Time Travel in a Picture

The 1980’s in America was a time and place that defies all logic. In many ways it was larger than life and can’t be contained or explained away in an entire library’s worth of books. But also, strangely, it can be encapsulated in a single photograph. This photograph of me in the 80’s says so much with so little. The 80’s were a time where photographs were still precious artifacts. You could actually touch them and hold them and carry them with you. Looking at a photograph didn’t require storage space on a phone or battery life. A photograph was just as real and universally usable as a book. Let’s see what this single photo can tell us about the 80’s because after all, a picture really does say a thousand words.

Cameras Of The 1980’s

Yes people, a camera was a fairly expensive device that you carried around with you while your phone was something that you left at home in the kitchen or bedroom. If you were very lucky, you might have a phone in your car, but that was rare. It’s hard to say exactly which one it was now, but the photograph was probably taken on one of the three most popular cameras in the 80’s: The Minolta Maxxum 700, the Kodak Ektralite, or the ever present Fujifilm disposable camera the QuickSnap. 

These were three of the most popular consumer brand cameras available in the 1980’s and even still on into the early to mid 90’s. If a picture was being taken for a family photo album and it wasn’t on a Polaroid, then it was with one of these cameras.

Playground Safety Standards

In the picture, we see me sitting on a piece of playground equipment that has a lot of exposed steel beams on both the climbing surface in the foreground and as part of the ladder in the background. Two things that we would rarely if ever see in a playground here in 2019. In fact, any standards of safety for playground equipment for children were a very new thing in the 80’s. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commision, the first handbook for public playground equipment safety wasn’t published until 1981. That’s great news for all of the kids playing on playgrounds built after that, but since many playgrounds are meant to have a 10 to 20 year lifespan, that means that the vast majority of playgrounds still in existence when this photo was taken were built before any uniform safety standards were created. 

One thing to be proud of though is that the 1980’s yet again prove to be a groundbreaking era for many things, including consumer product safety. We were a long way away from where we are now, but it was a good start.

Radical Clothing

If you look closely, you’ll notice the cropped jeans with a rolled up cuff, aka fabulous pegged jeans! They were so great back then and are now back in fashion today. You may also notice the perfectly 80’s suspenders over a bright and colorful slogan shirt. These evoke pleasant memories of Robin Williams and Debbie Gibson or Madonna making splashes on the pop culture scene while rocking these styles. The shoes appear to be authentic Keds Champions which remain some of the most comfortable and well designed shoes to this day. 

Finally, The Hair

You can’t escape talking about classic 1980’s fashion without talking about perms! Both men and women sported perms of all kinds in that hair-obsessed decade. Everyone from Meg Ryan and Dolly Parton to Whitney Houston had fantastic, decade-defining perms. And don’t worry, they are coming back in style now too


And there you have it, folks. In a single picture we have an entire time capsule that contains some of the most iconic and memorable parts of the decade that defined a generation. We have iconic cameras, classic pegged jeans and stylish kicks. We have a colorful and daring pallet topped by an authentic perm and playground equipment that put fun over safety. The 80’s may not have meant as much to everyone as it does to me but it was a time where the future was as bright as our clothing and the present was pretty good too. 

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