Back to the future: 1979-1989
All the themes

Popular culture

The changes of the decade were reflected in popular culture and fashion, with new genres and sub-genres for all tastes.


'Just what I always wanted'

The 1980s in the west was consumer-driven. Reflecting the social and economic changes of the decade, it was a period that saw the emergence of new sub-cultures and identities. New genres in film, comedy, music, publishing, fashion and design all emerged for ever more niche markets. New TV channels competed with the home video market and nightclub culture for the audience attention. Some of the fashions and trends found their way beyond the west, as market forces and satellite television spread popular culture and image around the globe.

Trying to define the look of the 1980s is difficult, and yet it is instantly recognisable too. The Rubik's cube is symbolic of the whole decade — a shape shifting, difficult to fathom, colourful distraction, that only some people knew the solution to. For those growing up at the start of the decade it was about the look of the New Romantics; for those at the end, acid house culture. Somewhere in between lie goth culture, the Hi-NRG scene, The Smiths, hip-hop and soft metal. A decade where sportswear and power-dressing felt equally voguish and denim re-invented itself to suit each moment. Whatever your style, in the 1980s you could get just what you always wanted.

The contributors
Back to all themes