The 1980s were a decadent, disastrous, and innovative time in United States history. Beginning under the shadow of the Iran hostage crisis, and ending with the symbolic fall of communism with the Berlin Wall, the ’80s hosted an impressive gamut of environmental, political, and pop-cultural events. The ’80s saw the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court and unprecedented international cooperation to combat the disappearing ozone layer. Ronald Reagan, a two-term president, re-worked American economic policy and challenged the Soviet Union to help topple the Berlin Wall. Americans celebrated the Miracle on Ice, sang along with Madonna on their Walkmans, and looked forward to the larger implementations of the World Wide Web and Starbucks coffee shops.

Developed by Guest Curator, James Hanley

Scroll through the timeline below

Indicates what can be viewed at The Bryan Museum

Indicates Galveston History

  • Women's Swimwear

    Swimwear worn by women in the 1980s was, perhaps, less shocking than the thongs and sheer bathing suits that were introduced to the market in the 1970s, but some notable new designs and reinterpretations of classics provided fashionable women with plenty of options for expressing their sense of style.

  • Sports Illustrated

    Presented here are four photographs that appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated magazine swimsuit issues during the decade. Not surprisingly they included three supermodels, Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson (twice), and Kathy Ireland. The bathing suits featured on the SI covers illustrate four trends that shaped swimwear fashions during the decade.

  • Boombox

    Before portable speakers, before the iPod, before the Walkman and MP3 players, there was the boombox. The name of the portable, battery-operated radio/cassette player was partly due to its heavy, box-like aesthetic, and it’s bass enhancing power speakers (boom).

  • Polaroid 600 Instant Camera

    For those beachgoers who wanted instant gratification, Polaroid’s Sun 660, introduced in 1981, was one of the simplest point-and-shoot cameras available in the history of photography. All the user needed to do was the point, shoot, and let the camera do the rest. The 660 Polaroid model was one of the early Polaroids that included the company’s Sonar Autofocus technology.

  • Vacation by The Go-Go's

  • Sunglasses

    By far the most important accessories worn by both women and men on the beach in the 1980s were sunglasses. Although people
    continued to wear hats and foot coverings of different types they played a less important role in the 1980s than they had in the earlier decades of the 20th-century.

  • Modern Sunglasses

    In addition to a number of classic styles, new idiosyncratic shades made their way on to Galveston’s beaches during the decade. Among them were futuristic mirrored “mono lens” models, asymmetrical versions with multi-colored frames, and shutter style glasses like those worn by rapper, record producer, and fashion designer Kanye West.

  • Princess Leia

    Gold lame was perfectly suited to the mood of the decade and received a bump back into popular culture when Carrie Fisher, in the role of Princess Leia, wore a bikini styled “slave” costume in the third of the Star Wars films Return of the Jedi in 1983.

  • Sony's Walkman

    At the same time that the boombox was popular small new devices produced by Sony were reaching the United States market. The Sony Walkman, which gained popularity in the early 1980s, was a status symbol among young people. It presented the wearer with an opportunity to listen to a cassette tape with unprecedented sound quality through earphones also designed by Sony. In direct contrast to the boombox, the Walkman was focused on providing music to a single user as opposed to a large group.

  • Maxxum 7000

    Finally, in the 1980s camera manufacturers began to devote serious thought to the development of models for photographers who aspired to advance their skills while capturing important images. To this end, Minolta launched it’s Maxxum 7000 in 1985. An instant sensation, this was the first camera to incorporate a successful autofocus system and motorized film advance in a small, convenient size. When this camera was released there was no camera on the market to rival it in terms of sheer functions and features. It was, by all rights, a masterpiece for its time.

  • Aviator Sunglasses

    In the second half of the decade, the status of aviator sunglasses, which had waned in recent years also improved. Tom Cruise, riding a wave of popularity was, once again, identified as the catalyst for this change. He wore aviators in the role of Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a dashing fighter pilot in the film Top Gun in 1986. His performance served to strengthen the identification of the aviator design with masculine power and bravery. Sales soared 40%.