i love the '80s

So You Want to Set a TV Show in the Eighties …

Photo: CW, FX

Somewhere between considering perms, listening to Rockwell, and aimlessly wrapping a coiled telephone cord around one’s index finger, it hit us: There’s sort of an eighties moment happening on TV right now. The CW’s teen-centric The Carrie Diaries is a bubbly, feel-good high-school series with a Day-Glo innocence about the era, while FX’s The Americans is a broody, high-end espionage drama that is all Cold War doom, but both take an equally all-in approach when it comes to wardrobe design and other era signifiers. Bring on the high-waisted Jordache jeans! It’s an era that movies and TV shows alike love to nostalgically time-travel back to, and they often gravitate to the same touchstones. So, for any other shows planning on going back to the eighties, here’s a handy guide of the most common visual references to make sure you’re really jamming in all of those cultural references.

Obviously The Carrie Diaries is a much more fashion-conscious show than The Americans, but they share a similar costume emphasis: The most important part of the eighties is sweaters. More sweaters. The bigger and more garish, the better, but not everything has to be a full-on Cosby: A short-sleeve Fair Isle still screams “trickle-down economics” just as much as a knee-length open-knit she-tunic.

Nothing is quite so eighties as a Walkman or boom box or a massive stereo system. Cold War bonus points for having someone indicate that these gizmos represent the top tier of technological achievement.


Were doleful dads more prominent in the eighties? We have no reason to think so. But both The Americans and TCD feature loving fathers who are kind of heartbroken that their daughters are growing up.

Focus on the Soundtrack

The Americans pilot prominently featured Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” and it’s not spoiling anything to say subsequent episodes also use eighties-appropriate tunes. The Carrie Diaries also goes full-on with its music choices, though the show sometimes opts for contemporary covers of older jams.

Pick a Few Choice Period Details
On The Americans, they make a big show of using Styrofoam cups at home. On Carrie, it’s the glaring mention of how ecstasy (the drug, not the sensation) is legal. Guys, the eighties were different!

Mention Ronald Reagan
Nancy Reagan is okay, too.

Anything else that should be in there? Characters furiously twisting Rubik’s Cubes? Constant humming of Flock of Seagulls? Noid avoidance?

So You Want to Set a TV Show in the Eighties …