It was 30 years ago today... that handset weighed several pounds.
July 7, 2013 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Not so long ago, only the rich had a "personal" phone (portable/car phone/briefcase phone). Give me as many similar examples as you can!

For part of my friend's 30th birthday celebration, looking for as many examples as possible of items that we accept as common/old hat/part of our daily life today, which were considered luxuries or near-unobtainable for the common American 30 years ago. Bonus points for media links/cost comparisons/images! 30 years ago is the conceit; it can stretch a bit (say, back to the late 70's).
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Society & Culture (84 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Compact Discs were first available in 1982.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:49 PM on July 7, 2013


Time Magazine's Man of the Year was the Computer.

Also, I think CD's were just invented at that time in Japan and would have been very expensive. I remember friends who had laser discs and Beta video and it was considered posh.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:49 PM on July 7, 2013


Oh man, CD players. Were they even out yet? I remember they were by the late 80s and only a few people had them.

VCRs, to me in the 80s, were still for rich people with spare money. Same for cable TV.

Long distance phone calling. You needed to be waiting by that phone and talk FAST, and not DAWDLE! if you wanted to talk to someone out of state or even the county sometimes!

Oh the car phones. I think I was in middle school before I even met someone whose parents had one. It was such a thill. "Hey Mom, guess where I'm calling from?? A CAR!!!" And then you had to get off the phone ASAP.
posted by cairdeas at 3:51 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and video cameras! You had to drop quite a chunk of change to get one. Only one of my relatives had one and he used it every holiday, it was so exciting!
posted by cairdeas at 3:51 PM on July 7, 2013


Bottled water was for yuppies, a la Perrier. (Though that was cyclical, as bottled spring/mineral water had been considered to have health benefits for more than a century)
posted by bilabial at 3:54 PM on July 7, 2013


Library. Now anyone with an Internet connection and an ereader can "own" any number of freely available books.
posted by seemoreglass at 3:54 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, and I could be totally wrong about this because I still a very little kid by the end of the 80s, but weren't TVs pretty expensive back then in general, as an appliance? Like getting a TV was still a major purchase.

I feel like now I can pick up a non-flat-screen TV on Craigslist for $10, when a comparable TV would have cost $200 even ten years ago.
posted by cairdeas at 3:56 PM on July 7, 2013


One more: you had to be very rich to take the Concorde.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:56 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if you had a VCR, video stores charged for a membership and it cost something like $10 to rent a movie - but that was a bargain compared to paying $100 or so to buy the movie!
posted by SisterHavana at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Ooh, seemoreglass just made me think of this. Back then, if you wanted encyclopedia knowledge to be at your fingertips at home then you needed to buy an encyclopedia set! Now we all just have Wikipedia...
posted by cairdeas at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I just stumbled on futons, which apparently were introduced here in 1983. (from this question)
posted by bilabial at 4:00 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Not an item, but: affordable global travel. This didn't really become a thing until recently.

Also, any number of smartphone apps simulating devices or services or employees, e.g. a pedometer, personal assistant, credit card reader.
posted by seemoreglass at 4:00 PM on July 7, 2013


We had family friends with a huge gear head for a father. Basically everything in their living room could fit this; big screen (rear projection) TVs, built-in surround sound, Laserdisc players, CD changers (200 in one device!).

How about a lot of the kitchen amenities that have gotten so popular over the past ten years or so? Granite and marble everything, stainless steel appliances.

And maybe not quite answering the question, but the general aviation market had the bottom drop out in the mid 80s for reasons I forget right now. You basically couldn't buy any small, prop-driven plane new for any price because no one was making them. Small jets were still in production, I believe, but at limited numbers.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:00 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Oh, man, VCRs! A little shop opened in my hometown and my parents went one rainy weekend and rented two movies AND the VCR, which cost like $30 or something to rent. This would have been 1981/1982, and my brother and I watched a VHS of "Winnie the Pooh" for like, the whole weekend. Thereafter my parents became relatively early adopters of VCRs.

Also TVs with remotes were still relatively unusual in 1980 (and lots of people had legacy B&W sets, especially as second sets in a bedroom or basement), and cable was juuuuust coming around and still pretty rare. Those old set-top cable boxes had buttons on the top and got extremely warm; cats liked to nap on them and they'd roll over and change the channel all. the. time.

Not that many people had credit cards in the 1980s; no-fee cards were more rare, cards were hard to get, and a lot of people who had them never, ever put consumables on them (food, gas, etc.), only large purchases.

Long distance phone calls were extremely expensive, they echoed if they were overseas (or even coast-to-coast), and distracting mom while she was on the phone with grandma was A BIG DEAL. I remember the AT&T guy in probably 1980 coming to install our push-button phone in place of the rotary dial. An extension to a teen's room was a big deal in the 80s. Really wealthy kids' parents bought them their own line.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Marie Mon Dieu alluded to this, but personal computers were extremely uncommon in 1984; laptops in particular.
posted by googly at 4:04 PM on July 7, 2013


Coffee grinder for gourmet beans. Maxwell House, anyone?
posted by seemoreglass at 4:04 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Car alarms and keyless entry fobs.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:07 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Long-distance communication. These days, couples who maintain a relationship across thousands of miles or even whole oceans are unremarkable; you can write endless emails or IMs that arrive instantly, have skype calls every night, all essentially for free.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:09 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Also with computers, Word Processors. I have a certificate in Wang. There were many others, Brothers, etc., and at that time Xerox came out with a typewriter called the MemoryWriter that took the giant floppy disks. So the jump from a regular typewriter or an IBM Selectric to these machines would have been a big one in terms of cash layout for the average consumer.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:12 PM on July 7, 2013


Oh, and basically everything in your car was either nonexistent or prohibitively expensive back then. Air conditioning, cruise control, elaborate stereo systems, airbags, power steering, all standard or cheap now and not in the 80s.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:12 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Satellite/Cable TV. I only had one friend with it and we all piled up in their home to watch cartoons.
posted by cobain_angel at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2013


Tofu and sushi were exotic foods know to be consumed by Yuppies, and emphatically not grab-and-go fare from local grocery stores.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 4:23 PM on July 7, 2013


TVs were common as dirt by the early '80s; smaller ones (12" or thereabouts)were still more frequently B&W until the late '80s, but the big set in the family living room was usually color. (Tube TVs were mostly gone a decade or so earlier.) The early '70s saw a boom in big "console TVs": a cabinet maybe four feet or so long, waist-high and containing the TV, a record player (the "Hi-Fi") and a radio, plus maybe a storage rack section for record albums; those were still in homes as the '80s started, but were not selling so well anymore.

I saw my first push-button telephone in a motel in Florida way back in 1960; by 1980 it was clear that rotary phones were on their way out, although you could still get either. Oh, and that's also right around the time the phone company stopped providing the phones and you had to begin buying your own. Long-distance phone calls were more expensive than local calls, but very do-able, especially compared to, say, the early '60s or before. You just watched the clock: rates went way down after 8pm or all day on Sundays, so you just planned your call to Grandma accordingly and tried to avoid making international calls.

Credit cards weren't as umbiquitous as today, and not many college-age people had one, but for the parents/grownups they were pretty well a requirement.

VCRs were in their infancy, but were catching on fast. Betas were fighting a losing battle.

Microwave ovens were new and uncommon; not yet considered much more than a fancy way to reheat leftovers.
posted by easily confused at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Caller ID was first marketed in the 1980s, but was extremely rare.

Home answering machines were also fairly unusual. If someone wasn't home, the phone just rang and rang.
posted by SisterHavana at 4:34 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and somewhere right around 1983 or so is when pay phones (which were still commonly found in those glass booths) went from costing a dime to charging a quarter for a three-minute call --- my gawd, how expensive!
posted by easily confused at 4:36 PM on July 7, 2013


Response by poster: So many great things! Keep 'em coming. Especially- not simply outré or uncommon items, but LUXURY items, in that having them meant you were either rich, a spendthrift or just plain didn't care about money. Concepts like global travel and auto options are great- I am not needing only singular items.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2013


Response by poster: When did "having HBO" or cable in general stop being uncommon? I recall jealousy toward friends who could watch MTV when I had to just wait for Friday Night Videos, thanks to my cheap parents.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:42 PM on July 7, 2013


Power windows in cars! "Fancy" cheese! Gas guzzling cars! Walkman, prototype was introduced in 1978, sales began in 1980 in the US. Discman was on the market in 1984.
posted by bilabial at 4:43 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Lots of food things. Tons of items you can get easily and for relatively money these days would have been quite exotic 30 years ago - goji berries, dried mangoes, exotic salts and spices, fancy imported chocolate, maca, etc. These days you can get an acai berry drink at a bodega which is pretty nuts actually.

Surround sound also comes to mind. I feel like in the 80s this was a marker of great wealth and luxury. These days you can pick up a set of surround sound speakers at best buy for pretty little money.

House cleaners.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:52 PM on July 7, 2013


Or fancy coffee drinks. You can get a fancy ass coffee drink anywhere for no money these days. Ain't no one drinking green-coffee bean extract berry hibiscus refreshers 30 years ago.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:54 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: What were some specific business or workplace markers of opulence that we take for granted today?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:00 PM on July 7, 2013


Pre-kindergarten. Test prep/tutors. "Gap" years (formerly the Grand Tour of Europe).

Elective surgery. Mood medications.
posted by seemoreglass at 5:02 PM on July 7, 2013


I'm gonna have to dispute power windows, air conditioning or fancy stereos in cars being new or all that special by 1983: my own family had a 1956 Ford with power windows; AC in cars was widely available (although not standard equipment) by the early 1960s; and the last car I've know with *just* AM radio was a 1969 VW --- even by the early 1970s AM/FM with a cassette player was more normal.

Unless it was Head Start, preschool was for the wealthy, ditto non-religious private schools like Montessori. And yeah: elective surgery, such as any kind of plastic surgery just to enhance looks.
posted by easily confused at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Best answer: I_Love_Bananas: "What were some specific business or workplace markers of opulence that we take for granted today?"

Lasers used in manufacturing were still a pretty big deal and having one installed meant every executive coming to tour the factory and admire the laser; I even remember families touring the factories to look at the lasers.

Laser POINTERS were extremely expensive, brand new, and totally a "douchebag executive with way too much money" purchase. Very much for showing off.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I graduated high school in 1980, here's what I recall as very desirable things around that time for my cohort, mostly based on observations of the family that lived across the street that always had the latest/greatest stuff:

• Sony Walkman, the kind that played cassettes
• Full sized air hockey table
• Atari VCS and 2600 + lots of game cartridges
• A pager
• 10 speed bike
• a bitching Camaro (or similar muscle car or fancy step-side truck)
• cable TV, especially HBO
• strobe light/disco lights (tabletop units for the home)
• Clothing brands: Candies, Angel Flights, Dittos denim, Brittania jeans, Lacoste

Stuff that most everyone seemed to have by 1982 but my family didn't because my dad is a frugal Luddite:
• VCR
• Microwave
• Push button phone for the landline + landlines that were not hardwired

Things that I recall encountering for the first time in 1982-84:
• ATMs
• modular telephone jacks
• CDs & Sony Discman
• 3rd party long distance telephone providers (MCI, Sprint)
• personal computer (specifically, the Apple IIe)

On preview, workplace marker that you were a big cheese: a pager even if you were not a doctor
posted by jamaro at 5:22 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Retouched photographs. Since photoshop didn't exist, if you wanted some wrinkles or zits removed you had to pay a competent artist.
Slide presentations - if you wanted a pretty barchart it could take a week and cost $40+ for one slide.
posted by Sophont at 5:24 PM on July 7, 2013


I saw my first VCR in 1981.
The Cuisinart food processor was pricey enough that a little group of people got together to give us one when I got married in '82. But maybe they were cheap, I dunno.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:26 PM on July 7, 2013


Wristwatches went from prized possessions to dime-a-dozen.
posted by telstar at 5:38 PM on July 7, 2013


Oh gosh, yes, I remember my father desperately trying to get slides and presentation materials printed and proofed and packed so that he could take them on a plane to a conference where he was presenting.
posted by KathrynT at 5:38 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Going through some old papers from work, I came across a brochure from 1979 for a "Code-a-Phone" - what we would consider an answering machine. Given the back-and-forth of letters about procuring it, this seems like a luxury item for a business even.
posted by gemmy at 5:39 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Well, in 1980 IBM introduced the first ONE GIGABYTE hard drive. It cost 40 thousand bucks, weighed 550 pounds, and was the size of a refrigerator. Now you can buy an 8gb flash memory for a few dollars. Not even sure what the smallest internal HD is now, but couldnt cost more than 50 bucks, and must be many times larger.
posted by jcworth at 5:59 PM on July 7, 2013


Taking pictures was totally different. You had a camera that didn't do anything other than take pictures, and you could only take a relatively small number of pictures at a time. Then you had to take the film to a drugstore or similar location to be developed, which took several days. There was no way to preview the picture before sending it off to develop it, nor was there a way to delete a picture that didn't turn out without spending money to have it developed. I remember how cool I thought it was when our drugstore offered CDs with digital images of your pictures, in 1997 or so.

Getting music was a lot harder. If you wanted to listen to a song, you had to have a cassette tape or (later) CD with that song on it with you. I remember lugging tons of tapes with me on trips. You often had to buy a whole album just to get one song that you wanted. And if the album was out of print, it was a lot harder.

Getting online was a much bigger deal. I remember waiting an hour or more to dial in in the mid-90's.

I remember how thrilled I was as a teenager in the late 80's to get my own phone in my room. Not a separate line, just a phone.

I just got a text message from hubby, from downstairs, asking me where something was. I think we had a plan where you paid 10 cents per text until just a couple of years ago.

I met hubby online. That was unusual in the late 90's. Now, more than 1/3 of marriages start that way.

I don't know anybody's phone number if they got the number (or if I met them) after the early 2000s. I used to know lots of people's phone numbers. I still remember my childhood phone number. I remember in the 80's when my parents got their first phone with memory settings. You hit the memory key, then some number, and it dialed the number. It could hold something like 10 numbers in memory.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:16 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am not so old, but I can't imagine that programmable coffee makers were particularly cheap back when Moores Law was first published.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:28 PM on July 7, 2013


I was an upper middle class kid in the 70's and we had a TV with a remote. The one at my grandparents' was older and had fewer buttons.
posted by brujita at 6:30 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Okay, people. Looking at the original question...I'm sorry, but as someone with vivid memories of being an independent young person without a lot of money in the 1980s, I have to disagree with almost everything that's been suggested so far.

Compact Discs: relatively mainstream by the mid-80s. Players are cheaper today, but the period when these would have been luxuries for early adopters was very, very short.

Sony Walkman: a tech wonder about, what, 1981 or so? Another item that the price dropped on very quickly within just a couple of years.

Lots of books: plenty of people had massive collections of books back in the 1980s (and 70s, and 60s, and earlier, etc.). In no way would this ever have been a "luxury", it's always been a marker of intellectualism. And really, people, we had used book stores back then, too.

Bottled water: yes, it can be an affectation, but it's never been so expensive that it would be out of reach for middle-class Americans. People might have rolled their eyes at people who drank Perrier (why don't you drink tap water like a normal person, huh, huh), but Perrier went from being obscure to being a fad. I wouldn't have called it unobtainable.

Televisions: everybody had a TV. They paid a little more than today, adjusted for inflation. But really, really, really not an example of what the poster is asking for. Color TV might have been a luxury during an earlier era, but not in the 1980s.

VCR: these were expensive in the 1970s. I bought my first one in 1983, they were comparatively more expensive than today, but not a luxury item at that time by any means. By 82/83 they were mass-market items. That's also what led to the growth of video rental stores--you couldn't support businesses like that if only wealthy people had VCRs.

Credit cards: ubiquitous by the mid-1980s, partly because banks moved their credit card operations to places like South Dakota with lax regulations. In the 1970s, they were not in any way a luxury item, more a marker of middle-class status, although they were somewhat more involved to apply for and get. Department store and similar cards were much more common back then (and, there were more department stores). However, the initial limit on a credit card might be much lower--$200 was not uncommon for first-timers. As a young person without a lot of money I already had a wallet full of plastic by 1983 or so.

Electric coffee grinder: I bought one in 1982--and I still use it! This has never been a luxury item. A "foodie" affectation, maybe, but I think I paid $12 for my first one.

Car alarms: have been annoying people for a long time. Early adopters were as likely to be car enthusiasts as wealthy people.

Cable TV: available in the 1970s, has never really been a luxury item. Has been a necessity in areas where TV reception is historically bad due to geography. Premium channels like HBO could be a marker of upper-middle-class spending, but this has never been an out-of-reach "luxury" item in the way that early cellphones were.

Cuisinart: bought one in 1982, and again, still use it. More of an item for "foodies" (a word that didn't exist in the 80s), a little pricey at that time, but not out of reach for someone who was motivated to get one. Could be a marker of upper-middle-class status or aspiration, but it wasn't unobtainable. They sold them in regular department stores all over the place.

Pushbutton phones: the Bell System breakup in the early 1980s led to a market swamped with cheap phones that anybody could select and buy--as opposed to being restricted in your choices to what the phone company decided to offer you. 1981 was the year that you could buy the special little kits to convert your phone-company wall connection to a modular jack--without asking Ma Bell for permission or anything! And they were cheap.

ATMs: I had easy ATM access to my bank accounts as a not-wealthy high school student in the 1970s (!). The particular bank doesn't exist anymore, but I still have that green magnetic stripe card somewhere.

Power windows: my great-uncle had them in 1970. I remember playing with them as a kid. Admittedly, he had a Cadillac. This might squeak by as an example of conspicuous consumption in the 80s, but just barely.

Air travel/international travel: deregulation was stirring up the industry already in the late 1970s at least. Domestic air travel was comparatively very cheap in the early 80s compared to ten years before (MSP to Chicago: $39!!). International travel was probably more expensive than today, adjusted for inflation, but if you want an era when it was a "luxury", you'll have to dig back several years earlier.
posted by gimonca at 6:31 PM on July 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


The definition I'm working off of here is "items that we accept as common/old hat/part of our daily life today, which were considered luxuries or near-unobtainable for the common American 30 years ago", in the spirit of the original question.
posted by gimonca at 6:32 PM on July 7, 2013


Phoning USA from Denmark was $2.50/minute. Today it's free over the internet.

Electric typewriters (with erase tape) were quite expensive. All essays in my high school were hand written.

Laser printers were extremly expensive. The first Apple laserwriter was $7000 which were cheap in 1985!
posted by flif at 6:39 PM on July 7, 2013


Encyclopedia Brittanica.

I saw a 100 volume set the other day for like $50, I was so tempted.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2013


Handheld calculators were several hundred dollars, now you can find them for $1.00

Air condition in a car

Digital watch
posted by JujuB at 6:44 PM on July 7, 2013


gimonica: Okay, people. Looking at the original question...I'm sorry, but as someone with vivid memories of being an independent young person without a lot of money in the 1980s, I have to disagree with almost everything that's been suggested so far.

Just a thought. A lot of those things might have been more within reach for an independent young person, even one without a lot of money, than a young family with a few kids who needed to pay rent on a bigger place or needed to pay a mortgage.

If you were one of the kids in that family, you might have heard your parents say "no way can we afford that!!!!" quite a few times if you asked for items like the ones that have been listed.

If the birthday friend is just turning 30 now, they would have been one of those little kids and their perspective would be different from that of a young adult with their own disposable income.

If I_Love_Bananas disagrees with me then I apologize, but if these things are something that the birthday friend would have perceived as being for rich people, then maybe it's still worthwhile to suggest even if not everyone would have perceived it that way?
posted by cairdeas at 6:58 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you saw a nice size "diamond" in a piece of jewelry, it usually was a diamond in 1979-80.

Cubic Zirconia There is no synthetic gemstone on the market that has had a greater impact on the jewelry industry than cubic zirconia. "CZ" as it is sometimes referred to in the industry, came on the market around 1978

Now when I see a large "diamond," I usually think it is a cubic zirconia; unless you are extremely wealthy or Royalty.
posted by JujuB at 6:58 PM on July 7, 2013


"... What were some specific business or workplace markers of opulence that we take for granted today?"
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:00 PM on July 7

Neither UPS nor USPS offered next day delivery until well after the 80's. If it "absolutely, positively had to be there" the next day, your choices (depending on city of origin and destination in the United States) were Fed Ex, and perhaps, air freight, if you hauled your package down to the airport yourself, and saw it on board a point-to-point flight.

Through the late '70s, you could still generally get and use, in normal commerce, legal tender Federal Reserve bills and silver certificates in denominations in excess of $100. I left for a trip to Europe in the late '60s with a couple $500 bills, and a lot of lesser denominations. In 1979, I was paid for a business transaction with 3 $10,000 silver certificates, and some lesser denominations, and my great regret at the time, and ever since, was not being flush enough, myself, at the time, to have snatched and kept for myself those amazing slips of paper.
posted by paulsc at 7:07 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Power windows is definitely a good point. I don't think our '88 Ford Aerostar had them, and it seemed so luxurious to be able to roll down the windows with the touch of a button in our '93 Nissan Quest.

Power door locks is another thing. I don't think that was common at all until around 2000. I remember my mom bought a BMW in the mid 90's that had power locks and we were all so amazed by that.

Cameras is a great point. I think in 1982 only serious hobbyists would have had SLR cameras. Now a DSLR is a relatively common purchase.

My parents got a programmable coffee maker in the late 80's or early 90's, and I remember them being very excited about it. Keep in mind that, back then, "programmable" meant that it had an alarm clock in it and you could pre-set it to start the coffee at a certain time. Now I think a "programmable" coffee maker measures and grinds the beans, determines the ideal amount of water from a reservoir, and does everything but gently whisper "wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!" into your ear.

Speaking of coffee, the Keurig is much newer than 1982, to the point that it would have seemed like science fiction back then, not a luxury. But an in-home espresso maker would have seemed luxurious. Now you can get a crappy one for under $100 at Target, and there are scores of different ways of making coffee, from French Press to Chemex to Moka Pot, all widely available.

My parents were broke-ass newly minted college grads in the early 80's, but our television had come with a remote. It was long since lost by the time I was old enough to remember, though, and there was no replacing it. In my memory every TV we ever had until at least the late 90's had a remote that would disappear within weeks of buying a new TV. They also had a VCR when I was a toddler (early/mid 80s), and we had basic cable in '81 or '82. So I don't think any of that stuff would have been considered luxurious.

Laserdisc, though, was luxurious.

As a kid in the mid to late 80s I was desperate for a 10 speed bike. I don't know that having one was a "luxury", but it was definitely a sought-after item and not the default. The hilarious thing is that when I finally rated a bike upgrade for my 11th birthday in '92, I got a 21 speed mountain bike. SO MANY SPEEEEEEEEEDS...

Any food item with an adjective or proper noun in front of it. When I was little (circa your period) there was Mustard, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Salt, Pepper, etc. By the time I was a teenager in the early 90's, our supermarket had Dijon, Romaine, Portabellas, Grape Tomatoes, Kosher Salt, Pink Pepper, etc. These would have been luxuries in the 80's, gradually trickling down in the early 90's.

I remember fresh ground pepper as opposed to pepper in a shaker being a huge deal, and seemed especially fancy in restaurants.

Other food stuff: anything French was hopelessly posh, to the extent that it became a cliche in movies and TV for people to go on dates at snotty French restaurants with names like Chez [Something]. Nowadays you can get quiche, aioli, and sparkling wine in any supermarket.

Wine is another good one -- I was obviously not old enough to drink in the early 80's, and my parents got hugely into wine tasting in the 90's so that might skew my ideas about it. But I was just watching an 80's TV episode where characters order champagne and it's a HUGE deal. And they don't even specify what kind of champagne, or a particular vintage, or even drink it out of currently accepted proper glassware. Nowadays I can buy better sparkling wine in a supermarket than I drank to ring in the new millennium in 2000. Pop musicians sing about particular brands of champagne, and the average drinker can probably name at least two other varieties of sparkling wines.

In the 80's, my uncle was an exchange student in France and brought home A Bottle Of Real French Wine for my grandparents. This was such a big deal that they never even drank it, for fear of wasting it or waiting for the right occasion to Open A Bottle Of Real French Wine. In 2013 I have two bottles of sauvignon blanc in the fridge left over from the fourth of july, wherein I served Real French Wine alongside grilled vegetables to casual friends in the backyard while we watched fireworks.
posted by Sara C. at 7:07 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: By 82/83 they were mass-market items. That's also what led to the growth of video rental stores--you couldn't support businesses like that if only wealthy people had VCRs.

I think one thing that is causing the wide range of answers is the definition of a luxury item. I didn't get that the OP was asking for items that were not widely available to the general public in 1982, but things that would have been out of reach of the average family. Things that, if you were a middle class kid in 1982, would have made you think, "WOW, how luxurious!" Not things that were literally only available to a select few in the know wealthy people, like Hermes handbags or race horses or something.
posted by Sara C. at 7:16 PM on July 7, 2013


IIRC, photocopiers were more expensive to own and operate, and so small businesses were less likely to have one; if you did have one, you didn't use it to photocopy anything and everything because copies were expensive. Schools still used the beloved "ditto" machine, which were cheaper to operate, for everyday handouts (I was still getting dittos for some class handouts well into undergrad in the late 1980s).
posted by drlith at 7:27 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thought of a few more:

Designer consumer items. This was starting to change with the designer jeans trend in the late 70s, but in 1982 it would have been unthinkable for a middle class person to own anything from Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, etc. Now all those brands make a few accessible items for middle class strivers to feel like they've made it, and it's not too unusual for a label-conscious upper middle class person to own things from all those brands.

Similarly, the SUV. In the early 80s in the US, most SUVs were rare luxury imports like a Land Rover (the Chevy Suburban being the exception), or custom converted military vehicles. Now any well off area will have Land Rover, Hummer, and Jeep dealerships. At first when the domestic makes started selling SUVs to everyday people, they shrouded them with exotic safari imagery -- I remember, for example, the Ford Explorer being tied to the release of Jurassic Park.

Luxury import vehicles in general. I live in a working class neighborhood, but I'd say about half the cars parked on my block are BMWs, Mercedes, Volvos, Audis, etc. Growing up upper middle class in the 80s and 90s I didn't know anyone who had a car like that. I think there were maybe 2 families in my neighborhood that had Volvo station wagons in the 80s. A Jaguar or a Porsche was unthinkable -- that was the kind of car you'd see on Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous*.

*Speaking of which, if you can find clips on YouTube this might give you some ideas.
posted by Sara C. at 7:28 PM on July 7, 2013


Two things I remember as a big deal in the early '80s:

Cars that talked were introduced - the Datsun/Nissan Maxima would tell you things like that the key was in the ignition (an ad from the era is in the link).

Also, cordless phones (big and clunky with an antenna) were still enough of a novelty that it shows up as a thing of note in the movie The Sure Thing (which was released in 1985). You can see the scene fairly early on in this clip.
posted by gudrun at 7:32 PM on July 7, 2013


Taking pictures was totally different. You had a camera that didn't do anything other than take pictures, and you could only take a relatively small number of pictures at a time. Then you had to take the film to a drugstore or similar location to be developed, which took several days. There was no way to preview the picture before sending it off to develop it, nor was there a way to delete a picture that didn't turn out without spending money to have it developed. I remember how cool I thought it was when our drugstore offered CDs with digital images of your pictures, in 1997 or so.

I was going to say the digital camera. Was just talking to my husband this evening about how his uncle invented the digital camera, and for years, his Uncle Steve was a really smart guy, but not like, famous or anything. By 2009 he was meeting Obama.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: The FAX machine was new in the '80s: my (huge, bureaucratic) office got one about 1984, I recall running into an acquaintance (self-employed small businessman) buying his at the store about 1985.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Handheld calculators were several hundred dollars

I think you'd have to go back further than 30 years for that to be true. In 1983 I was 13 and this was the scientific calculator that teenage geeks yearned for; it cost about £30. I've still got mine.

Basic 4-function calculators were already cheap and commonplace by then; they probably hadn't quite reached the level of conference-swag giveaways but they were getting there.

(Programmable and/or graphing calculators like the HPs and TIs probably did cost in the hundreds, but then again they still do today...)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:54 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was the digital camera a thing in 1982?

I remember my (relatively elite and certainly VERY high tech) high school got a grant in the late 90s that supplied one digital camera and one flatbed scanner for student use. In order to be eligible to use them, you pretty much had to be on the school paper or taking one of a few computer and design classes that used them.

I used the camera once as part of my web design class. It was worse than the cameras stuck on candybar style cell phones in the mid 2000s. Completely useless for any practical application. (At least any practical application related to building websites.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: The FAX machine was new in the '80s: my (huge, bureaucratic) office got one about 1984, I recall running into an acquaintance (self-employed small businessman) buying his at the store about 1985.

Stephen Fry has a great anecdote about having a fax machine at some point in the 80s. You can read it here, I think? Google Books confuses me a little.
posted by Sara C. at 7:58 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was the digital camera a thing in 1982?

Invented in 1975, but not marketed until the late 80s in Japan and 1990 in the US.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:21 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: GPS. I don't remember anybody having it in their car in the 80's. Now, anyone with a smart phone has it on their phone.

Video phones. They were this thing that everybody had predicted for the future that never happened, like flying cars. Now we have Skype and the like. My in-laws get to see our baby over Skype just about every week. She has learned to play peek-a-boo with them over Skype (she will move so she is off camera, then come on camera).

I kind of miss the days when people on the other end of the phone couldn't see that your house was a mess or that you weren't dressed...
posted by Anne Neville at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2013


I didn't get that the OP was asking for items that were not widely available to the general public in 1982, but things that would have been out of reach of the average family.

Well, that's where the mobile phone example sticks with me. Average family would not have considered this in 1983, definitely. Lots of average families had VCRs in 1983. Maybe that pulls us back to definitions: what is an "average family" at that point? Still, market penetration of VCRs by 82/83 was much, much, much wider than that for mobile phones.

Really, the problem there is timing, too. A VCR would be a great example of this ten years earlier in 1973. At that time, it existed, but it would have been out-of-reach for most home consumers. And that's another thing that rings false for me about so many of these answers--the timing on so many is way off. Pocket calculators (simple ones that add, subtract, multiply, divide, not the scientific ones) were another early-70s expensive technological wonder that were not a big deal by the 80s.
posted by gimonca at 8:24 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: 1983 Sears Christmas Catalog, scanned in full, on Flickr. Not the most user-friendly interface, but you can see a lot of things here that would at least have been marketed to a Sears demographic.
posted by gimonca at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


GPS. I don't remember anybody having it in their car in the 80's. Now, anyone with a smart phone has it on their phone.

Yeah, but this is something that wasn't available at all in 1982, so it's sort of pointless for the OP's purposes.

Unless maybe it was available to a select few ultra-wealthy people who had contacts with defense contractors or telecoms? Which would be super interesting for OP to relate to her friend.
posted by Sara C. at 8:28 PM on July 7, 2013


As late as the 80s, if you were not carrying cash on you, you could be reasonably arrested for vagrancy, since the only reasonable explanation in an era where cards were not universally accepted, is that you did not have access to it.
posted by jaymzjulian at 8:32 PM on July 7, 2013


Best answer: Oh, didn't the first Nintendo console come out somewhere around '82 or '83? It might not have been like "Wow, you can only get this if you are RICH" but it was a big purchase, not like today when you go just go online or on your phone and play thousands of games for free. OR in the 80's/early 90's where you could only play Oregon Trail on those huge educational grant Macs at school in "computer class" and it was sooo exciting. And now you can play all those old Mac games for free online.
posted by cairdeas at 8:39 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid (I was also also born in 1983) we had regular cable but my grandparents had HBO, Showtime and the Disney Channel which was amazing! It's interesting to me that so many people have the premium channels now, and Disney is just another cable channel.
posted by radioamy at 10:00 PM on July 7, 2013


Audio recording technology. The difference between then and now in terms of what is obtainable by the average guy is insane. There are so many examples. Things you had to be fairly rich to do before are now essentially free.

An illustrative example is the Fairlight:

The Fairlight CMI was very well built, assembled by hand with expensive components and consequently it was highly priced (around £20,000 for a Series I).
...
In 2011, Peter Vogel Instruments (then called Fairlight Instruments) also released a CMI app for the Apple iPad and Apple iPhone. The app includes the complete CMI sound library and an accurate translation of the CMI's renowned Page R sequencer. It is also available in a cut-down version.

posted by cincinnatus c at 1:41 AM on July 8, 2013


This might be more of a European thing, but taking mini-breaks abroad. Until the advent of no-frills carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair in the 2000s, someone deciding to take off to Riga, Venice or Barcelona for the weekend would be thought of as part of the jet set. Now you can buy a flight to some European capitals for about the price of a DVD.
posted by mippy at 4:36 AM on July 8, 2013


Fancy beer! When I was growing up, Michelob and Lowenbrau was the good stuff. You could find Beck's and Heineken and Guinness at really fancy shops, but we never had such things.

And access to your money. Banks kept, well, banking hours, so you couldn't go get cash at lunch or after work. ATMs were not at all common in Charlotte, NC. I started at UNC in the fall of 1984, and there were two ATMs on campus.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:06 AM on July 8, 2013


THERAPY
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:11 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not that many people had credit cards in the 1980s; no-fee cards were more rare, cards were hard to get, and a lot of people who had them never, ever put consumables on them (food, gas, etc.), only large purchases.

When a chain of supermarkets here in Ottawa started accepting credit cards, around 1990, it generated a brief flurry of excited newspaper articles about whether or not this was okay. That is, it was viewed as predatory and wrong to set up a system that would have people using credit for basic needs.

Credit cards that give you "points," and store "loyalty cards" are also a new-ish thing. I carried around a few business card-style paper cards that had special stamps or punch-outs on them (buy 10 CDs, get 1 free!), but plastic cards scanned with each transaction were unheard of. (As was the gift "card" -- it was strictly paper gift "certificates.")
posted by kmennie at 7:13 AM on July 8, 2013


With respect to business supplies and credit cards: point of sale card readers still seemed pretty rare from what I remember of the 80s, and were completely unheard of outside of permanent retail outlets. I remember seeing a lot of mechanical imprinters as a kid, because that's how merchants got proof of credit card transactions then.
posted by jackbishop at 7:32 AM on July 8, 2013


We had supersonic planes for regular (or rich?) people, video arcades were a thing, and, in the early 80's (VERY early!) nobody knew who Luke's Father was.

NES was released by Nintendo in Japan in 1983 Later it was released in North America during 1985, in Europe during 1986 and Australia in 1987. (<-- wikipedia). Atari had a game system which was quite good, but NES was an evolution.
posted by Jacen at 8:22 AM on July 8, 2013


Cashmere used to be a lot more expensive than it was - now you can pick up cashmere sweaters on the high-street for £50 or so. Which is odd given that the acrylic novelty Christmas jumper I bought from Topshop would have cost the same when full-price, but there you go.
posted by mippy at 8:38 AM on July 8, 2013


This might be more of a European thing, but taking mini-breaks abroad.

For Americans, the equivalent would be travel abroad in general. I remember a family trip to Europe in 2003. We went swimming in the Mediterranean, and my stepmother said something about how never, in her entire life up to that point, did she imagine that she would ever see the Mediterranean, let alone swim in it. As someone from a different generation, this was like my third trip to Europe and what we were doing didn't seem exotic at all.
posted by Sara C. at 9:34 AM on July 8, 2013


Best answer: I was a teenager in the 80s.

- Camcorder. The sony Betamovie appeared in 1983, and was the first all-in-one battery powered unit (previously the camera was separate, and would plug into a (heavy) vcr). It cost about $1500. Today, that functionality is available nearly for free on your cell phone.

- A 1541 floppy disk drive for a commodore 64 cost more than the computer did in 1983, and the diskettes themselves weren't cheap. While a home computer was uncommon by itself in 1983, the average family that had one would still be using tapes for another year or two.

- Compuserve and The Source both existed in 1983, but charged a monthly fee and an hourly fee and sometimes a surcharge for specific parts of their service (and of course, required a fairly expensive modem).

- CD players had hit the market, and went from "luxury item" to "$150 item made in Korea" incredibly fast. In '83 they might have signified something, but not by '84. VCRs were the same way a few years before.

- Satellite TV. This was pre-DirecTV pizza dishes. If you wanted to watch the Redskins while living in California, you needed to go to a sports bar that had an array of huge dishes on the roof, or shell out thousands of dollars (and give up a lot of yard space) for a 10' dish of your own. The flipside of this is that because the dishes were so rare, almost none of the programming on the satellites was encrypted. If you had the dish to receive it, you could watch almost anything that was up there (except HBO and probably ESPN)

- MTV in stereo. You had to split your cable feed so you could also plug it into the antenna port of your (probably silver) hi-fi, and then tune to a certain radio frequency.

- Cancun. An engineered tourist destination that actually opened in the mid-70s, but was still mostly out of reach for the average family in 1983.

- Two car families. Very few families had two cars. In 1983 it was still somewhat new for there to be two full-time workers, and the concept of "his car, her car" was starting to appear, but wasn't at all typical.

- Arcade cabinets/pinball at home. Look at the opening of the TV show "Silver Spoons" -- the living room with a dozen or more arcade games in it was a strong way to say "very rich people live here".

- Big Screen TVs (virtually all "projection" technology). As you stare at your cheap 50" LCD, remember that a 50" big screen in 1983 could cost as much as a Ford. It would have three lenses, a curved screen and a mirror, and unless you were sitting right in front of it, the image would be distorted.

- SUVs. The typical family-hauler was still a station wagon, with the first minivans starting to appear. Subaru had a small following in Vermont and in some ski towns. The Jeep Wagoneer/Cherokee was around, but was mostly for blue-bloods who wanted to look like they had to get down a 2 mile driveway in New England in the winter. Everybody else used snow tires.

- Leather seats in cars. Fairly widely available, but never standard until you were looking at european imports like Volvo, Mercedes, Porsche. Even Cadillac had cloth or vinyl as the standard, and shelling out a fair amount of extra dough for something as cosmetic as leather? That was in the territory of Luxury (though perhaps more affordable luxury -- if money really were no object, you'd probably be putting Recaros in)

- Branded sunglasses became a thing. A $20 pair of Foster Grants was nowhere to be seen at the country club by the time Vuarnet sponsored the 1984 Olympics.

- Manicures for men. A projection of "my hands don't do manual labor, ever." and unthinkable prior to some of the gender-flexibility that Bowie/Boy George were personifying.
posted by toxic at 11:03 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some nitpicking about the car stuff mentioned (I graduated from high school in Michigan in 1975) -

The Chevy K-5 Blazer was a pretty popular SUV that started showing up in the 70s - they were much more common than any foreign SUV in the 80s. The Ford equivalent was the Bronco.

Air conditioning in cars was also quite common in the 80s, and wasn't super expensive. My first car, a 1972 Chevelle, was the only car I every owned without air conditioning.

Lots of middle class families had two cars in the 70s, not to mention the 80s.
posted by rfs at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Big screen TVs, definitely. Only *one* kid in my entire elementary school class, ca 1986-87, was rich enough to afford one. (She also lived in a McMansion before they were called that!)

Whereas a year or so ago my mother bought a much larger TV off craigslist for something like $150.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:57 PM on July 8, 2013


photocopiers were more expensive to own and operate, and so small businesses were less likely to have one

You could lease a copier. That might have cost a few thousand a year, plus the toner and paper. The copier would track the number of copies made, and you might have to pay a surcharge if you went over your allowance.
posted by yohko at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2013


I got in a car accident in 1991, and the vehicle that hit my mom's minivan was an SUV. I had no vocabulary to describe what it was other than, "A truck, but with the back closed in, like a car." I think SUVs must not have been too common even then (This was in small-town Georgia).
posted by zoetrope at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2013


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