I tried to live like I was in the '80s for a day. Here's what happened.

Darcy Schild/Business InsiderThe hair was a little too big for my liking, but I would wear the blazer again.
  • Growing up, I always wanted to live like the teenagers in a John Hughes movie.
  • However, little did I know that trying to live like it’s the 1980s in 2019 would be harder than I thought.
  • With no cell phone, texting, or email allowed, I set out on my journey to embody the ’80s – and eat a hot dog while I was at it.
  • Here’s what happened when I tried to live like it was the 1980s.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories .

The ’80s were an exhilarating time for music, fashion, and culture. Young people were moving to big cities in droves and embodying the catchphrase “dress for success.”

By day, many people were driven, successful, and put-together. By night, girls just wanted to have fun.

As an avid fan of movies like “Pretty in Pink” and “The Breakfast Club,” I found the idea of trying to live like it was the 1980s exciting, if not a little bit intimidating.


Read more:


20 fashion trends from the ’80s that should never come back

However, I didn’t truly understand the gravity of what I had signed up for until I put on a blazer with shoulder pads and renounced my cell phone.

Here’s what happened when I tried to live like it was the 1980s for an entire day.


I started my day to the sound of my alarm. Except, instead of scrolling through Instagram, I got up and started to get ready. I truly had no idea how long it would take to achieve my ’80s look, but I knew I had to “dress for success.”

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderThe outfit I went with for my ’80s-inspired day — minus the sunglasses.

Turns out, it didn’t take that long. I almost never curl my hair or do anything to it for that matter, so it did add an extra fifteen minutes I wouldn’t normally need. For the outfit, I settled on some ’80s fashion classics – a blazer with shoulder pads, a cheetah print dress, and some loafers.

I’m not exactly sure if the patterns mixed or clashed, but I felt that it had that business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back vibe that defined ’80s fashion and hair. I felt like a professional woman, but with a youthful, fun twist. I thought the sunglasses added a nice touch, but that they may be a little too much for the office. I went with my everyday wire-rimmed eyeglasses instead.

It’s also worth mentioning that although I’m taking photos with my cell phone today, that’s the only thing I will be using it for.


For makeup, I did some research and found that while many ’80s makeup looks were over-the-top, colourful, and straight out of a Madonna music video, others focused on a natural appearance with a dark brownish-red lip.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderMy CoverGirl lipstick in the colour ‘Sultry Sienna.’

Not being a fan of wearing neon-green eyeshadow, I decided to sift through my makeup bag and go with more natural, fall-inspired makeup. I chose this CoverGirl lipstick in the colour “Sultry Sienna.” CoverGirl was huge in the ’80s, as was Teen Spirit deodorant and Hard Candy nail polish.


Between my blazer and the lip colour, I felt like I was truly channeling Sarah Jessica Parker circa 1987.

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty ImagesSarah Jessica Parker in 1987.

Though my hair wasn’t quite as big and curly as SJP’s, I couldn’t help but feel like I would fit in right alongside her. Fashion in the ’80s had stark contrasts between the different trends. From my research, it seems that women during this time period loved embracing ultra-feminine details like lace, buttons, and bows, punk rock styles inspired by famous music artists of the moment, and androgynous, menswear-inspired outfits.


The hair was the most dramatic part of my transformation. I felt like it took up half my body from all the hairspray, curling, and teasing.

Darcy Schild/Business InsiderA full view of my ’80s-inspired outfit and hair.

I’m used to pretty flat hair, so this was something to get used to. As for the blazer, I actually began to really enjoy it. If I could do anything different, I’d maybe go more over-the-top – this was definitely on the “square” side of ’80s fashion.


I made my way to the subway. Let’s just say, the New York City subway system today is very different than it was in the ’80s.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderMy MetroCard.

Whereas now you can fill up your MetroCard, the NYC subway system used to run on a token system. In the 1980s, a subway token good for one fare only cost one dollar. The subway token was officially retired in 2003 after the MetroCard was introduced in 1994.

In the next 3 to 4 years, the MetroCard will also go the way of the dinosaur and be phased out by options to pay by tapping your credit card, debit card or MTA card linked to a bank account at the turnstile.


No one would say that the New York City subway trains of today are spotless, but the trains of the 1980s make the ones today look positively sterile.

Barbara Alpers/Getty ImagesGraffiti on the inside of a subway train in New York City, USA, circa 1980.

The subways were also a dangerous place to be in the 1980s, and people avoided travelling in them at all costs. Whereas now many people don’t think twice about riding the train, those doing it in the ’80s had to be very aware and cautious. In December of 1981, author Paul Theroux spent a week riding around the NYC subway system and recording what he saw.

He wrote, “The subway is frightful looking. It has paint and signatures all over its aged face. It has been vandalised from end to end. It smells so hideous you want to put a clothespin on your nose, and it is so noisy the sound actually hurts.”

As for the danger people encountered every day on the subway, these words were the most jarring to me: “Is it dangerous? Ask anyone, and, without thinking, he will tell you there must be about two murders a day on the subway.”


I’ve never encountered anything frightening or dangerous on the subway, besides the rats scurrying around on the tracks. I was shocked to hear that it used to be such a crime-ridden place.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderThe subway platform in 2019.

It was strange not listening to music on the platform, or once I got on the subway, as I usually do. I guess I should have brought my Walkman. Then again, if it really was the ’80s, I would definitely want to keep my wits about me while riding in the New York City subway system.


Read more:


The Walkman just turned 40 – here’s how listening to music has changed over the years


I finally got to the office. On my way in, I grabbed a coffee with skim milk. It’s shocking to think of a time when almond milk didn’t exist.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderThe view of One Liberty Plaza.

One Liberty Plaza officially opened in 1973, and elevators were added in 1989. Thank goodness for that – otherwise, I may have had to take the stairs up to the eighth floor. Once up to the office, I had to deal with my first dilemma. I had to use the internet to write my articles for the day.

There were technically word processing programs in the ’80s – does anyone remember WordStar? – and although there was no Google back then, I still had to do my job. It’s what the young urban professionals of yesteryear would want me to do, I reasoned with myself.


After working for a while, I decided to step out and grab some lunch, and I had a plan.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderFood vendors lined up on Broadway in the Financial District.

For my ’80s-inspired lunch, I decided to use the cash I had leftover in my purse to get a New York City staple – a hot dog. While I decided to use cash to buy my lunch today, credit cards were also extremely popular as they burst onto the scene in the 1980s. By the middle of the decade, the average credit card holder carried seven cards and more than 125 million Americans owned Master Card or Visa charge cards.

Regardless, most street food vendors still don’t take credit or debit cards today, let alone in the 1980s.


If I’m being honest, I was partially inspired by this photo of a New York City hot dog cart from 1980.

Barbara Alper/Getty ImagesA man selling hot dogs and pretzels from a cart, New York City, USA, April 1980.

I did notice a difference in the carts’ appearances, however. Most hot dog and other food vendors have photos of the food they sell now – this cart from 1980 had cartoonish illustrations.

Though the price of a hot dog may have gone up slightly now that NYC is a tourist hub, I was nevertheless excited to try one for the first time. Yep, I’ve never had a New York City hot dog, despite living here for three months and visiting throughout my childhood.


Strolling up to the cart in my outfit, I’m not going to lie — I felt a little out of place among the “I Heart NY” T-shirt-clad tourists and casually-dressed visitors in the Financial District.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderMy hot dog with chilli and mustard was surprisingly delicious.

How often does someone in a blazer and a dress order a hot dog with chilli and mustard? Well, one was about to.


Yuppie (young urban professional) feelings aside, I was very pleased with the hot dog. I also got a Diet Coke, mainly because I remember Whitney Houston’s ad for it from 1988.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderI also got a Diet Coke with my hot dog. Diet Coke was voted the Brand of the ’80s.

Diet anything was all the rage in the ’80s as people embraced a fitter, healthier lifestyle. Diet Coke hit the market in 1982, and by the end of 1983, Diet Coke was the No. 1 diet soft drink in the U.S. It also held the top spot for a soda brand among female consumers. The Coca Cola Company also reports that Diet Coke was named the Brand of the Decade by Advertising Age.


Usually while eating lunch, I would sit and scroll through my phone. Honestly, I was feeling a little out of the loop after not using social media or my cell phone at all — other than using it to take photos. Good thing I brought a Rubik’s Cube to occupy my busy mind.

Darcy Schild/Business InsiderI decided to play with the Rubik’s Cube.

Rubik’s Cubes were first introduced to consumers in Hungary back in late 1977. It was considered a great children’s toy because it couldn’t be pulled apart or broken.

Throughout the 80s, the cube gained worldwide popularity. In fact, it could even be called a cultural phenomenon. In 1982, the first Rubik’s Cube World Championship was held in the capital of Hungary, where 20 competitors fought against each other to complete the puzzle the quickest. Minh Thai, an American teenager, solved the cube in 22.95 seconds.


I’m definitely not a pro at solving one yet — in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever played with a Rubik’s Cube before.

Darcy Schild/Business InsiderPlaying with the Rubik’s Cube.

It was nice to be unplugged for a while and away from my desk. In fact, it was quite peaceful just to sit and try and solve the coloured puzzle.


After finishing work, I headed home to make an ’80s-inspired dinner. I had consulted with my mother the night before, who was around my age during the ’80s, for the most typically-’80s recipe she could think of. She recommended a stir-fry.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderThe onions and peppers of my stir-fry in the pan.

Since I still wasn’t allowing myself to use my phone, a stir-fry fit the bill perfectly, as I didn’t even need to look at a recipe. After stopping at my local grocery store, I made the trek home to prepare my healthy meal.

Going completely off-book is not really my style when it comes to cooking – I always like to at least check a recipe first. However, with no internet or cookbook to be had, I decided to wing it. I started off by sautéing some onions and peppers. Then, I boiled some brown rice – no Ready Rice, tonight, unfortunately – and grilled up some chicken. I did throw in some Kikkoman soy sauce. I made sure to look that one up the night before, and the company was founded back in 1957.

Stir-fried recipes were extremely popular in the 80s as people tried to find healthier alternatives to the fat-filled, cheesy, sugary foods of the 70s.


And voilá, my healthy ’80s dinner was done. It was delicious and so easy to make. After making it, I wanted to call up my mother and thank her for the recommendation. Unfortunately, my apartment doesn’t have a landline.

Erin McDowell/Business InsiderThe finished stir-fry with chicken and rice.

After eating my dinner, I reflected on all of the things that make today’s world so different from that of the 1980s. When on the subway, rather than being on guard or even aware of their surroundings, everyone is completely glued to their phones. I struggled to connect with anyone that day, unless I saw them in person – there was no emailing, no texting, and no cell phones. Most people don’t even own a landline phone anymore!

All in all, I enjoyed trying – keyword, trying – to step back in time to the ’80s. The hair was bigger, the shoulders were higher, and the music was full of synths. Even though I felt like a yuppie most of the day – or like a character out of a John Hughes film – I didn’t really mind.

The 80s were an exciting time, mixed with economic success, an incredibly vibrant nightlife and music scene, and a teenage generation that dominated malls across the country, buying up records and starting their own fashion trends.

After a long day living like I was in the 1980s, it was finally time to take a chill pill – AKA, go to sleep.

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