The 1980s had music artists singing songs about wearing sunglasses at night and about having to put them on because the future’s so bright. Perhaps they were also referring to all the neon people were wearing at the time. Some people called the color fluorescent, but they meant the same thing. Clothes were just so bright. Whether it was neon green, neon yellow, or neon blue, it was still neon, and my god was it bright.
The Media Influence
Undoubtedly, some of the credit (or blame, if you’re not exactly enamored of the neon trend) can be laid at the feet of the entertainment industry. In the movies, it was a big thing. The use of bright colors in the movies was the return of Hollywood to the ideals of innocence and youth. With John Hughes movies focusing on high school life and innocent travails (will I go to the prom, and with whom?) and movies ending on a happy note, the film industry was veering away from the gritty realism of 1970s cinema, were everything seemed in shades of black and gray, the heroes were really anti-heroes, and everyone had a tragic ending.
Neon was a big part of those movies, and the stars all wore neon, so of course the moviegoers wore neon too. Following movie styles is a recurring trend in any decade.
A New Hope
But it wasn’t just the movies and MTV which were responsible for the rise of neon. It was the people of the 80s themselves. The neon colors just perfectly symbolized the rise of optimism all over the country.
You have to understand just how colorless the 1970s were and how it seemed to dampen the American spirit. The 1970s were characterized by the rise of crime in the cities, the increasing use of drugs, the oil embargo and the recession that followed it, the resignation of Nixon and the resulting distrust of government and authority, and the Carter administration which saw the hostage taking in the US embassy in Iran.
Then suddenly the 1980s came, and everything was changing. Optimism was in the air. Reagan had a more successful foreign policy, the recession was lifting, Wall Street was offering lots of money to investors, and the youth was embracing new music and new styles.
Neon clothing became popular because it was new, it was youthful, and it was certainly bright and cheerful. And you can certainly say the same for the entire decade of the 1980s, when you compare it to the 1970s.