Back to School... 80s Style

this composition pays homage to the legendary 80s through some typical of that era objects

If you could return to one particular time in your life what would it be?

For me it’s the summer of 1986. I’d just turned 13 and was about to start grade 8. Top Gun, Papa Don’t Preach and ALF were dominating pop culture. Shoulders were padded and hair was big. Working women wore “power suits” while the rest of us coveted chunky knits and bright colours. Kids my age were just starting to form their social consciences, thanks mostly to Benetton and its $100 rugby shirts.

For my back to school haircut I’d ditched the feathered bangs and party in the back rat-tail (cut me some slack, this was TWENTY YEARS AGO) for a Belinda Carlisle Mad About You inspired bob. My mom was finally letting me stay up for Love Boat AND Falcon Crest, and I was blissfully unaware of what it was like to have your period. I still secretly tucked my Cabbage Patch Dolls in at night and often misappropriated my 18-month old brother’s clothes and accessories for Millicent (the red head) and Angela (the preemie).

Using the rotary dial phones hanging on the kitchen wall my friends and I gabbed for hours, meticulously deconstructing the plot of Sixteen Candles and wondering if George Michael would in fact dance again despite those Careless Whispers. We’d lament the DJs who talked over the beginnings of songs we were trying to tape off the radio, and wondered how long it would take to save up for stirrup pants.

The girls I babysat were playing with Jem and Rainbow Brite, while my little brothers tried to kill each other GI Joe and He Man-style. Shelly Long and Molly Ringwald were the “it girls”, and television sets (then the size of Smart Cars) were being covered in cherry Chapstick kisses every time Kirk Cameron (who had not yet been abducted by aliens and lobotomized) and Growing Pains came on.

At school, peanut butter sandwiches were still a legal lunch choice and everyone thought asbestos was just a dusty bottle at the back of our parents’ liquor cabinet.  The smokers were cool and no one had heard of lock down drills or hold and secures. Nobody had a cell phone and everyone was watching beta tapes they rented at the corner store. Bill Cosby was the poster man for family values and we all raced home every Wednesday to catch the ABC After School Special.

Yup, those there were the days. I didn’t think life could get any better until September rolled around and my parents really delivered in the back to school supplies department. Not only did I have two (two!) brand-new Roots sweatshirts (alleviating the pain and humiliation of not owning anything from Beaver Canoe) but I was also able to return to the classroom with the confidence that comes from having a Garfield lunch box, Laurentian Pencil Crayons (24 pack, NOT 12) AND stackable lead pencils in wide array of pastel colours.

To be honest, had I known it was all down hill from there I would have dropped some of my personal must-haves into a time capsule for those days when I could really use a spritz of bright pink feminine sweetness  - the kind that can only be found in Love’s Baby Soft perfume.

What else would I put in my 1986 back to school time capsule?


Education essentials:

Madonna pencil case, because at 43 I’m finally allowed to leave the house with something that says “virgin” on it.

A Little Professor calculator, because it’s the only thing that made math fun. Ever.

Scented, fruit-shaped erasers, because if you’re going to make a mistake on fractions they might as well smell delicious.

Troll doll pencil toppers, to hide the fact that I was too stupid to stop chewing on my lead pencils.

Commodore 64 computer, because typewriters are so grade 7.


For the Hair:

Sun-In highlighter, perfect for turning naturally blonde locks into a pleasing shade of stripper pole brass.

French Formula hairspray. You knew it was good because it had the EIFFEL TOWER on the bottle.

Scrunchies. #scrunchiesforever.

Crimping iron, for the days when a side pony is the only acceptable choice.

Clairol Benders hot sticks – because loose spiral waves and a burned scalp should never be beyond anyone’s grasp.


Fashion Must-haves:

Jelly shoes. Slippery, uncomfortable, dangerous and hot as hell. Perfect for teen girls!

Jelly bracelets, an arm’s length in all different colours.

My Miami Mice sweatshirt, just to prove it was a thing.

Giant, detachable bows, because bigger is better and who wants a plain old belt or headband?

Johnson’s Baby Oil – because it’s THE best way to ensure your skin absorbs the sun’s rays as quickly as possible.


For when the VCR breaks:

Trixie Belden and Sweet Valley High books. Because after you’ve chased your brother down the street in his Big Wheel, you need a little “me time.”

Bryan Adams’ Reckless cassette which, had it not been a cassette, would have been on boom box repeat throughout 1985 and 1986.

Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake Dolls and Pound puppies. You know, for the kids.

Nintendo Entertainment System, because using a joystick to play Frogger was SO 1981.

Lite Brite, because you haven’t lived until you’ve scandalized your friends with light-up swear words during basement slumber parties.


What would go in your 1986 back to school time capsule? Tweet or Instagram me your must-haves @wineandsmarties.



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Picture of Jen Millard

Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @jennemillard or at

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