6 Ways Your Birthday Party Was Different in the 80s

Whenever my birthday rolls around, I tend to get a little nostalgic. I find myself thinking back to the good old days, to parties of yesteryear, from childhood and teenhood in the late 70s and 80s. Is it me or do some parents today go reeeeallly over the top in planning parties for their kids?

Semi-trucks pull up to their houses full of video games, artsy (read: CRAZY expensive) cakes from bakeries, and theme parties where every little detail matches and matters (I’m looking at you princess tea party with the sterling silver spoons, Wedgwood china, and real linen napkins).  What happened to the simple pleasures of free cake, ice cream, and a chance to run around with your friends.  There was only one theme to any party I had growing up, regardless of age or venue): pizza.

Here are some 80s birthday party memories that remain, like, totally cool.


Roller Skating

What is more 80s than flying around the roller rink in your Jordache jeans while your ribbon barrettes fly in the wind as you round the corner? NOTHING. I had several roller skating birthday parties. I love the memory of speed skating to “Separate Ways” and a slow skate to “Open Arms.” I will always think of roller skating when I hear Journey and Eddy Grant. And “The Stroke” by Billy Squier. Sure, there are a few roller rinks left, and they still do birthday parties, but the hokey pokey just isn’t the same these days. And, they are on roller blades . . .

House Party

Here’s the deal with the house party: people would come over to your house to celebrate your birthday. That’s it. Maybe they would dress up a little bit, put on a nice blouse or their shiny shoes. The catering consisted of bowls of Cheetos, cheese pizza, and a cake that your mom made. To keep it festive, you might have balloons and crepe paper- maybe even some pointy hats and paper plates with The Smurfs on them. Happy Birthday! No special entertainment required.

McDonald’s Party

You deserve a break today . . . and you deserve a birthday party too. At McDonald’s! They had the greatest party games – how many Styrofoam burger boxes can you stack before they fall over? Now that’s how you celebrate a birthday.

80s Birthday Party at McDonalds

80s Birthday Party at McDonalds

Do they even do this anymore? Burgers, fries, McDonaldland characters atop your cake? The Grimace creeping you out? A free Happy Meal and a sundae. Then you got to let loose and run around the belly of the Hamburgler or climb up into Officer Big Mac at the PlayPlace (when it looked like this below)? Happy birthday indeed!

80s Birthday Party at McDonalds

Doll Cake

Four words: Wonder. Woman. Doll. Cake.

80s Wonder Woman Doll Birthday Cake

Sleepover Party

Everything included in the plain ‘ole house party (see above) PLUS a sleepover in the living room! Put on your Garfield nightshirt, grab your stuffed unicorn and lay out your sleeping bag next to your B/F/F. Prepare to watch scary movies on HBO followed by endless MTV all night long. Also prepare to ceremoniously kiss the television whenever you see Joe Elliott sing “Photograph.”

Lori with her Garfield at an 80s slumber party


On my 15th birthday, I took a more mature approach to my party. My girlfriends and I were dropped off at the Mission Bell strip mall to go to the movie theatre to see Top Gun. We were kicked out following the infamous volleyball scene for being too loud with all of our catcalling, whistles and general excitement. The Iceman with no shirt on? Happy Birthday, Lori.

Iceman from Top Gun

Thank you, 80s birthday parties, for the music, the sleepless nights, and the endless supply of puffy Cheetos. And the doll cakes. Thank you most of all for the doll cakes.

Author: Lori Ferraro

Lori is a writer and actor living in Portland, OR. Her website, Drawn to the 80s, is where her 5 year old draws the greatest music hits of the 1980s. She is a blogger for The Huffington Post and her own blog, Once Upon a Product, is where she writes about important things like beauty products, music, her obsession with Mick Jagger and of course...the 80s.

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  1. Ha! Funny stuff.

    Music that reminds me of roller skating….
    Rod Stewart-Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, Blondie-Heart of Glass

    As for birthday parties, never had any. Mom made my favorite cake. Got a present or two. That’s it. Now, I attended a few parties, which were always at the kid’s house, with lots of playing outside.

    That’s the problem today. Outside? No cell phones? Good luck with that. This, coupled with the fact that most moms today just can’t be bothered to actually bake a cake when they could order the latest trend at the local boutique bakery to show-off to their “friends” on f-Book.

    Ugghhh….I hate today’s culture.

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    • Maybe I just happen to know a lot of people who went to culinary school and ended up doing… other things, but most of the moms I know actually *do* bake those OTT cakes for their kids’ parties.

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  2. Me too, Don. Today’s culture is just too gadget-dependent. 80s birthday parties were quite similar to the ones I had in the 60s and early 70s. We went to the movies, roller skating, ice skating(I was born in December), and had sleepovers with my friends. Unfortunately, the good old days are gone forever… (sigh).

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  3. Regarding your pic of the kids on the McDonald’s playground, do you know where that picture was taken? Totally random, but I think my siblings and I are in that picture. So curious!
    Email or message me.
    Happy new year!

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    • We found this in an image search and don’t know its origin. It could be you!

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  4. My daughter and I can’t get over how much the one little girl looks just like her and we’re wondering where this picture was taken at what McDonald’s?

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