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The window to watch: 1980s

by Michael Weare
23 August, 2011
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About the author

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

Robert-de-Niro

What clothes, what watches, what cars and what music were people into in the 1980s?

This is the fourth in our Window to watch series of feature articles that walks through the decades in terms of changing tastes in these key areas.

The main picture shows Robert de Niro who appears in the top 5 of just about any poll of the greatest movie actors of all time. He made one great movie after another in the 80’s, including probably his best ever performance in 1980’s Raging Bull.

Fashion: Miami Vice

Don Johnson Miami Vice

The Miami Vice look was the defining male fashion statement of the mid-80s onwards. It was based on a cop show of the same name starring Don Johnson and Michael Philip Thomas. The show drew heavily on 80’s pop culture and music which is why it became such a major hit with MTV cop wannabes.

Admittedly, the rolled up unstructured jacket sleeves and pastel tee shirt teamed with light cream linen trousers and sockless espadrilles looked pretty awesome if you were a suntanned, Raybanned Don Johnson in Miami. It looked a whole lot less appropriate on a dull misty November morning in a Tesco car park in Middlesborough. Not that that stopped anyone from shoving their jacket sleeves up to their pasty elbows while a bad mullet haircut spilled over the upturned collar. The look lingered for far too long.

Watch: Swatch

Swatch Watch

In the early 1980s the Swiss watch industry was still reeling from the so called quartz crisis. The mainstream buying public were in love with quartz and almost overnight had turned distinctly Japanese. Things were looking bleak for the Swiss. Then on March 1st 1983, the Swatch Group introduced their first collection of bright new quartz novelty watches. The strategy was to rebuild the Swiss watch manufacturing industry from the bottom up, having lost huge amounts of ground to Seiko and other Japanese watch companies.

Swatch’s first collection of watches, unveiled in Zurich, Switzerland, introduced a very bold new style and design. A design which helped put Switzerland right back on top of the watch market.

Swatch became a massive hit in the United States and Europe during the 80s. In fact, the brand was so popular that trendy young things often wore two of them at once. Girls, and probably more than a few guys, used a Swatch to hold up their ponytails. While Don Johnson wore a two tone Rolex Datejust, you would often see the significantly cheaper Swatch teamed with the Miami Vice look.

Car: Volvo 740

Volvo 740

The Volvo was the most aspirational middle class car of the 1980s thanks largely to the ads written by copywriter David Abbot. Abbott was one of the top ad writers of his day, and he believed in the product so much that he was even prepared to lie underneath it while it was suspended by a single spot weld. This was in the days before sophisticated digital trickery could convince you that a swimming costumed cow was attempting a high dive, so that’s really him under the car.

The point he was making was that each spot weld on a Volvo is strong enough to support the weight of the whole car. What it said to sensible middle class mums was that ugly though it may be, it was a jolly safe car in which to ferry the kids to and from school.

I saw David Abbott emerge from his Volvo in the King’s Road at around the time this ad was running, so he definitely survived the product test. Note the coupon in the ad; that was considered social media in the 80s. Strapping girls of the era were often unkindly described as being ‘built like a Volvo.’

Music: Adam and the Ants

Adam and the Ants

By the 1980s pop music was at its zenith, full of creativity, talent and experimentation, with hot bands emerging seemingly every week, including Wham, a resurgent David Bowie, Duran Duran, Queen at their majestic best – the global pop concert Live Aid, Michael Jackson was mega, and in the early 80’s for a few brief glorious years, there was Adam and the Ants.

By 1981, Stuart Goddard, aka Adam Ant, was the UK’s biggest pop sensation. He kick started the 80s with an exciting, shocking new Romantic look, part pirate, part red Indian, part dandy Highwayman. The impact was huge and immediate.

His biggest hit was Prince Charming, but for me, his best ever song was ‘Here Comes the Grump’, from the Friend or Foe album; a self aware and all too prophetic anti-paean to the pitfalls of pop super stardom. After years of near suicidal depression, Stuart Goddard is only just starting to recover from the whirlwind decade that was the 1980s.

Michael Weare | Website

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

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