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The Eighties? Wicked Awesome

By Angela Hallstrom

A few days ago, my 14-year-old son happened to see some photos from my youth. As he gazed upon his mother in all her big haired, acid washed glory, he said, “Did you guys know you looked kinda crazy back then? Or did you really think all that was totally normal?”

“Not only did we think we looked normal,” I answered, “but we were pretty sure we looked wicked awesome.”

And how wicked awesome were we, really? Shoulder pads, blue mascara, leg warmers. I mean, the hits just kept coming. The funny thing is, I vividly remember looking at pictures of my own parents in the 1960s and thinking the same thing my son thinks now: how in the world could they walk around like that all day?

So the baton has been passed. I’m getting old. And one of the benefits of age is the right to annoy the younger generation by waxing nostalgic. Want to join me?

Wicked Awesome Music: Generally speaking, I was a Depeche Mode / Erasure / Oingo Boingo kind of girl, but nothing beat a sappy 80s love song when it came time to pair off at the stake dance. There’s something about the earnest, unabashed, completely non-ironic balladeering by grown men who also considered themselves rock stars that still melts my heart. Brett Michaels in all his haired-out glory reminding us that “just like every cowboy / sings his sad, sad song / every rose has its thorn”? That’s romance, friends.

One particular stake dance ballad memory: Remember “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago? (We 14-year-olds really knew what Peter Cetera was singing about when he proclaimed, “Everybody needs a little time away . . .”, right?) Anyway, there’s a version of that song where “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” segues directly into a more upbeat, saxophone-driven ditty called “Get Away,” and time and time again the DJs at the stake dances and high school stomps would play that version. I remember starting out the song positioned with my partner in the standard bear-hug sway (can you smell the Drakkar Noir?), but then, three minutes in, the song’s tempo would completely change and I’d be left with a potentially humiliating decision: keep bear hug swaying? Break away and start doing the white-girl-fast-song-boogie? Simply stop dancing and wander back to my clutch of 14-year-old girlfriends? Oh, the anxiety! Anyone else remember the perils of slow dancing to this particular song, or is it seared into my memory alone?

Wicked Awesome Fashion: We all know about 80s hair. As a resident of Salt Lake City’s west side (I went to high school in Magna), we took our hair height very, very seriously. One hair accessory was particularly effective in creating the most awesome amount of swoop-and-poof possible (given the collective understanding of the laws of physics at the time, plus Aqua Net Extra Super Hold). The banana clip was an invention of its time. Never before — and dare I say, never again? — will women young and old have the singular pleasure of pulling their hair back so tight that their eyes slanted upward, then curling individual hair tendril after individual hair tendril into a perfect curly spiral, as glorious as a (permed) horse’s mane. Girls of the current generation with their “straight hair” and “no bangs” have no idea the levels of skill and commitment required for even a rudimentary mastery of the art of 80s hair. No. Idea.

Wicked Awesome Mormonism: This last Sunday our ward had our fast and testimony meeting (we had stake conference on the first Sunday of the month), and due to scheduling constraints a missionary getting ready to leave for the MTC on Wednesday had to squeeze his “farewell” talk into the first ten minutes of the meeting. It was nice. He’s a great kid, and I’m sure he’ll be a wonderful missionary. But ten minutes? At the beginning of fast and testimony meeting? Loooong gone are the extravaganzas that were 80s-style missionary farewells. Back in the day the missionary’s mother would plan those sacrament meetings months in advance and send out invitations. Siblings would speak. Best friends. (My husband’s best friend quoted Sting, and I shall never forget it.) I remember farewells with two or three musical numbers: choruses of cousins singing “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission,” a misty-eyed girlfriend warbling “In the Hollow of Thy Hand.” Fathers struggling to keep composure while recounting their sons’ sports triumphs; mothers sobbing through their goodbyes. The pathos! The drama! Not to mention the fact that the meeting almost always went long, which meant Sunday school would be cut short or even canceled . . . not that we were planning to go to Sunday School anyway, since we all intended to bolt straight out the door for the Elder’s house for hours of feasting on mini eclairs and homemade Orange Juliuses.

Yes, those were the days.

And I’ve waxed on long enough. (Mr. Miyagi would tell me it’s time to wax off. The 80s references can’t quit!)

What are your best 80s memories? Fashion, music, movies, Mormonism? Let’s moonwalk down memory lane together.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

41 thoughts on “The Eighties? Wicked Awesome”

  1. Impressive bangs you've got going on. Props to you. I could get mine a good 4 inches off my forehead, and yes, it took skill and mastery far above plugging in my flat iron. It looks like you've got some natural curl – I had to endure hours of perm rods. And perm smell.

    The worst is when girls (at some point I will say women) in my ward that are only 3 or 4 years younger than me give me a hard time. Let's just say I was given to trends. All I know is that I'm buoyed up by a strong reassurance that they'll get theirs at some point.

    I really want to know if the church was getting kickbacks from Peter Cetera. Seriously, that man made a career off of Stake dances.

    I have to put in a plug for my girl music of the 80s – the Go Gos, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna. That's the stuff.

    Last but not least, where have all the road shows gone?

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  2. Alphaville's Forever Young – the last song of every stake dance.

    My high school days were during the 90s – so I have all sorts of great memories of the grunge phase and the Britney/Boy Band era. But I'm so, so glad that I'm also old enough to truly remember the 80s. I had some amazing neon spandex and puff painted sweatshirt combos – topped off with dangly earrings and huge hair bows.

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  3. Oh. My. Word. I know you. Went to high school with you. Would never, ever have figured it out without the 80's picture though. I was probably at many of those stake dances and farewells you attended. Although my hair was bigger and perm-ier since I had more to prove (I was a sophomore when you were a very impressive senior).

    This is so weird! I thought people in the 00's only reconnected through facebook – or should I say FB.

    You should know, I always looked up to you. Wanted to be just like you.

    Good to see you Cinderella.

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  4. Laurieann, so glad to see another Cyprus Pirate at Segullah! And I actually have pictures of me with bigger and permier hair, but they're at my mom's house (dang!). The girls at Cyprus really knew how to embrace the 80s though, didn't we?

    Melanie, Alphaville's Forever Young must go on the Classic 80s Stake Dance Soundtrack, along with Rock Lobster and Mony Mony.

    And Mendy — I didn't really have any natural curl. That was all permage, plus a curling iron with a nice skinny barrel, plus Aqua Net, plus dedication.

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  5. The only thing worse then 80's hair was, wet 80's hair! Oh how I feared the rain.
    It use to take a full half hour to get the proper height, curl and feather, now I blow dry in 5 minutes.
    How about genie pants, Nike jackets, Champion sweatshirts and breakdancing. We went to First church dances and the songs of Journey and Chicago were the favorite slow dances they always ended with Happy trails to you by Van Halen.
    I matched all my socks to my tops and pegged my jeans so everyone could see!
    Oh the 80's!

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  6. Some of my favorite music from the 80's: Howard Jones, Thompson Twins, the Police (remember "Every Breath You Take"?), U2 (still one of my favorites), Talking Heads, Tears for Fears (remember "Shout"?), Bruce Springsteen. As for singles that I remember from that era, how about Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love," Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go," Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian," Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," and the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams"? And lastly, as far as slow songs at stake dances go (well, actually, I was going to BYU dances in the 80's), the one I remember most is "Stairway to Heaven," which was the longest. song. ever. I hated being asked to dance to that one–invariably I was always asked to dance by a nervous, sweaty-palmed boy, and we'd run out of things to say after the first two minutes, then have to dance for the rest of the song, which always seemed like an eternity.

    And I had the perm/banana clip look as well. Unfortunately, I got married during the 80's so my wedding dress had huge Princess Diana puffed sleeves, and a huge bow at the back. My bridesmaids wore aqua satin dresses and we all had big, permed hair. Lol.

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  7. Even though I was a child of the 80s, I never embraced the 80s hair (except when I begged my mom to perm my hair so it would look like Darryl Hannah's in Splash, which was an epic fail). Mine was straight and flat, no bangs, parted on the side. Does that mean I was ahead of my time or just lazy?

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  8. Thanks for the laugh and the trip down memory lane! I can't relate to the 80's Mormon memories as I wasn't a mormon 'til the 90's but the hair…the music…the clothes!!! Wicked awesome!

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  9. I came across a Gunne Sax dress at a thrift store a few years ago and snatched it up. I coveted one of those all through high school, but I was reduced to wearing a homemade one that my mother had labored over…..sigh. I wore the Gunne Sax to a halloween Party and it was a hit. Also, you can't forget BonJovi and Queen, for you somewhat rebellious Mormon kids. After one particular RS lesson on the inappropriate music of "kids these days" my mom took my brother's Queen 8-track and burned it!! I'm still sad about it. My kids are all completely brainwashed and love 80's music, my toddler loves to sing We Will Rock You. And it's just wrong to forget about Air Supply – come on!!

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  10. Whenever I hear DeBarge's "Rhythm of the Night" I am taken back to the summer I was crushing on a certain boy (a year younger, but who could now come to the stake dances) and we had an outdoor stake dance in the church parking lot and HE was there and that favorite song came on and the stars aligned and we danced.

    And Erasure takes me right back to high school, dancing with my best (gay) friend, who would "save me" from dancing with my now-husband whom I desperately tried to avoid in high school. (Ah, life's irony!)

    Oh those big hair bows!! I was the queen of them, plus I had matching scrunchies to go with everything on the days I didn't wear a big bow — but I guess the scrunchies were more into the early '90s. I also had lots of lace collared tops and dresses. The "BTH's" (bangs-to-heaven) were a given, of course, and I was proud of the "monobang" I could create with expert curling, ratting, and Aqua-netting my bangs, so that when you pulled a single hair of my bangs, the whole thing would move with it. I prefered the "big, fluffy bangs" rather than the "straight up like you held them against a wall right after you sprayed them" look. Also, it seems hard for me to believe that I had 3-4 home perms a year from the time I was 1 year old (seriously, Mom?!?!) until I was 19 or 20. Haven't had one since.

    Around here, things weren't "wicked awesome." They were "rad," "gnarly," or "totally awesome." Unfortunately, those have been hard habits to break for me, and I still slip up on occasion, and I still use "awesome" way too frequently. Gah.

    I'm lovin' this post and the comments! What a fun, sometimes cringe-inducing, trip down memory lane!

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  11. LOVE THIS POST!!! I'm definitely a child of the 80s. Just hoping my 13-year-old son (and his younger siblings) DON'T happen across a picture of me from high school. Fantastic post.

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  12. Totally fun post! Charise, I wore Gunne Sax, too! My coveted dress with the loooong row of buttons up the loooong white cuff that reached to the elbow. I went to high school in the 70s so in the 80s I was totally "my own woman!" and the pics of my big hair and big shoulder pads prove it. I think those shoulder pads were closer to my ears than I realized but weren't they "smart" looking. And those big, wide jackets over leggings…yeah, so hip.

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  13. I remember distinctively thinking one day as I stood in my high school lunch line and looked over all the blouses printed with large roses, "I'm sure glad I get to go to high school during a time when everything looks normal." I didn't see HOW those large roses printed on every blouse in that cafeteria could possibly look "weird" 23 years later. Boy did I think I was lucky.

    These comments are so fun to read! I can totally relate to the Gunne Sax dresses and to "the only thing worse than 80?s hair was, wet 80?s hair! Oh how I feared the rain." Nothing pretty about a wet perm and its kinks. I, too, was a victim of the "Lilt Home Perm" and those horrible plastic rods. My mom always forgot about me during the processing stage of the home perm and fried the hair off my head.

    I went to Davis High in Kaysville, Utah. At my school Jordache jeans, "Members Only" jackets, Nike shoes, and plastic bead necklaces were the hot items. As were black patent-leather spike heels coupled with lace-trimmed socks (what was THAT all about?).

    Yep, I am so lucky that I went to high school during a time when we all looked "normal."

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  14. LOL! I was never part of the popular girl crowd with the big hair, but yeah, give me some Erasure and Heart cassettes to blast in my bomber of a car.

    Then there was Pretty in Pink and all those other teen angst movies that I thought were so cool until I grew up.

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  15. Speaking of the '80s wet hair, how about the GELLED wet-LOOK hair, a la Michael Jackson?!?! Nice and crispy with gel, but looking like you just stepped out of the shower.

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  16. Oh, the movies! Pretty in Pink, Lucas, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles…

    This last month, we've been introducing our kids to some classic '80s movies: Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, plus The Muppet Show. They already were big fans of Goonies.

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  17. April, yes, the horror of wet hair! Or windblown hair (heaven help the guy who wanted to take a girl for a ride on his motorcycle . . . sans helmet, of course). I remember how awful it was to go to stake youth conference at a lake somewhere: your hair was likely to get both wet and windblown riding on those *&#^ boats, a lethal combination.

    I'm surprised nobody's brought up stirrup pants yet. I loved stirrup pants, truly I did, especially because they made it that much easier for me to layer my pastel socks over the top of them. I remember one pastel pink denim miniskirt I *loved* and would wear with THREE pairs of pastel socks, layered over each other (mint green, lemon yellow, baby blue). How I could squish my foot into my Keds after that is anyone's guess.

    Jessica McClintock–yes! I think the female LDS population might have kept that woman in business. I got married in 92, and my bridesmaids were still sporting wide lace collars.

    And mormonhermit mom and Strollerblader, glad you brought up the movies. I actually think some 80s teen movies hold up really well; they're better (more complex, more realistic, funnier) than a lot of the garbage aimed at teens now. Say Anything is still one of my favorite movies of all time. John Cusak! Lloyd Dobbler! "The rain on my car is a baptism, the new me, Ice Man, Power Lloyd, my assault on the world begins now." Sigh.

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  18. Laaady in Reeeed.

    Like SilverRain, I have naturally 80s hair. It's awful how much work and maintenance I have to do these days to make it NOT look like 80s.

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  19. Love love love the trip down memory lane… my only complaint about the wide lace collars on dresses…my wedding photos!! Who thought THAT looked good…heeheehee…

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  20. Angela–you look great, eighties hair or no. I think I must have just missed all of this–I hit my teen years just as the eighties were ending, so I remember all of this (and of course, living in Provo, the eighties styles persisted well into the 90s), but I don't remember participating in most of the style fads–except for neon colors. How anyone could have thought neon was flattering is beyond me!

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  21. Ahh Gunne Sax dresses!! As a teenager in Beaverton, OR in the late 70's and early 80's, our assigned temple at the time was Oakland. We raised money for a full year to afford our trip on a tourist bus for the annual temple trip. 1 day driving, 1 day for temple, and 1 day being dropped off in San Francisco with no chaperone to explore the city. Our only rules were stay with your group and meet back at the designated spot by 5:00. We rode trolley cars, ate wharf bread, but best of all spent hours at the Gunne Sax factory outlet store where we bought up as many dresses as we could afford for the upcoming year's formal dances. They were a fraction of the cost…$19.99 a dress!! Those temple trips kept me in Gunne Sax dresses for all my high school formals and even my engagement pics!
    My adult self can't imagine dropping off a pack of 14-18 year olds in SF for a full day without a chaperone. My teenager self thought it was AWESOME !!

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  22. No one has brought up the Star Palace! If you were at BYU in the 80's that's where you had to be! I had the asymetrical haircuts (what's up with that?!), and wore stirrup pants, leggings, HUGE long shirts, MC Hammer pants, neon and too many belts. I looked awesome! Well, at least I thought so at the time. My children think otherwise when they see my gnarly pictures.

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  23. Reading this with my totally mortified 13-year old as I laugh through every post. How 'bout all that glossy makeup, diligently applied and only acceptable when lips, cheeks and eyes took on their own individual clownish hues? Just had to find a Depeche Mode station on Pandora while I clean up dinner. Thanks for the memories and the laughs!!! Strangelove . . . not that that's appropriate these days!

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  24. I remember wearing leg warmers in elementary school, but I wasn't old enough to have the big hair or attend dances in the 80s.

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  25. And what about the 80s TV shows? My husband and I have collected a few "vintage" ones we show our kids on DVD. They all laugh at the fashions on MacGyver (I thought that was such a cool show when I was young; now I find it cheesy and dumb), and they love The Greatest American Hero (that one's aged a bit better, at least until they bring in the green aliens).

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  26. Angela – this post was so refreshing. It was awesome! I mean rad. Did we wear that word out in the 80's or 90's? I remember trying out for dance club with a song from Erasure and wearing those weird underwear things (can't remember the name of them) over the top of a unitard. Wow. Later, during our concert, I couldn't figure out (backstage) which side of my triangular sea-green underwear was supposed to be the top, so I went on stage with my waist slung through one of the leg holes and a very loose gaping hole around one of my thighs. I had them on upside down. Hard visual to paint. Anyhow – what a laugh! Thanks for the memories. We need more light posts like this – good medicine. And your nod to The Karate Kid (greatest movie of the 80's) was the perfect sign-off. Cool. Very cool.

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  27. My black stirrup pants and the long red and black checked shirt I wore over them were my FAVORITE outfit, especially when I was ice skating… spinning around to Lady in Red… wearing lip gloss… with my hair frozen in place. I was never cool. Can't figure that out…

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  28. Worst dance song was "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel. I could NEVER figure out if it was a slow dance song or a fast dance song. Awkward.

    How about "Units," all that mix-and-max knit jersery clothing that was baggy and unflattering? I made my own (in alternating red and blue polka dots) and wore it with pride.

    Yep, pretty much every memory is a little awkward.

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  29. Catherine A., yes! The unitard underwear! I was considering mentioning those in this very post, as a matter of fact, but didn't want to go on too long. Glad you brought them up. Loved your story, too. Brings me back to my 9th grade dance concert. "Living on a Prayer," black unitard underwear, mesh off-the-shoulder shirt. I can still remember some of the moves. Should I be embarrassed by this?

    And Units! I almost forgot about Units. Those stretchy belts and jumpsuits. If I remember correctly, there was a Units store located just a few doors down from a Glamor Shots boutique in my local mall . . .

    Handsfull mom, one of the greatest things about Greatest American Hero (besides the hero's glorious curly blond hair) was the theme song. All together now: "Believe it or not / I'm walking on air / I never thought I could feel / so free–ee–eeee!"

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  30. And Rebecca, the song Lady in Red always reminds me of Days of Our Lives: the rebel Patch trying to woo the girl next door Kayla Brady. Oh, their star-crossed love!

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  31. My 25 year high school reunion is the summer. I'm definitely a child of the 80s! Where to start? How about technology? I remember we used to CALL people on the phone, not text them, not send an email or a message on facebook. My son is a senior in high school and he has such a hard time talking to girls on the phone he wants to ask on a date. Seriously, just call them! My daughter never calls friends just to visit. Her friends talk through texting or facebook. She doesn't have a phone or a facebook page so no one calls her.

    Then there was the Sony Walkman. Remember how cool it was to have one of those? Or how about when boom boxes became popular? We had cassette tapes that had music on them or records.

    I knew one person how had a "brick" phone. Now everyone has a cell phone (almost).

    We had a computer at our house and I was one of the few. That was because my brother worked for a company that fixed computers for businesses. He told me to learn all I could about them because one day every house would have AT LEAST one. He was right. I'm married to a technology geek and we have 3 plus old ones that he can't seem to get rid of. The internet? What is that? It didn't even exist!

    What about TV? I remember when we got cable and we had arrived at having 30+ channels. How many hundreds of channels are there now? Then one of my friends family got a VCR. That was a big deal. And you could rent VCRs and VHS movies at the store.

    Don't even get me started about the whole Valley girl thing. It was like totally the like worst thing like, ever!!!

    I loved 80s music, Journey, Forgeiner, Chicago, Huey Lewis and the News and even Michael Jackson. It was a big deal when you could moonwalk and do the Thriller dance! When he started to wear "the glove" I lost some respect for the man.

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  32. Oh, my! The comments are almost as fun to read as the post itself.

    Talk about a frightening and hysterically fun walk down memory lane. I rocked the banana clip, the stirrup pants, Units outfits, all of it. Loved my denim jacket (worn with the collar UP, of course) and the shoulder pads in EVERY shirt. Peg jeans so narrow you needed a zipper at the bottom to get your foot out.

    One reason I love Psyche is how Shawn constantly throws out 80s references. The Wedding Singer is worth watching for the 80s music alone.

    Aw, Chicago . . .

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  33. The first time I saw a banana clip was at EFY in Utah. I was mesmerized. My hair wouldn't curl no matter what, so I just embraced my straightness and had a dumb bob all through high school. But I dreamed of curls. I still don't understand all these girls who straighten their hair.

    What I can't believe are how many of these nasty trends are coming back. I went shopping with my daughter at the mall and saw and several mannequins wearing white foldover socks with high-heeled pumps. And don't forget all the chunky plastic jewelry. I haven't seen any knickers, though.

    I'm really looking forward to the baggy sweaters with leggings. I really loved that look.

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  34. Angela, I love you! I am crying. Crying, I tell you.

    Our oldest daughter is getting married next month, so I had to dig out all the old pics for a montage a relative is putting together. Unpacked our wedding photos and scanned some in. Here's one, in case anyone can see it. ULTIMATE 80s! Big hair. ENORMOUS sleeves (Sam can hardly fit in the lineup!). Complete awesomeness all around.

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1979108317748&set=t.1244354509&theater

    I couldn't even begin to list all my favorites. Depeche Mode. Phil Collins. Wham. Duran Duran. Prince. Culture Club. Whitney Houston. Devo. a-ha. Men at Work. The Go-Gos. Paul Abdul. Men Without Hats. Thompson Twins. Tears for Fears. Madonna. Cindy Lauper. Rick James. Boys Don't Cry. B-52s. Hall & Oats. John Cougar Mellencamp. Peter Gabriel. Rick Springfield. Journey.

    And did you have to mention The Hollow of Thy Hand??? I sang that at probably 26ish farewells. And I wretch when I think about it.

    Stop me now. It's 2:30 am.

    I must say, however, my third daughter just starred in Footloose a few months ago. 80s set. The whole cast now realizes how superior the 80s were. heh heh

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  35. I couldn't actually accomplish 80s hair, so I went retro and embraced the Veronica Lake look. But oh, I loved my leggings and oversized shirts! Now my oldest wears them with a Steampunk twist or two.

    I never got over the music; my kids like it, too, because YouTube is around. What kills my oldest, though, is how many 80s and 90s songs get a rubber-stamp approval by the Stake music committees for current dances, without actually listening to the lyrics.

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