- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Don't look now, but the leg warmers, parachute pants and Duran Duran ditties ubiquitous during the 1980s could be making a comeback.

Fox's "That '80s Show," the kissin' cousin to the similarly dubbed '70s-era hit, debuted to boffo numbers in January.

Last month's re-release of 1982's "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" earned $14.2 million in its opening week.

A gaggle of 1980s hair metal bands, from Poison to Cinderella, soon will tour the nation. Poison makes an appearance July 12 at Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge in Bristow, Va.

An "L.A. Law" reunion movie is scheduled for May 12 on NBC, and the April 30 edition of "Frasier" reunites several 1980s favorites from "Cheers," including Rhea Perlman (Carla) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff).

Even David Hasselhoff's 1980s vehicle, "Knight Rider" is revving up for a comeback via the big screen.

Locally, retro dance club Polly Esther's, which features dance floors dedicated to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, reports a 20 percent spike in attendance the past four or five months.

Polly Esther's manager Gary Ouellette says its 1980s-fueled Culture Club wing, named for Boy George's chart-topping combo, is at least partly responsible.

"Customers like to hear this retro music," Mr. Ouellette says. "Jessie's Girl," by Rick Springfield and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by hair metal heroes Def Leppard are leading the requested pack.

"The music is a little simpler. It doesn't have a lot of the serious tones today's music has," Mr. Ouellette says.

Polly Esther's is part of a chain with dance halls at 16 locations, all of which have Culture Clubs of their own.

Those undulating bodies clogging the dance floor aren't necessarily the thirtysomethings who came of age during the Reagan years. Mr. Ouellette says plenty of twentysomethings, some of whom were toddlers when Mr. T and ALF ruled the pop culture landscape, are requesting the now classic songs.

"I think at the moment it's very popular, but I don't think it will fade away. A lot of '70s music at Polly Esther's is still very popular," says Mr. Ouellette, whose club serves drinks with names like Spinal Tap and Purple Rain.

Richard Thompson, a professor of media and culture at Syracuse University in New York, compares the nostalgia cycle to that of the changing seasons. The 20-year cycles began with alacrity, he says, after World War II.

During the 1970s, the movement was typified by "M*A*S*H" and "Happy Days," two very different glimpses at the 1950s.

The key to such nostalgic flights of fancy is celebrating items with a whiff of cheese. When the 1970s came back in vogue during the 1990s, people didn't think of "The Godfather," the Oscar-winning film spawned from that decade.

"The really great achievements of the decade are not the things that get resurrected. They become classics," he says.

Based on that philosophy, he predicts a return to the sappy stylings of Air Supply.

"They were played like crazy, then they disappeared," he says of the inoffensive balladeers. "The last time you heard them was 20 years ago."

That hibernation, he says, is key to an item's resurgence.

He says "The Brady Bunch," for example, wasn't a top-20 show during its initial run.

"People had not seen it a lot," he says. "Then it it comes back and it becomes this huge nostalgia thing. It's uncorrupted."

Those who embrace the new wave aren't just those who lived through the 1980s.

"There's people who can get into this stuff who never experience it the first time around," he says. "The people who rediscovered bell bottoms were people who thought this was a cool style."

He says the decade-long swings common in pop culture may never be the same, though, once the 1980s swoon dissipates. That decade saw the birth of the postmodern movement, a time when we became too aware of our nostalgic ways and cable television and videos matched our appetite for the past.

In a way, he says, today's pop culture will never go away as long as Nick at Nite, TV Land and other outlets keep the material evergreen.

Besides, in our ironic age, "the styles are being mocked almost immediately upon being put on," he says. "The '70s was the last pure decade where this whole thing could work."

Don't tell that to top fashion designers such as Betsey Johnson and Vivienne Tam, who sprinkled their 2002 collections with nods to '80s fashions, from bold colors to an steroid-enhanced shoulder pads.

Joan Carrese, president of Carrese Productions, a public relations firm that deals with the retail, entertainment and hospitality industries, says the fashion industry began embracing 1980s nostalgia as early as 2000.

Current spring lines include "oversized jackets, trench coats and tops paired with narrow trousers and skirts think Talking Heads," she says.

"This '80s look is now called Modern Ease," she says, "when clean, tailored items meet softer, more relaxed, yet sensual pieces."

The fall season, however, already is leaning away from 1980s-influenced styles, she says.

"It had a certain amount of shelf life. It's beginning to retreat a little bit," says Ms. Carrese, also a board member of the Greater Metropolitan Washington Chapter of Fashion Group International.

She defines the 1980s look as a return to romantisim, complete with power suits emboldened by shoulder pads. Don't expect them to be as inflated as in the past, though.

"It's never the exact look of that era," she says. "It's the feel of that era with a contemporary edge."

Mr. Thompson says the current revival feeds a basic need in many of us to return to a simpler time.

Most people in their late teens and early 20s don't have mortgages and still operate under the notion that any dream can become a reality.

"Everything is possible," he says of that time in our lives. "Reliving that period is something you love to do."

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