Fashion and technology collided in the ‘80s | Our Cecil


ELKTON — As you rush out to catch the new Steven Spielberg movie “Ready Player One” this weekend and indulge your nostalgic sweet tooth the Historical Society of Cecil County will be unveiling its latest exhibit Historical Threads, among which are several pieces from the 1980s.

While most of us wish we could forget the fashion of the 1980s, many still remember the technology of the decade quite fondly. The ‘80s was a decade of bold looks and engineered fabrics, but it also ushered in the age of personal electronics and with it the ability to influence consumers and fashion directly.

An original Sony Walkman, a Tandy 1000 Personal Computer and a Timex Sinclair 1000 are all on display at the exhibit center of the historical society along with an Atari gaming system which were all released in the early years of the ‘80s.

The Walkman made it possible for teenagers all over the U.S. to listen to whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted — revolutionary in its time. Teens had a new outlet for their attention and coupled with the newly launched MTV television channel it gave considerable fashion power to music celebrities. Madonna, Michael Jackson and Boy George all took the fashion stage, even if just for a moment, in no small part due to the emerging technology of the ‘80s.

The Atari systems were in their prime in the early ‘80s, just before the video game market crashed. In 1984, Atari split but after the dust settled the Nintendo Entertainment System emerged and took America by storm. Video games rose to prominence slowly in the ‘80s but they influenced technology in an important way. As more and more kids and young adults began to interact with the television screen rather than watch it passively, it not only made the TV more of a focus in the household, but it primed the electronics market for the personal computer. Together with the VHS (and Beta) recorder, the television set became the cornerstone of the family room which pumped out ads for clothing, among everything else, every 10 to 15 minutes all day, every day.

The Tandy computer line was more or less an IBM clone, but was more cost effective, and most importantly could be found at your neighborhood Radio Shack. This greatly influenced how computers came into the mainstream. The Timex Sinclair 1000 (a joint venture between Timex and Sinclair Research) became the first personal computer on the market for under $100 in 1982. Partly to be more cost effective and partly to maintain familiarity with customers, the computer utilized a television set as a monitor instead of a standalone screen.

The early computers furthered users thirst for video games as well as providing more practical functions, such as word processing, but that was just the beginning. As the decade progressed, the branching and growing internet became more and more accessible to users eventually forming a brand-new advertising and taste-making portal into the average consumers home. Even though the 1000 line of computers did not let its users check celebrity Instagram accounts or pour through tweets, it is possible to do that today in large part due to the devices in the ‘80s and the way that consumers interacted with them.

No 1980s retrospective would be complete without the mention of the cellular phone. Mocked for its size in the ‘80s, the cellphone is possibly the most prophetic fashion accessory of the decade. Everyone remembers Zach Morris’ iconic cellphone escapades or at least his brick-sized phone. With cellphones, the technology not only enabled fashion and trends to spread faster, but the phone itself was also part of the fashion. This was epitomized by belt clips, mirrors and now cases and covers. Ultimately though, all the personal technologies of the 1980s would condense into the cellphone we know today, bringing the outside world, fashion and all, right to our fingertips whether we are in our living room or camping in the middle of the woods.

A tremendous amount of time and energy has gone into the “Historical Threads” exhibit. The society’s curator, Lisa Dolor, has spent months planning, researching, collecting and combing through the society’s numerous clothing artifacts, accessories, photographs, newspapers and the personal stories of these wonderful artifacts. So while your out, come see us at 135 E. Main St. in Elkton and take in even more of the fashion and technology of the ‘80s. Walkman and cellular phones are encouraged.

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