- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

CHICAGO When Jay Schwartz and his brother started a vintage clothing and memorabilia shop eight years ago, "retro" meant '60s and '70s.

Nowadays, though, Mr. Schwartz's customers also are looking for "parachute pants" and Cyndi Lauper trading cards straight out of the '80s.

As much as those who lived through the decade might like to forget it, the '80s are awesome again, with music, fashion and television celebrating "the Era of Excess."

"What's really selling for us is images of the '80s," Mr. Schwartz said. "Garbage Pail Kids are huge. 'The A-Team' is huge. Pee Wee Herman is huge."

Fashion designers have added leg warmers and ruffled skirts to their 2001 collections. Cable TV is rerunning such "classics" as "The Facts of Life" and "The A-Team." And a growing number of radio stations are switching to all-'80s formats of Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Boy George and the like.

It's all an attempt to appeal to a lucrative market young professionals who wax nostalgic about their teen years, and current teens that go crazy for anything retro.

Lisa Johnson, manager of the '80s Server, a Web site devoted to the decade, started www.80s.com in Overland Park, Kan., in 1995, when she sensed a movement away from the depressing look and sound of "grunge" music and toward happier, bouncier times the '80s.

She figured people in their late 20s and 30s would visit but was surprised by the influx of teen-agers too young to remember much of the decade in which they were born.

Jonathan Henningson of Tacoma, Wash., who was just 7 when the '80s ended, said T-shirts featuring "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" cartoon characters are a cool fashion statement among his friends.

Recently, the 17-year-old visited Mr. Schwartz's store, Strange Cargo, and picked up a pack of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, the gross-out parodies of Cabbage Patch Kids that he collected as a child.

"Man, I had a stack of these about that big," he said, opening his hands wide and grinning.

Mr. Schwartz's customers also snatch up '80s heavy-metal T-shirts as fast as he can put them on the rack.

The catwalks at this fall's Fashion Week in London and New York, a showcase for top designers, had a smattering of '80s-style pleated skirts and one-shoulder tops.

"We had a company come to us, and they wanted to have us sell their parachute pants on our site," said Miss Johnson, laughing at the memory of the noisy zipper-bedecked nylon pants. "I don't want to be responsible for bringing back that trend."

Chicago's WXCD-FM recently switched from classic rock to '80s music, the second station in the area to try the format. Radio stations in such places as St. Louis and San Francisco have done the same.

"There was a tremendous amount of music that was just not getting played on the radio," said Bill Gamble, WXCD's program director. "We'll play Bon Jovi, and we'll play Madonna, and we'll play Prince."

The taste for the '80s, though, may be short-lived.

Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University in New York, said cable television has made nostalgia instantaneous. TV shows from the '80s never really stopped being shown, and radio stations started doing '80s blocks almost as soon as the decade ended.

"The great thing about nostalgia, it was like going up in the attic and opening a box that hasn't been opened in 20 years," Mr. Thompson said. "Now it's as if the box never went up to the attic."

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