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1980s Trends That Shaped An Entire Generation

In 1980, American pop culture reflected global trends in social, political, technological, and media. Among the most significant cultural influences were the rapid spread of cable television and the boom of suburban malls. Here are five other influential trends from the 1908s that shaped an entire generation.


The concept of “playing with your food” was taboo until the rise of “eatertainment.” Geniuses decided to put fun and food in the same room. The eatertainment trend was created by Nolan Bushnell with Chuck E. Cheese, a pizza restaurant with animatronic animals and video games. Soon after opening the first location, this chain expanded nationwide and inspired other companies to follow suit.

Eatertainment moved beyond pizza with the openings of Dave & Buster’s and Medieval Times. People are fond of having food be fun; they like having fun while eating.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Food Courts

People used to shop in one place and eat in another. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the idea of food courts in shopping malls made sense to both companies and their consumers. It became favored for shoppers to spend all day shopping and eating in one place instead of having to do them separately. 

James Rouse, an iconic mall developer, is the mastermind behind making malls the center of a town. Rather than individual restaurant spaces, Rouse thought the open concept plan of the food court would be more conducive to bringing the community together. By the 1980s, every mall in America had a food court with popular chain restaurants like Auntie Anne’s, Panda Express, Orange Julius, and Sbarro.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Bob Pittman founded MTV in 1983. In its early stages, MTV was a music channel that broadcasted concerts, music documentaries, and music videos as promotions for new artists. Not only did MTV help popularize music videos to the masses, but the music was taken to a new level during the 80s. The music industry changed with premieres like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the annual MTV Music Awards. In addition to vocals, an artist’s appearance, visual storytelling skills, dance skills, and fashion sense also became critical elements.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Popular Toys

Toy sales skyrocketed in the 1980s as thousands of toys began to sell out. Shoppers waited in freezing temperatures overnight to ensure they could purchase popular toys. The toy product that started this craze was Cabbage Patch Kids, an adoptable doll with a unique name and back story. The toy company Coleco was forced to keep up with demand, which resulted in people fighting, trampling, and committing other violent acts to get their dolls before Christmas.

While the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze was the most popular, other toy brands were close behind in the charts. The Rubik’s Cube sold out in 1980. Transformers made $333 million in 1985 alone but earned around $950 million in the decade. The Teddy Ruxpin bear toy sold around 800,000 dolls in 1985.


Women’s Fashion

Throughout the 1980s, women expressed their growing power in masculine-inspired fashion on the runway, on movie sets, and in office buildings. These fashions included oversized double-breasted suits, shoulder pads, and the floppy silk tie. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s participation in the labor force increased significantly during this decade, and glass ceilings came down across all fields of work.

There were a lot of “firsts” for women in the 1980s. Sally Ride was the first woman in space. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman on the Supreme Court in 1981. In 1986, Oprah Winfrey was the first woman to own and produce her talk show.

Several international icons at the time, including Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana, embraced the suit look designed by fashion brands like Thierry Mugler, Giorgio Armani, and Calvin Klein. The power look was also adapted to strong female leads in pop culture, such as Dynasty, Working Girl, and 9 to 5.

Who knew that women’s fashion, toys, MTV, food courts in malls, and eatertainment would take over an entire generation? Which of these five popular trends from the 1980s did you partake in?