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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fashions That Jar: Children’s Book Characters Stuck in the 80s

Boomers, I have a question for you. As a child of the 80s who by that very definition is neither Generation X nor Millennial, I have a very complex relationship with the fashions of my youth. When you grow up in an era where hot pink and black are a desirable color combination and ponytails sprout from the tops of heads like little hirsute fountains . . . well, it leaves a mark.

So my question for the Baby Boomer generation is this: Do you feel the same wave of nausea when you encounter fashions from the 40s, 50s, and 60s in your picture books as I do when I see 80s references?  You don’t, do you?  Sure, there might be gender stereotypes to face but generally speaking the occasional apron is small potatoes compared to legwarmers and turquoise zigzag earrings.

Yet for all I thought I could identify 80s fashions, it turns out I was barking up the wrong tree.  Consider the case of . . .

The Berenstain Bears

Which is to say, the baby.  Here she is.


When new Berenstain books come out, this is what the baby continues to look like.  She started out fine, of course:


But somewhere along the way they popped a sweatband around her noggin and slapped on some stirrup pants.  Seriously.  Stirrup pants.  And this has continued since the 80s . . .

. . . except it hasn’t. No, Honey Bear (as she is known) first appeared in 2000.  And for whatever reason, in keeping with something or other she was given archaic clothing choices.

Another case where a character only looks like they’re from the era of Pocket Rockers?

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

CarsandTrucksRecently my son has been obsessed with Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry.  It’s a great book, though you do get the impression that Mr. Scarry got a bit tired of having to come up with so many construction vehicles and just sort of made up some names willy nilly.

What I notice every time I read the book is the pig family.  They are our protagonists in this tale.  Now check out mom:


Yep.  Rocking the purple headband, she is.  Clearly circa 1983, right?  Now imagine my shock when I discovered that the book was actually published in 1974.  And here’s the original book jacket to prove it:


So this is ALSO not an 80s image, really. By the way, I totally love that the mom is driving on the cover. Go, mom, go!

Was anything that continues to look 80s actually written then?

One thing comes to mind.  It’s not a picture book, but it has remained steadfast in its embracing of the Pogo Ball era (I can recall toys from my youth all day if called upon to do so). Voila:


That’s right. Babysitter’s Club.  Because you cannot get the later books in the series with new covers.  Nope.  When I worked in the Central Children’s Room of NYPL I discovered the odd but true fact that kids still adore the later (and out-of-print) books in the series.  It doesn’t matter that the fashions cause the corners of your eyes to bleed.  There’s a weird allure to that.  Some of the greatest felons in this regard:



Actually it’s Claudia who keeps being problematic.  Remember, she was the fashionable one.

So fess up.  My 80s examples aren’t really from the 80s, but surely you’ve seen remnants of the era in your picture book fare.  Anything catch you unawares when you read it today?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I have always wondered why Little Critter’s mother wears old-fashioned clothes, while his father stays current. Has anyone else noticed this? Dad’s wearing a t-shirt and baggy cargo pants (hmm, now that I think of it, maybe he’s stuck in the 90s) while mom is wearing some floor length number straight out of The Little House. Or is the answer common knowledge that I just don’t know?

    • Related to this, I’ve noticed more generally with picture books is that mothers and other female characters (of all ages) appear FAR more often in dresses/skirts than they do in the real world.

  2. If Little Critter is the 1970s then I’d say the mom must be wearing Laura Ashley. Google it:)

  3. Denis Markell says:

    For some reason I associate 80’s era fashions in children’s books with sitting for an eternity in the Pediatrician’s waiting room, reading through whatever horrors were in the bookshelf. And sad piles of paperback books in Goodwill.

    Travis, just a guess: Little Critter’s family were members of a cult. Really adds an interesting subtext.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Denis, I’m going to require a 500-word essay entitled “Cult-like Worship and the Effects on Little Critters” on my desk by the end of the week. Don’t forget to cite your sources.

  4. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Honestly… I’ve been alive since the 1970s, wearing clothes of my own choosing since the 1980s. And what I have worn has not changed significantly in all that time. (only minor changes depending on what I can find in the stores). I wear what is comfortable. Not what the Actress of the Year declares is fashionable. I guess I expect my book characters to do the same — wear what is comfortable for them.\

  5. OK, as a certified Boomer, let me be the first to say that I do NOT feel a wave of nostalgia for those old fashions. First of all, it’s been long enough that those things look alien now and secondly, the clothes of my childhood (50’s and 60’s) were not made of comfortable fabrics! And nobody wore t-shirts except Stanley Kowalski and jeans were only for only for farmers and ranch hands. I’m much more comfortable in what we have now. It’s fun to see picture books done in the retro style, like Chris Van Dusen’s Mr. Magee books, but if I want nostalgia, I’ll listen to the oldies station.

  6. I was a huge BSC fan and so I geek out over certain things such as this:

  7. Late Boomer here! Headbands were so Flower Child late 60’s. Think Woodstock. Stirrup pants were also the 60’s btw. I remember growing up not liking the fashions of 40’s, 50’s. But my style tastes changed and I acquired profound respect for the classics. I hated the 70’s style when living during the 70’s, polyester pant suits and flashy disco wear. Now I think some of it is funky kitschy plastic fun. That baby needs some shoulder pads if it’s 80’s style LOL! I think Scarry was taking his fashion cues from the late 60’s early 70’s.

  8. I had no idea that Brother and Sister Bear had a baby sister in the year 2000. You’d think that would have been major news! Going to have to recover from the shock before thinking about clothing on covers more…

  9. I’d like to recommend two ahhhhmazing spots to explore BSC fashions:

  10. When I was in middle school and early high school, Point Thrillers, Christopher Pike, and R.L. Stine were all becoming rapidly popular and I couldn’t read enough of them. The 80s-tastic clothes – especially of R.L. Stine’s books are crazy-fun to look at nowadays.

    Interestingly enough, Stine’s books – the non-updated ones – still circulate in my middle school library. I chuckle every time one is checked out… because the horribly outdated covers have not dissuaded kids from reading them.

    My two very favorite 80sish covers: &

    And for 90s nostalgia: