Arts and Culture

Behind the Mullet: What We Forget When We Glamorise the 80s

Ffion Wyn Jones

With high-waisted jeans, bright colours and Stevie Nicks very much in vogue, the 80s aesthetic is coveted by many. It’s long been known that fashion trends are cyclical, but with the return of mullets and scrunchies, the 80s look seems like it’s here to stay, especially amongst young LGBT+ people. However, while people complain of being ‘born in the wrong generation,’ they forget the rampant homophobia and economic struggles that dominated the 80s. 

I can’t deny that I fall victim to this too, one of my most listened to playlists on spotify is ‘80s Gay Bar- with its upbeat hits from Duran Duran and A-ha frequently lifting my spirits on a lonely day in lockdown. I can only theorise that this music makes me feel nostalgic and safe as it was the sort of thing my parents would blast while cleaning the house on a Saturday morning. And it’s unsurprising that since the children of the 80s are now approaching their mid 40s more 80s inspired content is prevalent in the media as they’re the executives commissioning it.

Still of Princess Diana roller skating through Buckingham Palace in ‘The Crown’. This show reminded many of 80s fashion and led to a revival of gingham trousers.

It’s bizarre that the 80s are glorified by the LGBT+ community in particular when homophobia was so rife. Thatcher’s homophobic agenda mandated Section 28 of the Local Government Act – this prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools and council owned facilities, including libraries. There was also the AIDS crisis, (brought back into public consciousness by It’s A Sin) which lead to an increased prevalence of hate against gay people. The Manchester chief constable describing gay men said they were “swirling about in a human cesspit of their own making”. To add insult to injury there was the Department of Health’s ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ commercial’.

Still from the 2016 Film ‘Pride’ directed by Matthew Warchus
Still from ‘It’s A Sin’ by Russel T Davies in which a character strikes back against police brutality 

Economic hardships were also rife in this period. Unemployment reached 3 million between 1983-6, the worst since the economic crash in the 1930s. The privatisation of public industries resulted in violent strikes, which were met with police brutality. The shouts of coal not dole echoed throughout the era, with Thatcher continuously demonising the unions and cutting public services. 

With these hardships, it’s a surprise that the 80s have become glamorised. 

However, many of the struggles we are set to face in the aftermath of Covid and Brexit, such as unemployment, recession and austerity, mirror those of the 80s. We can take pleasure in looking back at those years with rose tinted glasses and remember that humanity survived it. Maybe the 80s will become to Gen Z what WW2 has become to the Boomer generation- a golden age that we never lived through, but will continue to glorify despite the horrors many faced.