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Here’s how the ’80s got its distinctive look

Screenshot: The Origin Of The '80s Aesthetic

Perhaps no decade’s aesthetic has been revived, rehashed, and butchered more in recent years than the aesthetic of the 1980s. Whether it’s an “’80s night” at some college bar or a parody of a jazzercise video, the look and feel of that decade is immediately recognizable: Teased-out hair, day-glo track suits, angular silhouettes against loud, abstract patterns. But where exactly did these aesthetic touchstones come from? According to a new video from Vox, the look of the ’80s actually came out of Italy.

In 1981, Italian architect Ettore Sottsass founded a design collective in Milan called The Memphis Group that had no real connection to Memphis, but took its name from the Bob Dylan song, “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” Acting in reaction to the strict and sleek Modernism that had dominated the design field in previous decades, the Memphis Group incorporated aspects of radical design into its work, moving away from functionality in favor of distortion and irony. The flashy, faux-chic style of the design firm went on to define the look of the decade, thanks in part to its aesthetic influence on MTV, which also premiered in 1981. Though the non-functional qualities of the Memphis Group’s designs prevented them from becoming mass produced or what one would consider mainstream, the spirit of the firm’s work lives on, and has become synonymous with what we think of as ’80s style.


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