1987! Remember?
March 21, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a story set in 1987, and I want it to be nostalgia-heavy, a little like The Wedding Singer (except of course totally different). My memory is mushier than I realized, so I was wondering, what do YOU remember from 1987?

Favorite movies, TV shows, trends, outfits, general attitudes, anything is helpful. I want the setting to really feel like that time period; it doesn't need to be exactly '87 but the mid-late '80s.
Also how things were different then-now. What, for example, were personal computers like?
Any suggestions for movies that really show what the US was like in 1987 are deeply appreciated as well. Also links to websites that have info about '87 specifically--I've found a lot about the '80s in general but I think if I have the character watching War Games someone might notice.
posted by smoakes to Society & Culture (70 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia's page on 1987 is a good starting point for jogging one's memory.
posted by amyms at 11:52 AM on March 21, 2009

Radom stuff I remember from 6th Grade - Fall of 1987


Outback Red
Coca Cola
Ocean Pacific




Jody Whatley
Eddie Money
Fleetwood Mac
Phil Collins
Taylor Dayne
posted by asockpuppet at 11:54 AM on March 21, 2009

PTL scandal.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2009

Movies released in 1987
posted by Joe Beese at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2009

All I remember were the metalheads.
posted by dydecker at 12:02 PM on March 21, 2009

Some of how we answer is going to depend on your character, or your character's point-of-view. For instance, in 1987, I was 14 and so my memories are those of a 14-year-old: Guns & Roses songs, Nintendo, the lure of bra straps and pantylines, ALF, Family Ties, trying to beat Double Dragon in the video arcade, etc.

An older character isn't likely to have the same kinds of memories, or motivations, or he/she will pay attention to completely different things: politics, primetime soap operas, the height of the S&L crisis, etc.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 12:04 PM on March 21, 2009

Generra Hypercolor
posted by triggerfinger at 12:05 PM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of amazed you asked this, actually. I wasted an hour today watching montages of commercials from the early 1990s and I think that's exactly what you need.

Here's a large collection of commercials from the 1980s.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:06 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw Billy Connolly live in the Albert Hall London and it remains the funniest live show I've ever seen. Check it out on DVD 'Billy & Albert'.

It was also the height of the 80's boom time in the finacial City of London and the government of the day (Thatcher's tories) set about selling off all the state owned assets (BT for example) and that made a lot of young traders very wealthy indeed. I played in an amateur football team at the time and the amount of cash some of the other players had from bank work was obscene.
posted by cameronfromedinburgh at 12:09 PM on March 21, 2009


Outback Red
Coca Cola
Ocean Pacific

Wow, not in my neck of the woods - OP was the low-rent stuff. We were just starting to move out of the "jam" shorts era, but everyone was wearing Bugle Boy jeans and parachute pants with the bottoms rolled up (and folded over first, of course). Most guys were wearing some sort of surf/skate company t-shirt (T&C, Hobie, Rusty, Quicksilver, Maui & Sons, Tony Hawk, Vision, etc.), while girls would use tons of hair spray to create a giant poofball of bands at the front of their heads and carry around humongous Guess shoulder bags instead of backpacks. People who wore backpacks only wore them on one shoulder.
posted by LionIndex at 12:11 PM on March 21, 2009

Well, I'm originally from a low rent area. Sorry.
posted by asockpuppet at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

I was in 8th grade and I took a computer class. We built little programs on Apple IIEs. The floppy discs were actually floppy.

At home a friend had what I think was the next generation of Apple computers, maybe the first Mac? It had MacWrite and MacPaint.

The Cold War was a constant.

The movies I remember being a big deal (from the IMDB list): Some Kind of Wonderful, Lost Boys, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Dancing, Fatal Attraction, The Princess Bride, Planes Trains & Automobiles,

Hair was puffy, pants were tapered.

From the news (via Wikipedia): Gary Hart in Bimini; the little girl Jessica who got stuck in the well, "President Gorbachev, tear down that wall!"
posted by bluedaisy at 12:23 PM on March 21, 2009

LionIndex, we called what we did to pants a "French Roll"--fold over the material and then roll up the pants.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2009

You didn't specify from what point of view. I'm assuming an American one, however.. if it is British then have a look at the headlines from the BBC's On This Day to remind you of past events.

(I personally can't remember a thing from that year because I was very, very drunk.)
posted by Webbster at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2009

Get this book. I adore it, and always keep two copies on hand so I can lend one. Many, many cultural details noted chronologically, with an emphasis on politics and entertainment. It will show you 1987 day by day, with the bonus of being able to see what directly preceded/followed it.
posted by hermitosis at 12:25 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ha ha, hermitosis. I found that book randomly for free on the street and it's indeed awesome! It's smack-dab in the middle of my bookcase.

As for other refs:
Jimmy'Z, T&C, Hawaiian Island Creations, and the general surfwear beginnings of Buttafuoco musclepants style.

Minitrucks and lowered VWs. Miami Bass was gaining popularity at this time, and 87 was the puberty of loud car stereos.

L.A. Law
Shelly Long left Cheers in 87

Bon Jovi still had long hair
posted by rhizome at 12:49 PM on March 21, 2009

1987 is when the fledgling Fox network started broadcasting original programming, which included Married...with Children and 21 Jump Street (which launched the career of Johnny Depp.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:53 PM on March 21, 2009

great stuff so far!

Setting: US East Coast

Ages: main character is in her mid-twenties, she's nanny for a five-year-old whose parents are in their mid-thirties.

posted by smoakes at 12:56 PM on March 21, 2009

Large designer eyeglass frames.

Absolutely no sunscreen. Baby oil instead.

Smoking on airplanes.

Carphones: large, clunky, prestigious.

Double breasted blazers [w/extra shoulder pad for women.]

Homophobia. [the concept, not the term.]

Acid washed jeans.

Enormous acrylic sweaters.

"The Golden Girls"

"Larry, Darryl & Darryl"

Plastic Swatch & ”Jelly”-style wristwatches.

Controversial Bennetton advertising.

Something about pasta salads being a big deal.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.

Pack of cigs = $.99

(God, I want a cigarette!)
posted by applemeat at 12:57 PM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should go down to your public library and read their archives of Time and People for the year. That should tell you everything you need to know.
posted by anastasiav at 1:05 PM on March 21, 2009

Stock market crash of '87
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:05 PM on March 21, 2009

Using a typewriter. Or, a [huge] word processor.

That filmy, fax paper that came on a roll.

Hugely popular Kodak Disc cameras (that took very grainy pictures).

Most people not knowing what a pomegranate was.
posted by applemeat at 1:28 PM on March 21, 2009

Colored Reebok high-tops for women, especially pink.

posted by jgirl at 1:36 PM on March 21, 2009

I had this oversized turquoise shirt with black polka dots. I thought it was AMAZING. ( I was in 7th grade, I think.)
My mom was totally weirded out by both the oversizedness and the idea of wearing your shirt untucked, so clearly it was very stylish.

I also remember listening to "Wishing Well" by Terence Trent D'Arby and the infamous "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:38 PM on March 21, 2009

Oh god, jgirl, I had those bubblegum-pink Reeboks too! I thought I was SO COOL.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:41 PM on March 21, 2009

The Joshua Tree came out in 1987 and people started wearing black hats all over the place and saying things like "designer stubble". I also remember outdoor raves and smiley face paraphernalia popping up everywhere that summer.
posted by fshgrl at 1:47 PM on March 21, 2009

I was five and later six in 1987.

Your five year old character loves "Punky Brewster" and "Fraggle Rock."

Yes, yes (s)he does.
posted by zizzle at 1:49 PM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Paul Mitchell hair spray (that smelled like artificial watermelon?) And the average height of U.S. women being >5' 11" if you included the hair.

"The Far Side"

Loud mouths: Andrew Dice Clay. Sam Kinison. Morton Downey Jr. Rush Limbaugh.

And...1970's nostalgia was only about 5 years away!
posted by applemeat at 1:51 PM on March 21, 2009

Well, I'm originally from a low rent area. Sorry.

I wore OP as well, but it's not what I was hoping my parents would get for me. I was a relatively low-rent kid in a high-rent neighborhood.
posted by LionIndex at 1:52 PM on March 21, 2009

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Also, earlier in the year, more Steve Martin fun with the Three Amigos -- but I never saw it (Chevy Chase, ik). The most oustanding films I remember from 1987 were Something Wild, and Withnail and I.
posted by Rash at 1:56 PM on March 21, 2009

Plus Raising Arizona.
posted by Rash at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2009

The "beige toaster" Macs were all over the place.
posted by ctmf at 2:10 PM on March 21, 2009

Max Headroom was born! And made many commercials for Coke.
The Noid was to be avoided by people who love warm pizza.
Bugleboy jeans drove women crazy. "Are those Bugleboy Jeans you're wearing?"
Also Paul Hogan from Crocodile Dundee was still hip.
posted by sharkhunt at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2009

I graduated from high school that year... don't forget about Baby Jessica falling in that well.
posted by thilmony at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2009

I graduated from college in 1987. CDs were still rather new and most people still used tape decks. We spun records at the college radio station, and although we used macs for the college newspaper, we had to take the files (on floppies) to the local daily for typesetting. Then we'd run the galleys through a waxing machine for literal cut-and-paste layout.

Entertainment was mostly centered around the Grateful Dead and pot. Ecstasy was the new drug, but I was too much of a chicken to try it. =(

Platoon came out in late 1986 but resonated in 1987, heavily. Vietnam was getting a lot of film/literary/cultural attention in 1987. Dirty Dancing came out in 1987 too.

Also my dad died.
posted by headnsouth at 2:45 PM on March 21, 2009

I was 15 in 1987...I remember:
-saving my babysitting money to buy a pair of acid wash, zip hem Guess jeans
-wearing Coca-Cola rugby shirts
-spraying Sun-In in my dark hair to high-light it and it turned orange
-home permanents
-there was kind of a retro clothing revival, with some 40s and 50s inspirations in fashion. lots of pink and black, geometric prints, foofy skirts and giant shoulder pads.
-most women I knew didn't tweeze their eyebrows and had huge caterpillar eyebrows
-spraying Aqua net hair spray on my hair while blow-drying it to get it super tall
-laying out sunbathing in the summer, trying to get as dark as possible
-wearing perfume like Heaven Scent, Babe, White Shoulders and lots and lots of musk
-smoking tiny Capri cigarettes
-looking back, it's weird to me how unconcerned a lot of people were about smoking. I remember smoking in public places (the mall) as a teenager with nobody ever even giving me a second look.
-watching the TV show "Married with Children" and wanting to look and dress like Christina Applegate's character

Mainly, I remember that during the mid-late 80s, there were flamboyant, ostentatious displays of wealth amongst people in my community, young and old. It was super important to act like you were rolling in cash, even if you weren't. Most people didn't seem to have a sense of humbleness or reserve about being walking trophies or advertisements in designer clothing with labels all over it, driving bright colored sports cars or going on huge shopping trips and spending a lot of money. In my part of the country, things like breast feeding, vegetarianism, thrift store clothing, recycling, women without makeup or dressing in clothes from the 60s or 70s was considered reallllllllly embarrassing and old fashioned. Ugh, I am glad the 80s are over!
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:58 PM on March 21, 2009

I remember jeans being very, very tight at the bottom, so much so that there were zippers on the sides so you could get your feet through and still have them tight.
posted by Gucky at 3:17 PM on March 21, 2009

for me, 1987=Prince "Sign of the Times"
posted by mrmarley at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2009

Mixtapes were actually on tapes. Compact discs were very new and mostly only serious audiophiles had CD players. Having a tape made from a CD was deemed somehow superior to one made from vinyl/cassette.

"The Simpsons" were a series of shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show.

I was in college and there was lots of talk about divesting from South Africa/opposition to apartheid.

Lots of regional banks were still around that have long disappeared. For example, I cashed my work study paycheck at the Bank of New England.

There was no Acela train, more people flew to/from DC/New York/Boston, because Amtrak took an eternity. People Express was merged into Continental.

It seems quaint in retrospect, but there was a big stock market crash that fall.
posted by ambrosia at 3:29 PM on March 21, 2009

The little kids I babysat in the mid-late '80s, if I recall correctly, were into the following: He-Man/She-Ra, My Little Ponies, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, Transformers (and "Deceptacons" was universally pronounced "Insecticons" by all the little boys I knew), dinosaurs, professional wrestling, and Barbies.

Many parents seemed very into ugly "educational"and/or scientific toys.

There seemed to be an awful lot of status attached to having kids in "gifted" or "honors" programs, though that may have been specific to my school district (also, I was only 12 at the time, so YMMV.)

The movie Top Gun was absolutely huge, at least in suburban Houston. As was George Michael.

Oh, and dot matrix printers! Two boys in my class had a business printing out custom banners on that computer paper that came in one long, folded piece (the kind you had to remove the margin things from when you were done printing.)
posted by corey flood at 3:38 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Cold War was still in effect, but the USSR was showing cracks; Gorbachev announced perestroika and glasnost in 1987.

We were still all afraid of getting nuked, though. The Great Peace March had been the year before.
posted by magicbus at 3:44 PM on March 21, 2009

How could I forget the Epilady(R)? (That still stings.)
posted by applemeat at 4:36 PM on March 21, 2009

I dont remember them, but they are both important to me:

Sonic Youth - Sister
Dinosaur (jr.) - You're Living All Over Me
posted by orville sash at 4:49 PM on March 21, 2009

We had a Commodore 64 and a dot matrix printer back then. And CDs were not on the radar, I was still taping songs off the radio! The USSR was always in the news.
posted by emd3737 at 4:54 PM on March 21, 2009

In 1987, I was 22, 23, and returning to the East Coast after living in London for a year. Madonna was HUGE. Her influence was just beginning to be seen in fashion trends, with lots of black lace and ripped clothes. I remember that cars were just beginning to come out with the brake light on the back windshields.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:57 PM on March 21, 2009

Someone mentioned swatch watches. It was also cool to wear multiple swatch watches. I wore 3 on one arm, because I was the coolest. Until the school made up the rule that only one watch could be worn at a time.

They actually announced over the intercom that only one watch could be worn at a time.
posted by beachhead2 at 5:03 PM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I graduated from high school in 1987. I remember how absolutely badass I felt in the fashion of the day - sharp, like Mack the Knife sharp, with my hair moussed into a perfect crispy swoop across my forehead and the jeans fitting tight in the waist and tight in the ankles. It didn't matter if you had a tush, you felt skinny anyway, because the waist was tight and the ankles were tight. Big shoulder pads. High heels.

I felt a little sorry for the thirtysomething saps whose fashion sense had evolved in the seventies. They looked so washed-out and limp, with their stringy straight hair and their drab hemp colored clothing.

In 1987, irony hadn't gone mainstream yet. It was okay to be a little chubby, because eating was better than not eating. Neon bright colors were better than some drab bullshit sophisticated olive green. Money was better than no money - wearing great hunks of gold jewelery just made sense. The Campbell's soup commercials still said "Mmmmm, mmmm, good..." not in some faux postmodern retro ironic way. Just straight-up: "Soup good. You eat soup." When you made a mixtape for someone, you poured your heart into it.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:28 PM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dropped-shoulder tops.
Interstate banking was raising its head.
Everyone thought they'd be rich from their IRAs.
New Coke in 1985.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings and "sequestration"
Lech Walensa visited the White House (I was there!)
posted by jgirl at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2009

Color Me Beautiful was huge.
posted by jgirl at 5:36 PM on March 21, 2009

I was in college at Penn State in '87 and the biggest thing for my friends and me was the release of the Grateful Dead's "In the Dark" and the fact that they got a video in heavy rotation on MTV that year. But that probably says more about where my and my friends head were at that time. Needless to say, we dressed pretty much the same as deadheads always dressed.

We were all pretty heavy news/politics geeks too so I remember watching a lot of CNN that year because of the Jim and Tammy scandal and the Gary Hart scandal and all of the Iran Contra stuff. South African divestment was a big deal for us then too.
posted by octothorpe at 5:47 PM on March 21, 2009

MTV actually showed music, A&E actually had arts programming, and Bravo was a for-pay channel with lots of quality foreign films. My first experiences with directors from Fellini to Fassbinder was on Bravo.

Moonlighting was one of the better shows on TV. Thirtysomething premiered that year, focused on self-absorbed people who are now at minimum fiftysomething.

Saturday Night Live was entering one of its better periods, with Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, et. al., and Dennis Miller doing the news. Monday-morning water cooler conversations probably included one of their catchphrases. Mike Myers would join the following year.
posted by gimonca at 6:03 PM on March 21, 2009

Also, Pee Wee's Playhouse.
posted by gimonca at 6:16 PM on March 21, 2009

posted by radioamy at 6:18 PM on March 21, 2009

Harold Washington, first black mayor of Chicago, was reëlected, and then died of a heart attack just before Thanksgiving.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:22 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If your characters have anything to do with Minnesota, the Twins winning the World Series was big.
posted by starman at 6:26 PM on March 21, 2009

Shoulder pads. Lots and lots of shoulder pads.
posted by newpotato at 6:40 PM on March 21, 2009

George Michael's Faith tour
Supermodels (Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, that other chick)
Prince's movie/videos (Sign of the Times)
Madonna (Like a Prayer, Material Girl)
New Jack Swing - Teddy Riley
Bobby Brown left New Edition - My Prerogative
Bicycle shorts as everyday attire
High top fade
Boyz 2 Men - Motown/Philly
Michael Jackson was still big
9 1/2 Weeks
The Color Purple
Live Aid
Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing
Dirty Dancing
Less Than Zero
The Bangles - Walk Like an Egyptian
LL Cool J's "Going Back to Cali"
Eddie's Murphy's "Raw" and the concept of getting "half"
Whitney Houston
political correctness
diversity training
Louis Farrakhan
Jesse Jackson running for president
Tawana Brawley
Howard Beach
Benard Goetz and the subway shooting
Virginia Beach calling out the National Guard because of the annual gathering of African Americans
"wilding" and the Central Park Jogger
posted by elle.jeezy at 6:52 PM on March 21, 2009

Jessica McClure, aka "Baby Jessica"
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:54 PM on March 21, 2009

Baby M

She is a religious studies major at GWU and studied her own case in bioethics.
posted by jgirl at 6:58 PM on March 21, 2009

She was -- she graduated in 2008.
posted by jgirl at 7:24 PM on March 21, 2009

I was a junior in 1987 and the guidance office of my high school had a computer with career software as well as college and university admissions info.

It was all text-based and stored on an Apple IIe with an attached 5 meg hard drive. This HD was about 12" x 18" x 6" and weighed a ton.

Cable had only 35-40 channels and HBO was offered, but it had a separate set-top box that you tuned the TV to channel 3 and then moved a large flat switch to access HBO.

High school electives then included computer classes in basic, advanced basic, and pascal. All of this was programmed using Radio Shack TRS-80's...known affectionately as 'trash 80's'

Hope this helps.
posted by bach at 9:49 PM on March 21, 2009

Graduated college in 1987. I remember almost everything written by elle.jeezy as spot on. Politics were Republican, Cold War, USSR. Divestment from South Africa. Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were both huge. Also Boy George, George Michael. And god, yes, I wore bicycle shorts as everyday attire (and thought I was hawt).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:52 PM on March 21, 2009

Sorting my mp3s by year, these are the ten best from 1987, limiting each artist to just one track:

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Fight Like a Brave
Sugarcubes - Birthday
Elvis Costello - Next Time Round
Depeche Mode - Never Let Me Down Again
Cure - Why Can't I Be You
Replacements - Alex Chilton
U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
R.E.M. - It's the End of the World as We Know It
My Bloody Valentine - Never Say Goodbye
Echo and the Bunnymen - Lips Like Sugar

Although some of those tracks/artists are nice, it was a *very* thin year for music, compared to a few years before or a couple of years after.

Not listed here, but active in 87: Madonna, Prince, Sting, George Michael, ABC, New Order. The original version of À Cause des Garçons was in 1987, if you want Eurokitsch. The Happy Mondays, 24 Hour Party People was inflicted on the world in 1987. I notice that Buster Poindexter was feelin Hot! Hot! Hot! in 1987, too.
posted by gimonca at 1:23 AM on March 22, 2009

The 17-year cicadas invaded the mid-Atlantic US the summer of 1987. The air hummed and was thick with red-eyed bugs that summer, windshields splattered with green. Kids collected them in shoe boxes. There were strange holes in the red Virginia soil, which cicada nymphs had crawled free of before fluttering and mating and laying their eggs to wait another 17 years. Then they stopped flying and their corpses, ashy brown cicada husks, clung to gutters and branches and piled up in trees.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:26 AM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in my mid-twenties in 1987. I had big teased hair (think Tina Turner's fright wig). (The style mentioned where the bangs were big and poofy was a younger crowd around here.) I wore high-tops - the Reeboks mentioned above, but also canvas Keds and Converse. Neon-colored sweaters with cowl necks. Skinny jeans - always Levi's. Black leather motorcycle jacket with dangly chains on it. If I needed to tone things down I wouldn't tease my hair quite so big, and I'd wear a jean jacket.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2009

How funny...I have a little anecdote about 1987 in my profile.

Anyway, one thing I remember was Oliver North pretty much CONSTANTLY on the TV during the Iran Contra hearings. I was eight -- I had no idea what was going on, but I was sure damn sick of seeing Oliver North every time I turned on the TV.

So, what I remember about my computer: It was an Amstrad running DOS (details.) Two floppy drives. A dot-matrix printer.

We also had a GIANT VHS camcorder with which we made home movies (incidentally, America's Funniest Home Videos apparently started in 1989.) Around this time, I also saw a young guy talking on a giant cell phone for the first time, while riding his bike (rather unsteadily, if I remember correctly. It must have taken some effort.) I laughed really hard, thinking he was such a pretentious moron.

I watched a lot of Nickelodeon (just for kids!) and also a lot of Nick at Nite, which means I was exposed to (and became hooked on) lots of shows from my parents' childhood. Get Smart, The Patty Duke Show, Mr. Ed, The Many Loves of Doby Gillis, etc. etc. etc. Which is kind of weird, if you think about it. Alf was pretty cool. Mr. Belvedere was cool. Small Wonder was not cool, but I watched it anyway. Michael J. Fox could do no wrong. The Wonder Years started in 1988. Michael Jackson started getting kind of weird.

Malls were cool places to hang out. A lot of them had videogame arcades and air hockey. The Gap, The Limited, and Guess were trendy. So was Esprit (mainly for those huge canvas tote-bags all young girls carried.) I think watching Heathers would be a good source of info on this kind of trendy teen stuff.

Poison was cool. Guns N' Roses were just getting started. Def Leppard released Hysteria. Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet was big. Samantha Fox's Naughty Girls Need Love Too came out in 1987.
posted by peggynature at 3:13 PM on March 22, 2009

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