This Is What Dorms Looked Like In The 80s And We Survived

I recently learned of a family that, when moving their daughter into her freshman dorm room, took two cars and a trailer to haul all of her belongings there. Two cars and a trailer!!

Now, maybe it’s because I have boys who are content with carrying around everything they own in a plastic grocery bag, but the sexes cannot be that much different when it comes to what you need to take to college with you, or can they? Maybe so, but if my late 80s memory serves me correctly (and I’m certain I may be waxing nostalgia here a bit, because the eighties) I recall shoving everything I needed to take with me to college in the backseat of my mom’s four door family sedan.

And I do mean everything, including that brass nail bedazzled emerald green trunk that seemed to be the late 80s/early 90s requisite move in accessory. What was in it I have no idea, but we all had them, and we lugged those suckers up flights of stairs and there they sat on the edge of our platform beds, providing late night seating for pizza parties and hiding space for our Battles & James wine coolers.

Let’s just say things have changed a little. And by things, I mean I think our current HGTV obsession has spilled over into the dorm room decor market. Gone are the days of a few “big hair band” rock posters, a bed in a bag, and a string of Christmas lights being enough to outfit a dorm room. We have gone full Extreme Home Makeover- Dorm Edition- where if you’re not bringing your monogrammed pastel chalk painted and distressed full length mirror with you to match your roommate’s hand crafted from an old palate set of drawers for her unmentionables, then you’re doing it wrong.

80s dorm rooms vs now

I wanna go back to how we lived in the dorms back in the stone ages, you know- simple, efficient, casual, with just a side of sass (also know as that hip Benetton poster.)  The kind of rooms we decorated with papasan chairs and tweed couches we rescued from curbside garbage bins- way before recycling furniture was cool.  Where nothing matched- not bedding, rugs, towels, beanbags, or curtains, and where our personalities were the only thing we need worry to blend and coordinate. And that we did, because not decorating meant we had plenty of time for people-ing. (And also, we were broke.) Remember when…

1. There was plastic everywhere.

Plastic drawers, bins, and buckets held everything. We even nailed milk crates to the walls for extra shelving and storage. There was no such thing as distressed wooden bins and canvas baskets. Just hard, bright plastic everywhere the eye could see.

80s dorm rooms vs now

2. Dads built stuff.

These days, you can do very little (if any) of your own kind of personal remodeling or construction projects in your dorm room. Back then? Dad whipped up a desk and set of bunk beds from 2 x 4’s he picked up from the local Scotty’s all in the span of one afternoon.

80s dorm rooms vs now

3. All the picture collages.

Remember when people printed out actual pictures, then put them in things called frames, then hung them on the wall? Yeah, me neither. But we did. We had giant cork boards plastered with memories and moments frozen in time, not frozen in our phone and then Snapchat-ed, and subsequently immediately deleted.

4. Regular old posters.

Do these even exist anymore? Where does one find these? Because I’m currently looking for Def Leppard circa 1988.

80s dorm rooms vs now

5. Ticket stubs, bar tabs, party and Greek life event invitations.

All these kinds of momentos hung everywhere on the dorm walls. Now if I show my kids an actual ticket stub from a concert, they’d ask me what museum I stole “that relic” from.

6. The cheap, cheap, I mean REALLY cheap rug.

Did you know Pottery Barn Teen, the go to place for all things teen room decor, sells a dorm throw rug for $400? I did the math. We could have bought 40 rugs back then. And come to think of it,  we probably did because they were totally disposable. Puke? Pizza sauce? Beer? Right to the trash.

80s dorm rooms vs now

And there there are today’s dorm rooms, which I can pretty much sum up with THIS ONE PICTURE. Um, when can I move in?


12 Dorm Shopping Mistakes

10 Commandments of Dorm Shopping

Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.




About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

Read more posts by Melissa

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.