Why were the 1980s so darn awkward? From shoulder pads to Swatches, five fashion reasons

Joan Collins sported some serious shoulder pads in "Dynasty."
Joan Collins sported some serious shoulder pads in "Dynasty."ABC / Today

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By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

No one can say the 1980s were the world's most elegant decade. Hair and shoulders were huge, shoes and watches were made out of plastic, jeans looked as if they'd been battered for hours on river rock, and fashion trends came and went as fast as Pac-Man gobbled ghosts.

But darn it, while the fashions of the 1980s may have been awkward, vapid, random and disposable, they were OUR awkward, vapid, random and disposable fashions.

The geniuses from Awkward Family Photos turn back the clock to the most awesome decade.

I love the decade's pop culture so much that college friend Brian Bellmont and I wrote a book about it -- "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the 1970s and 1980s?" And as we toured around and talked about the book, in person and on radio and TV, we found a hidden cult of 1980s lovers in every city and state. When we handed out Pop Rocks and sprayed a little Love's Baby Soft in the air, people responded with their own warm, goofy memories. (And plugged their noses -- "Love's Baby Soft" is still pretty stinky.) With everything that's happened in the decades since then, parts of the 1980s look startlingly innocent by comparison.

A book co-written by a TODAY.com producer looks at the lost toys, tastes and trends of the 1970s and 1980s. Where are you, Quisp cereal, Malibu Barbie, and Dynamite Magazine?

Looking through the Awkward Family Photos slideshow, I remember every trend the poor unfortunates are wearing. You could find more than a few of them in my photo albums (and closets) too. Even though I spent almost half of the 1980s at an all-girls' Catholic high school where we wore uniforms that made us look like smallish nuns, my classmates and I found ways to incorporate the signs o' the times into our looks, from giant hair and popped collars to Swatch watches and jelly shoes ("young lady, you are OUT OF UNIFORM!").

I could write another whole book just on 1980s fashion flubs and faux pas, but here are five favorites.

Big hair

Is that an enormous French poodle on your neck, or are you just happy to see me? Remember when we all got perms? Does anyone get perms any more? Curling irons and hot rollers sufficed for those who couldn't get or didn't want a salon 'do, and Farrah feathered looks and hockey-hair mullets were also popular. Big hair also made the leap into the music world, with bands like Poison and Twisted Sister sporting poofs to be proud of.

More than two decades ago, photographer Michael Galinsky captured the big hair, bad clothes and overall bodaciousness at malls around the country.

Shoulder pads

Shoulder pads kind of made sense inside the peplumed dresses of Linda Evans and Joan Collins on "Dynasty," as they swaggered their way into boardrooms and business meetings, but less so for those of us who mostly just hung around the mall. The worst thing about this fad was that it made many women look like linebackers. The second-worst thing was that you could not buy a shirt or dress without them for years, which led to women cutting them out at home with scissors, which led to stupid tiny holes in your clothes. Our bodies pad themselves just fine, thanks.

Swatch watches

A fad, but not really a faux pas, at least not to me. I admit, I still kinda love these, and recently found myself lingering over a case of them at the Mall of America Swatch store.  (Yes, Swatch stores still exist.) Come on, these colorful, poppy, plastic timepieces were a huge improvement over the clunky black Texas Instuments digital watches that preceded them. Women who grew up in the 1980s, close your eyes and think back to your "Seventeen" Magazine subscription, which sometimes came with scratch-n-sniff postcards advertising the scented Swatches, called Granita di Frutta. The raspberry scent still lingers in my sense memory, probably crowding out any recollection of math or other more useful topics.

Hoopskirts and crinolines

Prom dresses today are slinky, sexy and sometimes totally age-inappropriate. Not so in the 1980s, where the Scarlett O'Hara style of gowns, like her beloved South, rose again. The big debate was not how much skin to show, but whether a hoopskirt or a crinoline was the best way to poof that skirt out to its desired hugeness -- that is, if you weren't wearing a bubble skirt. Oh, and forget that hideous homemade outfit Molly Ringwald made in "Pretty in Pink." (Shoulder cut-outs, really?)

Acid-washed jeans

Supposedly you could bleach and batter regular dark-blue jeans to get this must-have '80s look, but COME ON. Most of us just bought them off the rack, the paler and most distressed-looking, the better. Parents who'd grown up in the Depression, when clothing was worn until it literally wore out, were baffled by this trend -- why would you want your clothing to look like it'd gone 12 rounds with Rocky? Pair the jeans with a jean jacket and you've got that 1980s staple, the denim tuxedo. Even Martha Stewart once sported that too-too blue look on her show.

Which 1980s fashions do you admit to wearing? Tell us on Facebook.

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