Were the 80s or 90s Better? A Nostalgic Trip Through History

There will always be an ongoing fight between generations. While the big-haired, Michael Jackson fan with leggings and a neon top might think that the 80s were the only way to go, a person who lived through the 90s and couldn’t live without their Nintendo 64 and grunge apparel will be definitely pro 90s. So what’s better?

Were the 80s or 90s better? It will truly depend on the person and their personal likes. It comes down to the music, television shows, toys, fashion, and even trademark sayings that will help make the decision.

Still on the fence about whether or not you’re an 80s lover or can’t get enough of the 90s? We’re going to take a trip down memory lane and bring you to a land of nostalgia. We’re going back in time to the 80s AND 90s to finally settle the debate: were the 80s or 90s better?

The Music

Perhaps one of the differences between the 80s and 90s was the music. While the 1980s focused more on hairbands, new wave, and pop, the 1990s brought along their own wealth of music including everything from hip hop to grunge, new-age pop to metal and so much more.

The 80s Brought Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince

When you think about music from the 80s, there are probably three names that come to mind: Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. These iconic artists brought some of the most amazing tunes that the world has ever seen, with enchanting melodies and enticing lyrics that everyone could easily sing along to.

Speaking of Michael Jackson, there’s another thing that brought the 1980s to life in a way that would change the world of music and dancing altogether: the Moonwalk. Michael Jackson debuted this iconic move while singing the notable ‘Billie Jean’ song, and it’s something that is still trying to be replicated to this day.

Aside from Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, a variety of songs produced by Madonna and Prince are still being sung across the country. Their intriguing abilities to dance and produce vocals is anything short of fantastic, and which is why songs like ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Get Into the Groove’ are still fan favorites for all age groups.

Hair Bands and One Hit Wonders from the 80s

While Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince brought pop to a new level in the 1980s, there’s another realm of music that took over this time period: hair bands.

What’s a hairband? If you’re not aware, it’s a rock group that wore their hair long enough to be able to ‘headbang’ while reciting their music; and fans learned the ‘headbang’ in this period as well.

Some of the most notable hair bands from the 1980s include none other than Motley Crue, Poison, Twisted Sister, Warrant, Dokken, Ratt, and Bon Jovi. These talented individuals created music that every 1980s teenager could sing along to with their long hair and rocker apparel.

As far as ‘one-hit wonders’ are concerned, these songs only lasted for a short period of time at the top of the charts before the band/singer ultimately fell out of popularity for good. Some of these infamous tunes include the following:

  • Tainted Love + Where Did Our Love Go – Soft Cell
  • Take on Me – A-ha
  • I’ll Melt With You – Modern English
  • Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners
  • I Just Died in Your Arms – Cutting Crew
  • I Ran (So Far Away) – A Flock of Seagulls
  • Video Killed the Radio Star – Buggles
  • The Safety Dance – Men Without Hats
  • 99 Luftballons – Nena
  • 867-5309/Jenny – Tommy Tutone
  • Our House – Madness, Madness
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
  • You Spin Me ‘Round (Like a Record) – Dead or Alive
  • Whip It – Devo
  • Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
  • Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
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The 90’s Had Plenty of Grunge

It’s no secret that grunge took the 1990s by storm. It’s an ‘alternative’ type of rock that doesn’t go too hard or too soft but has a medium that’s relatable and punk-ish. Some of the top grunge bands we certainly remember from the 1990s include bangs like Alice in Chains, Bush, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Smashing Pumpkins.

These songs had a more soothing tone to them, and often had lyrics that were outlandish yet still relatable to the consumer. The rock was never so excessive to headbang, but not too dull, either. The unique blend allowed for alternative rock bands to finally shine and take over the music industry.

They Also Had Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Backstreet Boys

While the 1980s had their own version of ‘pop’ music thanks to figures like Michael J and Madonna, the 1990s remade pop to fit their own style. Iconic artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and boy band Backstreet Boys took over pop culture and the 1990s era was living for it.

Britney Spears was probably the girl that everyone listed in their spare time, and she certainly set the stage for not only a new realm of pop music but style as well. Her iconic look and tone is something that the 90s era will not soon forget.

Boy bands also made their headway into the music industry, with bands like the Backstreet Boys and NSync being top artists for the 1990s. They had a unique tone with enjoyable lyrics that would sink into the hearts of those growing in the 90s with ease.

The Fashion

Music was a very defining difference between the 1980s and 1990s. But another major thing that completely separates the two eras is the fashion from head to toe.

The 1980s Were All Aboud Vivid, Flashy Fashions

If we could describe the 1980s fashion in three words it would be bright, flashy, and exceptionally tight. Some of the most popular fashions found in the 1980s included:

  • Acid washed jeans.
  • The biggest hair possible- yes, hairspray was flying off the shelves at this time period.
  • Plenty of blue mascara in all different shades of blue.
  • Clothes sporting plenty of neon shades.
  • Jelly bracelets AND shoes.
  • Leg warmers, leg warmers, and more leg warmers- no, seriously: your outfit wasn’t complete without them!
  • Long hair, mohawk, or mullet for every boy.
  • Sweatshirts 3 times too big for you.
  • Skinny jeans that hardly stretched over your thigh.
  • High tops.
  • Side ponytails for every girl (if they weren’t sporting their big hair, of course).
  • White leather jackets.

The 1990s Was a Big Fan of Denim

Perhaps the biggest thing to rule the 1990s was denim, and that means everything denim. Whether it was sporting a pair of denim overalls or flared jeans (the bigger on the end, the better!)everyone growing up in the 1990s surely owned at least 5 things made of denim. It was the biggest fashion trend of 1990, side by side with these other 90s styles:

  • Scrunchies found in every girl’s hair.
  • Chokers around the neck.
  • Crop tops (thanks to Britney Spears for sporting the ‘boob tube’ that changed our lives).
  • Clogs- whether sandal or shoe form, the 90s were all about sporting the thickest, tallest heels possible.
  • Giant hoop earrings could pull off any look easily. 
  • Skorts made their height of popularity.
  • Ripped jeans became more enticing thanks to a ‘grunge’ inspiration.
  • Flannels everywhere.
  • Bleached blonde hair looked great on boys AND girls.
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The Toys and Technology

Another big things that separates these two generations are the toys and technologies available to those growing up in the era.

Cabbage Patch Dolls: 1980s

These adorable dolls were all the rage for the 1980s. They had a variety of styles to choose from, and they were undeniably the most popular dolls for the 80s. Every little girl wanted one of these for Christmas, and their popularity ranked so highly that little boys eventually wanted them too.

Teddy Ruxpin: 1980s

There is truly no teddy quite like the Teddy Ruxpin. This highly sought after teddy bear could not only sing and talk but could also tell you stories! It was the cutest bear around, and you really couldn’t sleep without him by your side in the 1980s.

Of course, his high popularity took off by storm and it was hard to find a Teddy Ruxbin in the 80s. Let’s just say: if you had him, you were one of the coolest kids around.

Atari: 1980s

Atari was a video gaming console made in the 1980s that completely changed the lives of kids. This allowed for a new world of toying that would eventually bring us to where we are today, with Xbox 1s and PS4 systems.

The Atari is simply classic and brought about a new way of play for children. Some of the most notable games to come with this system include:

  • Pacman. This adorable, lovable fellow remains a fan favorite even in this day and age. His initial release took the 1980s by storm and children couldn’t get enough of him. He remains an 80s staple!
  • Missile Command
  • Centipede
  • Ms. Pacman. Of course, you couldn’t have Pacman without his lovable wife, too.
  • Frogger.
  • Mario Bros.
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Star Wars.
  • Gauntlet.

Rubik’s Cube: 1980s

The infamous Rubik’s Cube came out in the 1980s and it sure stumped kids across the country. If you grew up in the 80s, you likely remember trying to figure out this difficult tiny cube- and you certainly did not have the internet to tell you how to complete it.

The Rubik’s Cube was something that changed the lives of kids growing up in the 1980s. It was a puzzle that was seemingly impossible and only the smartest and brightest could potentially figure it out. It certainly kept kids occupied throughout their lives in the 80s, and honestly, the Rubik’s Cube continues to be a challenger for the mind (if you don’t cheat).

Slip N’ Slide: 1980s

It’s said that almost every child growing in the 1980s had a Slip N’ Slide in their backyard. While this was an amazing invention that would keep kids occupied all summer long, it’s no secret that this fun summer invention would also cause plenty of injuries throughout its reign.

Beanie Babies: 1990s

Beanie Babies came out in the 1990s, and they were so cute that everyone felt the need to collect them and get as many as they could. It was a dream for children growing up in this era to have an adorable collection of Beanie Babies planted on their beds, and the more you had, the more your friends were jealous.

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Beanie Babies came in a variety of animals, although none were less adorable than the one before it. They came in a multitude of sizes and styles as well, making it an endless possibility to collect as many stuffed animals as possible.

Nintendo 64: 1990s

Thought the Atari was amazing? You didn’t know video games until the 1990s stepped up the game and provided consumers with the Nintendo 64. To this day, the Nintendo 64 system is still a highlighted system that everyone adores. Some of the most iconic games developed for the N64 include:

  • GoldenEye 007
  • Donkey Kong 64
  • Super Mario 64
  • Super Smash Bros.
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Pokemon Stadium (Which, by the way, Pokemon made its debut in the 90s, which created another iconic feature for the 1990s).
  • Mario Party
  • Kirby
  • Resident Evil

Tamagotchi: 1990s

Parents wouldn’t buy you a pet? No worry- you could always settle for a Tamagotchi. The Tamagotchi offered a virtual reality pet for children in the 1990s, but unfortunately, they required just as must love and attention as a real pet, and these electronic devices would die just as quickly.

Furbie: 1990s

Furbies were one of the strangest creations brought out from the 90s, but it happens to be one of the most popular as well. This creature looked something like a penguin and an owl at the same time, and the end result looking nothing short of a gremlin.

This adorable creature could learn English from its users, but surprisingly enough, it could learn a multitude of other languages as well. Children had to take care of their ‘Furbie’ to ensure it was healthy and happy, too.

Tickle Me Elmo: 1990s

There was undeniably something so adorable about hearing Elmo giggle as you tickled his little belly, and that must be why the Tickle Me Elmo became such a hit in the 1990s. This cute toy was fairly on the cheap side, didn’t do too much, but still allowed children to have loads of fun while they tickled Elmo to their heart’s content.

What can anyone say? Elmo just has a grasp on children, likely due to his cute, upbeat voice, and the way he laughs is simply hilarious and enjoyable. This toy quickly became a staple of the 1990s and every child growing up in this era had to have one.

Internet and Pagers Hit the 1990s

One major technological difference between the 1980s and the 1990s is the development of pagers and the internet. While the 1980s only used phones to speak to family, friends, and other individuals, the 1990s was the first sight of pagers and the internet.

With the spark of this new technology, it would seem the entire world would change from here on out. While the 1990s created pagers to connect with people on-the-go, it sets the stage for cell phones. The internet was also available to consumers in the 90s, although it wouldn’t typically be found in most homes until the 2000s.

Other Trademark Differences

There are a few other things that may sway you from enjoying one generation above another. One thing to consider is the top television and movies from each era, as long as unique and fun sayings.

Top 1980s Movies and Television Shows

  • M*A*S*H
  • Back to the Future
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Dukes of Hazzard
  • Three’s Company
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Saturday Night Live
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Alf
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Cheers
  • Indiana Jones
  • The Cosby Show
  • Family Matters
  • The Golden Girls
  • The Love Boat

Top 1990s Movies and Television Shows

  • Friends
  • Seinfeld
  • Jurassic Park
  • Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  • Frasier
  • Forrest Gump
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Full House
  • Goodfellas
  • Boy Meets World
  • 90210
  • Toy Story
  • Saved by the Bell
  • Roseanne
  • Home Alone
  • Lion King
  • Scream

Differences Between the 1980s and 1990s Sayings

Things you might hear in the 1980s: airhead, barf bag, bad to the bone, bogus, cheezy, chill, ditz, dweeb, gnarly, don’t have a cow, hoser, like, phat, preppy, psych, rad, righteous, radical, spazzing, sucks, tubular, wannabe.

Things you might hear in the 1990s: as if, talk to the hand, totally, bangin’, back in the day, boo-ya, dude, hella, my bad!, oh snap!, props, sweet, you’re a mom!, word.


There’s plenty of differences between the 1980s and 1990s- whether it’s the fashion, music, or even sayings! Choosing between the two is almost impossible as they have their own benefits and uniqueness that we simply can’t ignore, and everyone will have their own opinion on which one is truly best.