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80s Redux - The Return Of Neon

Originally Posted: September 04, 2009

Colin M. Graham

These board shorts by Quicksilver are quintessentially '80s with their fluorescent colors and graffiti style design. This style, popular in the '80s, is experiencing a resurgence. Images courtesy of Quicksilver, OP and Vans

Southampton - If the prevalence of neon colored apparel on the beaches and around town this summer hasn't been enough to tip you off, I'll just come out and say it: certain '80s styles are coming back with a vengeance.

I first noticed this while walking down Main Street in Southampton the other day on my way to get a post lunch coffee when I passed a young kid, probably in his late teens, walking in the other direction looking like he just stepped out of a 1988 OP commercial. He had a long board tucked under one arm, a tee-shirt that had more Day-Glo accents than a highway worker's vest, slip-on KEDS and fluorescent orange colored sunglasses.

I was wearing my vintage pair of Bolle sunglasses with purple lenses and lime green arms and we exchanged a nod of mutual appreciation for each other's choice of eyewear and continued on our way - me back to the office, and he probably somewhere decidedly more fun, but it got me thinking about how surf style this year has taken a page from 1980s California.

Brands that were huge 20 years ago are still alive today producing contemporary surf apparel as well as some of the throwbacks that made them popular in the first place.

Having grown up in the 1980s, much of my childhood was spent wearing classic gear by companies such as OP, T&C Surf Designs, Body Glove, Hang Ten and of course, bathing suits by Jams, and seeing this style start to become popular again brought back a wave of nostalgia: thoughts of Zack Morris and the rest of the "Saved By The Bell" crew in the episodes where they worked at the Malibu Sands instantly popped into my head and I found myself wondering why the style was coming back now.

I was reading an article recently about the resurgence in '80s culture that suggested that other notable epochs experience a revival roughly every 20 years. "The '50s returned in the '70s, sparked by "American Graffiti" and "Happy Days," and the '60s came back in the '80s, helped by New Wave, American indie rock and perhaps some anti-Reagan sentiment," wrote Todd Leopold in the piece. "And the '70s - in the guise of "That '70s Show," a funk rebirth and a handful of fashions - got 15 more minutes in the '90s."

As for a reason as to why this may be, senior reviews editor for Blender Magazine Rob Tannenbaum suggested in the article that 20 years isn't just an arbitrary length of time for the cycle to take place. "It taps into our good feelings about childhood when we have disposable income. When you're 30 or 35, you want to be reminded what it was like when you were 10 or 15."

While these classic Vans slip ons have maintained some popularity over the years, they've started turning up on kids who weren't even alive in the 80s

That's it I thought. That's exactly how I felt that day on Main Street. I was catapulted back to those carefree years where the biggest decision I had to make on any given summer day was what color zinc oxide I wanted to coat my nose with.

Personally, all nostalgia aside, while there are some '80s fashions that are best left in the past (those oversized padded shoulders on women's jackets for one), I dig the retro surf style. It has that quintessential sense of California cool and the colors and patterns, while somewhat kitschy, are fun, bold and beach appropriate.

For the younger set who might not have any first hand experience with that decade, the clothes just exude that classic beach vibe, but for those of us that actually wore some of these items when they were the peak of fashion, they are a throwback to our youth. You almost can't even look at Day-Glo colors without being reminded of just how cool you thought Zack Morris was with his encyclopedia-sized cellphone. Hell, I still think Zack Morris is cool; I think about it every time I don my Bolles and blue and pink patterned OP board shorts.


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