Facts About '80s Fads We Just Learned That Made Us Say, 'Rad!'

List Rules
Vote up the coolest facts about fads from the 1980s.

There is something very clear and recognizable about the 1980s, whether it be the big hair, even bigger pants, plastic shoes, or rubber bands in a ball disguised as a fun toy. The 1980s were a big time for movies, fashion, and even cuisine - snacks and fast food included. Looking back on the colorful decade can induce nostalgia and make you want to break out your shoulder pads to reminisce over the best and worst trends of the era. 

Some '80s fads may seem ridiculous but, upon further inspection, are actually really, really rad. Which iconic '80s fashion trends were rooted in early feminism? Which funky '80s toy may have been invented by your high school woodshop teacher? Which '80s fad was so dangerous, the CDC had to issue a warning? Read on to learn some tubular facts about your favorite fads of the 1980s!


  • 1
    186 VOTES

    The Success Of The Walkman Made Cassettes More Popular Than Vinyl Records (In 1983)

    The vinyl record was the king of audio-recorded media for many decades, only interrupted once by the 8-track's short blip of popularity. When the cassette player hit the scene in the '70s, records were in trouble for the first time. Cassette tapes had the unique ability to allow the listener to record songs they liked from the radio or even themselves. Boomboxes heightened the popularity, but nothing brought cassette tapes to the general population faster than the Sony Walkman in 1979.

    It was the first time that people could listen to music on the go without disrupting anyone's morning commute with a boombox on the subway. Over the course of their heyday, Sony sold over 400 million Walkman portable players, pushing the cassette tape to finally outsell vinyl records in 1983. CDs soon took over cassette tapes, but for many years, cassettes were the cheaper option. CDs didn't outsell cassettes until 1991. 

    186 votes
  • 2
    209 VOTES

    Topps Created The Garbage Pail Kids After Failing To Obtain The Rights To Cabbage Patch Kids

    Topps was originally a chewing gum company that began including X-ray novelty cards in packs of gum to set itself apart from its competitors. The explosion of interest in these collectible cards led Topps to eventually create sports cards, which is what the company is known best for today. Along with sports cards, Topps never stopped creating novelty card collections for Hopalong Cassidy, Star Wars, and more. 

    In the early '80s, CEO Arthur Shorin attempted to secure the rights to Cabbage Patch Kids, the wildly popular doll franchise. His request was declined. When asked about what happened next, Len Brown, the creative director of Topps from 1959-2000 said

    We actually tried to get the rights to do Cabbage Patch, which were very popular. When that failed, one of the senior officers at Topps, and it was probably Arthur, said, "Well, let’s parody them if they don’t give us the rights."

    The Garbage Pail Kids were born out of spite. Topps set out to create a gross, dirty, disgusting version of the Cabbage Patch Kids as a response to the snub. The company's art director at the time, Art Spiegelman, eventually went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning illustrator; you can see his creative genius at work with the often disturbing Garbage Pail Kids. The cards ended up being a big hit and a defining fad of the 1980s.

    209 votes
  • 3
    151 VOTES

    The Koosh Ball Prototype Was A Bundle Of Rubber Bands

    The Koosh Ball was originally created by an engineer and Stanford alumnus. Regardless of his impressive background, Scott Stillinger's prototype for the toy was fairly simple. He was having a difficult time teaching his children to play catch, so he knotted together a bundle of rubber bands and cut them so the rubber ends formed a ball.

    He named it the Koosh Ball because of the sound it made when it was caught. 

    151 votes
  • 4
    130 VOTES

    Mixtapes Originated As Demo Tapes For DJs And Rappers To Showcase Their Work

    Many of us know mixtapes as music compilations of corny love songs you may give to your crush. With the introduction of new technology like the Walkman in the 1980s, this is what mixtapes became - but their roots are in DJing. 

    In the late 1970s and early '80s, legends like Grandmaster Flash and DJ Clue first popularized the medium of the mixtape by recording live sets and adding bonus tracks to cassette tapes for their coolest fans who were tuned in to the underground music scene. These were called "party tapes" and were made in limited runs to increase exclusivity.

    DJs used mixtapes as a sample of their mixing skills for potential clients and even had one on deck in case they had technical issues at a venue. Throughout the '80s, boomboxes and portable cassette players became more accessible, and soon anyone could record their own mixes on cassette tapes. Some talented artists would blend songs together on the tape, which eventually became known as remixes. 

    Emerging musical artists began to create demo tapes of their music to hand out at shows or to potential record labels, and also called them mixtapes. This terminology is still around today, although you're much more likely to see a mixtape on SoundCloud rather than on a cassette tape. 

    130 votes
  • 5
    137 VOTES

    Slap Bracelets Were Made By Accident By A Woodshop Teacher In Wisconsin

    The slap bracelet was invented by Stuart Anders, a woodshop teacher from Wisconsin. One day, Anders was playing with steel ribbon in his shop, and the idea came out of nowhere and slapped him in the face. The original slap bracelet was a simple steel ribbon covered in fabric that would turn into a bracelet when it was slapped on your wrist, and he patented it as the Slap Wrap. The toy soon became a fashion statement based on the choice of pattern. Kids collected them and slapped each other with them all day long.

    As with all great fads, it didn't take long for something to go wrong. Cheap imitations of the slap bracelet were soon made. The steel ribbon was cheaper with sharp edges that would poke out of the fabric and cut children. The cheaper the material, the more the steel would rust, causing parents to fear tetanus. On one occasion, a school purchased a cheaper alternative to the Slap Wrap from China as a prize for students who participated in a fundraiser. The bracelets quickly fell apart and the metal ribbon underneath revealed nude, pornographic imagery printed on it. Um, what? 

    Stuart Andrews tried to clear his wholesome Midwestern name by sending the school real Slap Wraps for free. Even so, the toy never recovered to the trend it once was.

    137 votes
  • 6
    120 VOTES

    The Hacky Sack Lives On In The International Sport Known As Footbag

    In the '80s, no dorm room came complete without a Hacky Sack. Every patch of grass had a Hacky-Sacker kicking the colorful beanbag around. Nowadays, Hacky Sacks aren't as popular, but the art and appreciation of the sport lives on through international leagues and championships. 

    In professional circles, Hacky Sack is called footbag. You cannot score and you cannot win when playing footbag, making it the ultimate hippie sport. No wonder the game was popularized by the Grateful Dead and Phish concert-goers. There is even a biannual magazine published by the World Footbag Association, AKA the WFA

    The Hacky Sack is a brand name of the first footbag, created in 1972 by an athlete from Oregon, John Stalberger, to help with the healing of his injured knee. The rights for the simple fabric ball filled with beans was not purchased until 1983, but from there, it blew up. Today, it continues to be the favorite sport amongst pacifists and lives on through online communities on Reddit.

    120 votes