. Body styles included a coupe, hatchback, and convertible. Available trim levels included L, GL, GLX, LX, GT, Turbo GT (1983–84), SVO (1984–86), Cobra (1979–81; 1993).”


The compact disc (CD) arrived and dramatically changed the way we listen to music and store data.

1981: First test CD created in Hannover, Germany.
1982: Mass manufacturing of CDs began.
1982: First ever album released on a CD - Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.
1983: CD players and discs marketed in the US and the rest of the world.
1984: Arrival of advanced technology to store and retrieve data from CD-ROM.
1985: Dire Straits became the first artist to sell a million copies on CD.
1987: The first format for storing and playing video and audio (VCD) was created.
1988: The concept of a recordable CD (CD-R) was born.

December 2, 1982
Seattle dentist Dr. Barney Clark was the first person implanted with the Jarvik-7, a "permanent" artificial heart. The 61 year old man had suffered from debilitating congestive heart failure and was too sick to be eligible for a heart transplant. The FDA had just approved a new artificial heart for human implantation - the Jarvik 7 - a device named after one of its key developers, Dr. Robert Jarvik. Clark knew that his chances of long-term survival were almost zero but he agreed to the surgery to advance science. The major problem with the device, which made the patient immobile because of the size of the compressor it required, was the threat of infection. Barney Clark's story became international news, he survived 112 days. The second patient to receive a Jarvik 7 lived 620 days. Currently artificial hearts are only used for patients whose own hearts are too damaged for the use of portable pumps while waiting for a donor. There has not been success in replacing the human heart but artificial-heart research continues.

Personal Computers
One of the most significant inventions of the 1980's decade is the PC. The first personal computer came into being in 1981 along with MS-DOS, a command driven operating system that runs the computer and connects the software programs to the hardware. MS-DOS was one of the first operating systems designed specifically for the personal computer. In 1982 Time magazine named ‘the computer’ its ‘Man of the Year"! In January 1984 Apple reveals the Macintosh with a user-friendly interface - the number of new computer users mushrooms. Some might claim that Windows 1.0 was developed by Microsoft in 1985 in reaction to the Macintosh, but in any case it added to the ease of using a PC for the majority. It meant that rather than having to memorize and type MS‑DOS commands you point and click your way through screens, or “windows” with a mouse.


July 7, 1981
President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Arizona Court of Appeals judge was confirmed two months later, becoming the first woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
In announcing the appointment, President Reagan declared, “I made a commitment that one of my first appointments to the Supreme Court vacancy would be the most qualified woman that I could possibly find. Now, this is not to say that I would appoint a woman merely to do so. That would not be fair to women nor to future generations of all Americans whose lives are so deeply affected by decisions of the court. Rather, I pledged to appoint a woman who meets the very high standards that I demand of all court appointees. I have identified such a person.” Despite initial protests by Republicans that Ms. O’Connor was not conservative enough, on Sept. 21, 1981, the Senate confirmed her appointment by a vote of 99-0.

January 28th, 1986
At 11:39am EDT - The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes on its 10th flight, it had flown nine successful missions before that fateful day. This mission was to be unique, it was the first flight of a new program called TISP, the Teacher In Space Program. Sharon Christa McAuliffe had been elected from more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession to be the first teacher in space. The rest of the Challenger crew consisted of mission commander Francis R. Scobee; pilot Michael J. Smith; mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis. Christa was also listed as a payload specialist.

From the beginning the Shuttle Mission had problems.

  • Liftoff was originally scheduled for 3:43 p.m. EST on January 22, 1986. It slipped to Jan. 23, then Jan. 24, due to delays in a space shuttle Columbia mission.
  • Bad weather at the transoceanic abort landing site in Dakar, Senegal caused liftoff to be again reset for Jan. 25.
  • The launch was again postponed for one day when launch processing was unable to meet new morning liftoff time.
  • Predicted bad weather at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) caused the launch to be rescheduled for 9:37 a.m. EST, Jan. 27.
  • It was delayed another 24 hours because of difficulties with equipment and orbiter hatches.
  • During this delay, the cross winds exceeded limits at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility.
  • There as a final delay of two hours because of a failure in the launch processing system.

The Challenger finally lifted off at 11:38:00 a.m. EST. Seventy three seconds into the mission, the Challenger exploded, killing the entire crew.

November 9, 1989
The Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989): In the evening of November 9, 1989, East German government official Günter Schabowski stated during a press conference that travel through the border to West Germany was open. The policy change was an attempt to slow an exodus into West Germany through the "back door" which had begun when Hungary had opened its border in the summer. The week before the announcement the number of migrants increased when Czechoslovakia also granted free access to West Germany through its border. At midnight hundreds of people gathered at the gates of the wall, when the doors were opened they pushed through cheering and shouting were triumphantly greeted by West Berliners on the other side.

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