Strictly '80s: The Best Sports Fads from Sports' Weirdest Decade
For those of us old enough to have experienced the 1980s as willing perpetrators of the decade's worst excesses, it's hard to believe that so many (otherwise normal) people spent time and money on inexplicably awful styles, products and ideas.
In 2014, enough space exists between us and the 1980s that we can safely assess the damage from our vantage point, and even find a way to temporarily revive some of those things that can be reborn as "ironically uncool."
One fact about the Jamz Decade that is undisputed is that the sports industry was an influential partner in crime to these crimes of fashion.
Though not all of the most insane '80s sports fads were invented by companies that helped perpetrate fashion atrocities like Zubaz apparel, the sports industry and many, many sports fans embraced them.
Sports effectively made the laughably unhip a much bigger deal in many cases. But, you can't blame anyone involved because we ALL were suffering from collective hysteria at the time.
These are the best sports fads from sports' weirdest decade.
Thanks to professional athletes, Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, the Adidas tracksuit came into style in the '80s. And it has pretty much remained in style ever since. It’s timeless and cool and adapts slightly every few years—just enough to stay fresh, but never a complete overhaul.
There’s a very distinct difference between Adidas tracksuits and goofy windbreaker jumpsuits. Windbreaker designers tended to favor a more adventurous color palette, with a particular emphasis on pastels. As if wearing full body swooshy pants wasn’t ridiculous enough on its own—why not make them pink! Or sky blue!
Sony Sports Walkman
Sony was already the biggest name in handheld electronics in the '80s, but they really upped the ante in a bright yellow way with their launch of "sports" walkmans. Various versions boasted various new (and not entirely inventive) ways it was supposedly better suited for active individuals, although they probably just painted it yellow and charged 30 percent more.
Whatever, though, they were cool and yellow and the must-have accessory for athletes and too-cool-for-school kids.
Starter jackets are one '80s and '90s sports fashion trend that is long overdue for a legit comeback—not so much the '90s, actually, eventually they strayed way too far from what worked early on. The classic '80s style with the satin finish and ribbed accents is just a perfectly managed spectacle.
Speaking of perfectly managed spectacles! The legendarily legendary hi-top fade really took off after the release of House Party in 1990, but as you can see the show-stopping style existed for years prior. Although many athletes rocked the HTF in its heyday, former basketball player Kenny Walker really gives Kid (or Play?) a run for his money.
Today Koosh balls are basically novelty items that exist solely to distract desk jockeys and contribute to their cubical clutter. But back in their glory days, they were a must-have toy that kind of became a sport unto itself.
Koosh balls were a surprisingly fun substitute for baseballs, yo-yos and traditional badminton sets.
Along with Jams and parachute pants, Zubaz pants were among the most memorable sports fashions of the '80s. Every now and again you'll see a story about Zubaz's big comeback, but it hasn't happened for a reason—they're just too gloriously '80s to exist in another time.
Of all the distinctive footwear that took off in the '80s, none burned hotter—for awhile, at least—than Reebok high-tops. Seriously—check out the major Hollywood actress (who shall remain nameless due to crimes against fashion) rocking the DayGlo orange kicks with a velvet gown at an awards show. Yikes.
With the sudden surge in the popularity of skateboarding, Vans also took off among athletes, and then later the masses. Adidas sneakers, particularly without laces, and Converse All-Stars were both all the rage at the time too.
Tetherball has actually been around for about 100 years, but it really took off in popularity in the '80s. For a while, these goofy contraptions were gym class and playground staples nationwide. That's why they'll always have that nostalgia factor working, but generally tetherball's best use is as comic fodder for bears.
Obviously comedian Bill Cosby is the originator of the Cosby sweater fad—otherwise that would be a terrible name for it—but professional athletes in the '80s certainly didn’t hurt sales of these monstrosities by embracing the look.
And also, wow. Good luck finding three guys more distinctly '80s than Randall Cunningham, Mike Quick and Reggie White wearing a Cosby sweater, a windbreaker and a suit jacket with a tank top to record a novelty rap song.
Popularized by former Bears coach Mike Ditka, the NFL is still the only American professional sports league that really ever got into sweaters as fan gear. Although they were never nearly as popular as they should’ve been, this vintage look was and remains one of the coolest ever.
Although there will always be some people who remain passionately dedicated to the mullet, there’s no question which decade most embraced "business in the front, party in the back." The '80s boasted a lot of imaginatively bad ‘dos, but none even come close to the iconic status the mullet reached.
Acid Wash Jeans
Hey. It’s a well known fact that nothing goes better with a glorious, flowing mullet than a sweet pair of acid wash jeans or jorts. All of America was acid washed in the '80s, and professional athletes were no exception. Clearly Andre Agassi knows how to pull the look together.
Extremely Organized Physical Fitness
Olivia Newton-John’s epic “Physical” video and Jane Fonda’s aerobics empire are both definitive of the unstoppable '80s fitness craze. We actually have it to thank for putting a gym on every corner, but unfortunately the women inside those gyms are wearing actual clothes now.
Which is surprising, because every woman I know is dying to work out in front of strangers wearing her bathing suit over a pair of tights.
Those ridiculous spandex workout uniforms certainly don’t do much for your average women, but legwarmers are actually kind of cute and surprisingly functional. There’s a reason they survived the '80s and spandex as everyday wear died.
If you ask me, the mullet shoulders far too much of the load for perceived '80s style crimes. Sure it didn’t age well, but few things do. For my money, it really doesn’t get much more laughably ridiculous than a man perm—the white man’s Jheri curl.
The man perm was sneakily pervasive in the '80s. Think back to every athlete you can remember from the decade with curly hair. None of it was natural. Every last one of those dudes spent a few hours every month in salons, wearing curlers while having their domes' doused in smelly chemicals.
The sudden popularity of sweatbands, and to a lesser degree bandanas and visors, among athletes in the '80s was almost certainly a product of the fitness craze that swept the nation. Spandex leotards and legwarmers aren’t a great look for most men, so they adapted accordingly.
Inappropriate Indoor Sunglasses Wearing
Ray-Ban sunglasses were huge in the '80s. For a while they were probably the No. 1 cool guy accessory for athletes who fancied themselves… cool guys. So beloved were these sunglasses that for a few years, they only removed them when absolutely necessary.
There's no better example of this fad than former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon—those things were practically grafted to his face.
After being shunned for the greater part of two decades, mustaches have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in recent years. But they’re not real mustaches—they’re ironic mustaches. Back in the '80s, mustaches were just mustaches. Honest, hardworking, blue collar, manly mustaches.
Even More Non-Ironic Mustaches
Seriously. Isn’t that the least ironic facial hair you’ve ever seen in your life? Mustaches were particularly embraced by baseball players.