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What were All the Kids Dressing Up as in the '80s?

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By Christian Roemer

Big disclosure: I was born in 1986. That means my earliest memories are mere glimpses into the awesomeness that was the 80s. Maybe it’s some sort of subconscious attachment to neon spandex and hair metal that makes me love the 80s so much. Perhaps it’s some sort of psychological imprinting and confirmation bias that tells me the 80s were the peak of human civilization. I’m no Freud. All I know is that, either way, I love the 80s. The music, the movies, the ambiance--it all seems like it was magical.


If there’s one lasting legacy that the 80s will forever imprint on us, it’s the cultural references. Artists still return to the 80s aesthetic when they’re looking to elicit some sort of familiar and vibrant time. Heck, just look at Stranger things to see how powerful 80s imagery and sound is.


That cultural clout also means another thing: it shows up everywhere, especially during Halloween. That love of 80s icons isn’t just limited to today’s hipsters either. Kids back then were already jumping on the bandwagon and dressing up in what would become iconic costumes. These are the costumes that kids in the 80s were wearing (and that plenty of people are still wearing every year).

 

Marty McFly 

This go-to costume comes from the king of cool. The Back to the Future movies are classics, and Marty’s carefree style is a sure hit. From elementary schooled kids to adults, everyone was emulating this time traveler in the 80s.

 

Generic Aerobics Instructor

It doesn’t get any more 80s than a lady wearing what is basically a swimsuit on top of lycra leggings. The colors had to pop. The hair had to be big. The sweatbands had to be sweaty. This costume is peak 80s.

 

The Fonz 

An updated take on the classic greaser look, the Fonz was the perfect costume for folks that wanted to exude cool. Who didn’t love the Fonz?

 

Michael Jackson from Thriller 

One of the great things about dressing up like Michael Jackson from Thriller is that it’s basically gender free. Both boys and girls could wear his red, patent-leather jacket and pull it off. Bonus points if you learned the dance!

 

80s Rocker 

Another gender-bending option, 80s rockers were the apex of cool. Since the boys basically dressed up like the girls, and girls dressed up like boys, you could be whoever you wanted! Some went with an eclectic Slash look, while others went for a more in-your-face Pat Benetar. This costume was all about attitude.

 

Freddy Kreuger 

The best costumes for kids are the ones that are easy to make. This one was a piece of cake. All you needed was a pair of jeans, a striped t-shirt, a mask, and knifey fingers. The scares basically made themselves!

 

Macho Man Randy Savage 

I was never a huge wrestling fan, but MMRS is iconic. This master of mayhem from Ohio had quintessential glamour with attitude to back it up. Ohhhhhhhhh yeaaaaaaaaaa!!!

 

Molly Ringwald Anything 

Everyone’s favorite girl next door, Molly Ringwald is basically synonymous with 80s movies. Her costumes were super easy to make, and they were always a hit. Who didn’t love Molly?

 

Ghostbuster 

Ghostbusters burst onto the scene with their quirky quips and muted brown jumpsuit in the mid 80s. The best part about Ghostbusters was running around yelling, “Who ya gonna call?” then just waiting for someone to yell, “GHOSTBUSTERS!”

 

The Little Mermaid 

This costume is cheating a little bit, because The Little Mermaid didn’t come out until 1989, but it was basically the Frozen of its day. Every little girl wanted to be Ariel, and for good reason. She was a great singer, a wonderful swimmer, and she had the best friends ever.


If you hopped into a time machine, these are the costumes that all of the youngins would be wearing. The cool thing is that, if you just go outside this Halloween, you’ll probably still see kids wearing them today. That’s what I call staying power!


What are you going to be this year?

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