70 Things from the 1970s Our Kids Will Never Understand!

Do you ever find yourself thinking about how different life was back in the 70s? From the music to the technology, it can feel a little surreal to look back and remember what it was like to grow up in that era.

If you’re a parent now, explaining some of the things you grew up with to your kids is even harder. How am I supposed to explain CB Radio to someone who grew up on the Internet?

So, let’s take a look at 70 things from the 1970s that our kids will never understand.

70 Things from the 1970s Our Kids Will Never Understand


Our TVs Only Had Three Channels (and PBS)


And our Moms kept warning us about sitting too close to the TV.


We All Went Crazy for the Same TV Shows

Because there were only a few channels when an exciting TV show aired – like “Rich Man, Poor Man,” one of the first mini-series – everybody watched it.

I remember being at a school function that ended early because everyone wanted to get home to see the final night of “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

We have more choices now, but today’s kids won’t understand the buzz of being in school the next day and talking about the show that everybody saw.


Music Came in Different Formats

Columbia House Record Ad 1971

When you bought an album, you had to pick how you wanted it: on vinyl, 8-track, or cassette. If you were really an audiophile, you bought albums on reel-to-reel tape.


We Recorded Songs Off the Radio onto Cassette Tapes


We really sat in front of the radio with our portable cassette players and the mic up to the speaker, just waiting for our favorite song.

DJs knew what we were doing, so they would talk over the song’s intro, just to be mean.


We Sat Around Listening to Records at Parties


A fun Friday night activity was inviting all your friends to sit around the record player, eat popcorn, listen to music, and read the album liner notes.


We Read for Hours

What else will you do when you’ve only got three TV channels and no YouTube or TikTok?


We Wore Our Pajamas to See Movies at the Drive-In

Jesse James Drive In Ad

The drive-in theatre was fun for the entire family. Mom would put the little ones in their pajamas, and we would pile into the car and head to the drive-in.

We little kids would play on the playground until it got dark and the movie started, and then we would fall asleep in the back seat while the grown-ups watched the movie.

The drive-in was also a fun place for different kinds of hijinks when we got older.


We Hung Out in Record Stores

Peaches Records and Tapes in the 1970s

We hung out at record stores, seeing our friends, listening to music, and flipping through albums. Sometimes, we even bought records!


We Bought Giant Console Stereos

Magnavox Console Stereo

We liked to entertain at home during the 1970s. Mom would wear her hostess dress and serve appetizers while Dad queued up some records on the living room console stereo.

Console stereos combined a turntable, AM/FM radio, and speakers in a single unit, so they were a handy way to listen to music at home.

Console stereos were status symbols you could show off to friends. They were often impressive pieces of furniture designed to be prominently displayed in the home.

Owning a console stereo was a sign of affluence and sophistication, and many people saw it as a way to impress their friends and family.


We Signed Up for Sketchy Membership Clubs

Sadly, I don’t know anyone (including myself) who didn’t fall for the 13 RECORDS AND TAPES FOR ONLY 1¢!!!!! scam that was the Columbia House Record Club.

You did get 13 albums for only 1 penny, and you only had to commit to buying three additional albums (at regular retail price, which was way more than it cost at the record store!) But they got you with the postcards. Each month, you got a brochure showing the current month’s offerings.

If you didn’t want the record, you had to take out the postcard, check the “No, Thanks” box, find a stamp, and mail it back by the deadline. No one could remember to do that. (Once again, including myself.) And, if you didn’t pay, they hounded you for the rest of your life.

Every child of the 70s will die owing $25.99 to the Columbia House Record Club.


We All Had CB Radios


Ten Four, Good Buddy! We loved CB radios in the 1970s. CB Radios, also known as Citizens Band radios, were two-way radios that allowed users to communicate with others who were within range of their signal, typically a few miles or less.

CB radios were commonly used by truck drivers, who communicated with other drivers to coordinate travel, report accidents or traffic jams, or pass the time on long drives. CB Radio users talked in their own language, saying things like “breaker breaker” to start a conversation and “10-4” to mean “message received and understood.” CB radio users also often used “handles” or nicknames instead of their real names, allowing them to maintain anonymity and privacy.

In 1975, C.W. McCall released the song “Convoy,” about a bunch of truckers traveling the country and using their CB radios to get away from “Smokies” (State Troopers). Suddenly, everybody had a CB radio and stayed up all night talking to others in their area. It was like a real-life Internet message board.

Like all fads in the 1970s, CB radios sprang up suddenly, were all anyone talked about for a few months, and then fell out of fashion. Today, there are probably hundreds of unused CB radios languishing in attics nationwide.


We Navigated with Paper Maps

Using a paper map in a hotel room in the 70s.

Relationships broke up over arguing about what the map said.

And our kids will never know the frustration of trying to fold a paper map back into its original shape.


We Started Driving Small Cars

Thanks to the 1973 oil crisis, fuel prices started rising in the 1970s. Suddenly, the giant cars we piled our families into became impractical.

People began to look for more fuel-efficient vehicles to save money on gas. Smaller cars generally got better gas mileage than larger cars, and we all started switching to smaller vehicles.


We Rode in the Back of Station Wagons


I don’t think there’s a more thrilling view than seeing the world looking out the rear window of a station wagon. At stop lights, we waved at the riders in the car behind us.

We bounced around the car without seatbelts, of course.


We Piled into the Bed of our Dad’s Pickup Truck


If riding in the back of a station wagon without seatbelts was dangerous, then catching a ride with your buddies in the back of your Dad’s pickup truck was an even more advanced level of danger.

You’d jump in back with your friends and head off to get ice cream without a care in the world.

I really do wonder how we survived.


We Hitchhiked Places

Hitchhiking in the 1970s

The 1970s were a simpler time. We felt safer and thought accepting rides from strangers was fine.

And (most of the time), it was!


Everybody Wore Bell Bottoms

Speigel Catalog 1976 showing men and women in bell bottom leisure suits

We all wore bell bottoms and liked them as wide as possible.

Everybody expressed their inner flower child by rejecting the conservative fashion of the 1950s and early 1960s. The best way to do that was to make sure your pants were flared and long, just like your hair.


Girls Wore Halter Tops and Hip Huggers

The next time you’re scandalized by something a Gen-Zer is wearing, remember the halter tops and hip huggers we used to wear.


We Loved Our Toe Socks

Toe Socks

Toe socks were a significant fad in middle school. They always had colorful patterns and often came with matching gloves.

I could understand this trend if we wore them with open-toed shoes to show them off, but we didn’t. We just wore them with our regular shoes and told all our friends we were wearing toe socks. Exciting!


We Collected Charms for Our Charm Bracelets

70s Charm Bracelets with Charms

Before we had Pandora bracelets, we had sterling silver charm bracelets to show the world just who we really were. These heavy bracelets made a loud jangling noise whenever you moved your hand, but it didn’t matter. It was a status symbol to have a ton of charms on your bracelet because it showed you had an interesting life.

Go to Paris? Get an Effiel Tower charm to remember the trip! Play tennis? You’ll want a tennis racket. There was a charm for every occasion.


Cool Guys Wore Turtlenecks and Plaid Pants

Cool guys wearing turtleneck with plaid pants

If you were a man in the 1970s and you wanted to look cool, young, and “with it,” your outfit choice was clear: solid color turtleneck with slightly flared plaid pants.

All the cool guys wore this outfit: from the youngest boys to your friend’s recently divorced dad.


All the Boys Wore Really Short Shorts

Mens 70s short shorts

Men’s shorts were tight and high in the 1970s.

A growing interest in physical fitness and a desire to move away from the conservative trends of the past encouraged almost any man under 40 to show off them legs.


We Wore Tube Tops

This is me in 1979, dressed for dinner at a nice restaurant. And, while I miss being that thin, I’ll never miss the annoyance of wearing a top that slowly crept down throughout the evening.

It’s hard to relax when you need to keep pulling up your top!


We Had POW Bracelets

POW Bracelet from the 70s

POW bracelets were a popular way to show support for the soldiers in Vietnam during the 1970s. The bracelets were engraved with the name, rank, and date of capture of a prisoner of war (POW) or missing-in-action (MIA) soldier from the Vietnam War.

The bracelets were sold to the public, and wearers would choose a particular soldier to honor and support. You weren’t supposed to remove your bracelet until your soldier was released or accounted for.


We Tottered Around in Candie’s High Heels


Cute, but uncomfortable and impractical. Is it any wonder that Candies were the shoes every girl had to have in the 1970s?

The classic Candie’s shoe was a wooden platform that made your feet slide down and hang off the front. By night’s end, your feet would be swollen and aching. So, of course, we liked to wear our Candies out to the disco.


We Wore Mood Rings

Mood Rings were popular in the 1970s

Mood rings had a small, liquid-filled glass “stone” that contained thermochromic liquid crystals. These crystals changed color in response to changes in temperature, which were thought to reflect the wearer’s mood. Each color reflected your mood: blue meant you were calm and green meant you were happy.

In middle school, we believed that a purple mood ring meant you were in love with the person you were talking to, and, as you can imagine, that caused a lot of drama. Nevertheless, both boys and girls wore mood rings for a month, and then we forgot about them like so many other fads.


We Loved Blue Eyeshadow

1970s blue eyeshadow

Makeup looks in the 1970s were all about looking polished and put together. We wanted people to know we were wearing makeup and admire it. I guess that’s why we were so into blue eyeshadow. It was the default color, part of your everyday look.

And then, in the 1980s, we were over it, and it still hasn’t come back in everyday use. I can see why. Look at this model’s beautiful green eyes. Why would you cover them up with blue eyeshadow?


We Were All About Winged Hair

70s winged hair

The women of Charlie’s Angels had a major impact on hairstyles in the 1970s. Everyone wanted a full shag like Farrah Fawcett’s, or they wanted Jaclyn Smith’s perfect winged haircut.

“Wings” were feathered bangs styled to curl away from your face. I got up at 5 a.m. every day in high school to style my hair like this. To achieve this look, you needed squeaky clean hair, a full blow dry, carefully rolling your hair away from your face, and hot curlers. It looked fresh and easy, but it was the opposite of low maintenance.


We Dressed Our Little Girls Like Pioneers

Even before “Little House on the Prairie” entertained us every Wednesday night, we dressed little girls in old-fashioned maxi dresses with old-timey elements like puffed sleeves and pinafores.

This is a trend I’d love to see come back. Don’t those girls look precious?


Dad Got After Shave for Christmas Every Year

Gift Sets of Old Spice After Shave from the 70s

In the 1970s, we cared a lot about smelling good. I can’t remember the last time I noticed a man wearing aftershave, but every man had a signature scent.

My dad was an Old Spice man and there was always a gift set waiting for him under the tree every year.


Men Were Stylish


Check out this picture of Gary Stromberg, a reporter at Atlanta’s WXIA in the 1970s. He’s the epitome of 1970s men’s style: sideburns, mustache, longer hair, not to mention that cool purple lining in his snazzy velvet jackets.

Men had more styling options in the 1970s and I’d love to see those options return!


We Turned Our Hair Orange with Sun-In

70s things - blonde hair with Sun-In

Boy or girl, if you were a teen in the 1970s, you have a horror story about trying to go blonde with Sun-In. (Yep, I do.)

You sprayed Sun-In on your wet hair, then sat out in the sun and let it dry. The ads promised soft, beautiful, natural-looking blonde hair, but Sun-In was just a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice, so you ended up with dry, brittle orange hair.

The temptation was to coat your hair with the product to be as blonde as possible and then sit out in the sun for hours to let it work. At least once a week, someone would show up at school with a full head of orange hair.


We Wanted to Smell Like Babies

Love's Baby Soft Ad

Here’s an ad we thought was fine and not problematic in the 1970s. Hah, hah – adult women dressed like little children are so sexy!

Truthfully, though, Love’s Baby Soft, a line of scented products that smelled like baby powder, was mostly worn by young girls just starting to wear fragrances. It was a soft non-threatening scent that wasn’t overpowering.


We Carried Around Lip Smackers

70s things - Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers

Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers are probably responsible for my life-long addiction to Diet Dr. Pepper.

Every teen and pre-teen girl in the 70s carried Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in their purse. Lip Smackers have flavored lip balms in cute colors and popular flavors.

They were so delicious and useless as lip balms because you licked them off as soon as you put them on.


Kids Played at Being Adults

Mattel's Tuff Stuff

Some of the most popular toys of the 1970s let kids pretend to be their favorite adults, doing everything they saw adults doing: shopping, taking care of baby, working with power tools, etc.

Looking back, I’m not sure why we were so eager to pretend to be doing the mundane chores we’ve been doing since we became adults.


We Rode Our Banana Seat Bikes Around the Neighborhood Without a Helmet


You woke up in the morning, grabbed our cool bike with the banana seat and clothespin on the wheel spokes, and headed out to meet our friends.

We never once thought about helmets or safety. If you went over the handlebars, that was tough, and life happens, right?


We Rode Our Banana Seat Bikes Around the Neighborhood Without a Helmet


The average 70s playground was a war zone, man. We all saw at least one kid fly off the merry-go-round and break their arm.

And you could really and truly burn yourself sliding down these metal slides.


We Headed to the Roller Rink on Friday Nights


I don’t care where you lived in the United States; your parents dropped you off on Friday night at the roller skating rink.

We laughed with our friends, circled the rink aimlessly for hours, and, depending on your popularity, either dreaded or looked forward to when they turned the lights down low for couples skate.


We Got Up Early on Saturday Mornings to Watch Cartoons

Credits to Land of the Lost

Saturday morning was the time for kids to be kids in the 1970s. We’d get up early, pour ourselves a bowl of cereal and settle on the couch for a full morning watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Saturday morning cartoons were such a big deal that every network had a giant preview show on Friday nights in the fall to announce the new cartoons.


We played for hours with G.I. Joes and Barbie Dolls

G.I. Joe Toys from the 1975 Sears Wishbook

I’m sure kids today still play pretend, but I don’t think they spend hours with G.I. Joe action figures and Barbie Dolls acting out elaborate scenarios. We would get our dolls out and all their accessories and spend an entire afternoon making up stories and moving them around.

Playing alone was fun, but it was even better if you had a friend over to play. We would spend the entire afternoon dressing and undressing our dolls and taking them out for picnics and other adventures.


We headed to the Mall Arcade to Play Video Games

Playing pinball in the 70s at the mall arcade

Home video game sets weren’t common in the 1970s. (Pong was invented in 1972, but consoles were expensive and few people had them.)

Instead, on Saturday afternoons, we headed to the mall to hang out with our friends and play video games and pinball. Every mall had an arcade that was pitch black inside and had the grossest carpet you could imagine. But we had fun with our friends, so we didn’t care.


We Picked Our Cereal Based on the Prize in the Box


For most 70s kids, breakfast was usually a bowl of cereal. But choosing which cereal was an important decision that involved staring at the back of every box in the cereal aisle to see just which one had the best prize.

The best cereal boxes had actual 45 RPM records that you could cut out and play on your record player. They were scratched, warped, and sounded terrible, but they were so cool.


We Played Lawn Darts

Lawn Darts

A toy wasn’t cool in the 70s if it couldn’t kill you or at least cause serious damage. Lawn darts, also known as Jarts, were cool. You played lawn darts with large darts with metal tips and plastic fins. Players threw the darts towards a circular target on the ground with the goal of landing the dart inside the target area.

Shockingly, it turns out that letting children throw giant metal darts at each other wasn’t the best idea. Many kids were hurt, and lawn darts were finally banned in 1988.


We “Smoked” Candy Cigarettes

70s things - Candy Cigarettes

Candy Cigarettes were small, white sticks of bubble gum shaped like cigarettes and packaged in boxes that resembled cigarette packs.

You held the cigarette and pretended to smoke, emulating an adult engaging in a dangerous activity. What could be more 70s than that?


We “Went Steady” with ID Bracelets

ID bracelets from the 1970s

ID bracelets were a big fad for guys to wear in the 70s, but I’m pretty sure guys bought them for one reason only: to give them to their girlfriend to wear. Everyone knew you were going steady when you were wearing your boyfriend’s ID bracelet.


We Dropped Film Off to Be Developed at a Little Kiosk in the Middle of a Parking Lot

Fotomat Ad 1971

There was always one final errand you needed to run after a vacation: taking the film from your camera to be developed so you could see your vacation photos.

One place you might take your film was your local Fotomat. It was so convenient! You would drive up to a tiny yellow-roofed in the middle of your local strip mall parking lot and hand over your film to the bored teen inside.

A few days later, you would get a call that your pictures were ready, and you would drive up again so the same bored teen could hand you your photos. Only then could you see if you had had your thumb over the lens when you took that once-in-a-lifetime shot.


We Had to Buy Flash Cubes for Our Cameras


In the 70s, if you wanted to pull out your Kodak Instamatic and snap a few family photos indoors, you had to first pop a flash cube on your camera.

A flashcube contained four small flashbulbs. When you took a picture, the camera’s flash would cause one of the four bulbs to fire, providing a burst of bright light to illuminate the scene.

Flashcubes were popular because they were an upgrade from the flash bulb, which only took one picture before needing to be replaced. However, they were also relatively expensive, and the light they produced was often harsh and unflattering. Cameras with a built-in flash eventually replaced the flash cubes.


We Carried Around Pocket Cameras

Pocket Camera Ad

We could still take photos on the go in the 70s; we just didn’t use our phones! Instead, we reached into our pockets and pulled out a pocket camera to snap photos on the go.

Because the cameras were so small, they used special film that would fit in the camera. Turns out, pictures developed from tiny negatives are pretty crappy so the pocket camera didn’t last long.


We Documented Our Life with Polaroid Cameras

Polaroid of a birthday party in the 1970s

Before we had phone cameras, we shook it like a Polaroid picture when we wanted to take photos to share right away.

Almost every family had a bulky Polaroid for those times when you wanted to take pictures that you wanted to share right away.


We Used Pay Phones to Make Phone Calls

People in the 1970s using public pay phones in an airport

Kids today will never understand the pain of trying to use a pay phone to call home to get picked up and ending up standing behind someone having a long argument with their girlfriend.


We Used Phones Without Caller ID or Voicemail

Woman calling someone on the phone in the 1970s

When you answered the phone, you literally had no idea who was calling. It was a surprise every time!

If you were calling someone, you were supposed to wait for ten rings to allow your caller time to get to the phone. If they didn’t answer by then, you hung up and tried again later because there was no way to leave a message.

If the person you were calling was already talking on the phone, you heard a repetitive buzzing sound to let you know the line was busy.


We Showed Our Style With Our Phones

Phone styles in the 1970s

Although phones may not have had fancy features, they did come in many styles, and your phone showed off your personality.

Everyone in my high school wanted to have their very own Mickey Mouse phone in their bedroom!


We Could Pick Up Milk, Bread, and, of course, Cigarettes and Beer, Without Getting Out of Our Cars


Every town had a stand-alone convenience store that sold only the basics. You drove up to the window, told the clerk what you needed, and were on your way.

Of all the things that have left us since the 70s, this is the thing I miss the most. Driving up and picking up what you need without getting out of the car is better


We Paid by Check or Cash

Paying for Groceries with a Check in the 1970s

Credit cards were around in the 1970s, but many people didn’t trust them or used them only for emergencies. So people mostly paid with cash or by check.

You always carefully wrote down the amount in your checkbook register so you could balance your checkbook at the end of the month!


We Smoked at Work

Ford and Rumsfeld smoking in the Oval Office
President Gerald Form and Donald Rumsfield Smoking a Pipe in the Oval Office | Source

People smoked everywhere: in the White House and regular offices too.

When I started my career in the 1980s, a cloud of smoke hung over half the cubicles on our floor.


We Fell for Anything


Oh, sea monkeys. I remember staring at the ad in the back of my comic book, wishing I had the $2.00 ($1.25 plus 75¢ postage) to get my own sea monkey family. Of course, they were real! There was a drawing!

Of course, they weren’t real, but people still sent in their money, only to receive barely visible eggs that might turn into tiny brine shrimp. Maybe the sea monkeys are the reason we all became such cynical adults.


We Researched School Papers Using Encyclopedias


Every family had a set of World Books in the home, and we really did sit around reading them. (Or maybe that was just nerdy kids like me.)

If you had a really big project, you would visit the library and use their copy of Encyclopedia Britannica.


We Wrote on Real Chalkboards


We didn’t have whiteboards at school in the 1970s, and we certainly didn’t have fancy “Smart Boards” that show 3D models. No, we had plain old-fashioned chalkboards.

I still remember the satisfying sound of chalk on a chalkboard – and the horror of bearing down too hard and hearing that screech. The whole class would scream and cover their ears.


We Used Card Catalogs

Using a Card Catalog

Before computers, we searched for books at the library using a card catalog. There were separate card catalogs for different ways of organizing books: subject, book title, or author.

You found the book you were searching for by looking it up in the card catalog. Each card in the catalog represented a particular book and contained information such as the author’s name, the title, the publication date, and the book’s call number. The call number showed you where you could find your book in the library.


We All Had to Take Typing Class


We all had to take typing class in school because that skill would be needed forever in the real world. The only time I typed on a typewriter at a job was when that was the easiest way to address envelopes.

(Speaking of envelopes, remember mailing letters and sending checks in the mail without worrying at all?)


We Learned to Use a Slide Rule


Calculators were around in the 1970s, but they were clumsy and expensive.

Nevertheless, we still learned how to use a slide rule just in case we ended up in space or something.


We Loved the Smell of Mimeograph Paper

Fast Times Smelling Mimeograph Paper
I know this is from the 80s but 70s kids did it too

Before copies, we used mimeograph machines (also called ditto machines) to make copies. Every kid remembers the sweet smell of a freshly printed ditto, and we all inhaled it whenever they were passed out in school.

Mimeograph machines made copies by forcing ink through a stencil placed on a rotating drum onto paper fed through the machine. You usually had to crank the machines by hand.

My sister, a former teacher, still says she needs to “run it off” when printing something.


Women Were in Charge of the Housework

Even if the woman had a job, she was expected to keep the house spotless. And be sure and watch your figure!


We Were All Carnivores

Cambell's Ad Showing Soup and Hot Dogs

Vegans and vegetarians didn’t exist in your average suburban neighborhood. A good meal was meat and potatoes – or at least creatively cooked hot dogs.


We Ate Some Pretty Disgusting Food

Please enjoy one of my mom’s favorite “salads.” This peach salad was made from canned peaches, mayo (or cottage cheese), and cherries.

She would also sometimes add some shredded cheese. Yum!


We Decorated Our Kitchens with Mushrooms

70s Mushroom Kitchen accessories

Although we didn’t eat many mushrooms in the 1970s, we loved decorating with them.

Every kitchen had at least a few mushroom-themed accessories in bright, earthy tones, usually orange.


We Carpeted Everything


Wall-to-wall carpeting was still new and exciting in the 1970s, so we put it everywhere. Bathrooms, kitchens, you name it, we carpeted it.

Of course, it had to be shag carpeting, too. So classy!


We Had Electric Can Openers on Our Kitchen Counters

Electric Can Opener 1970s

In the 1970s, every kitchen also had an electric can opener. They were considered so essential that they were popular wedding gifts.

But manual can openers improved so much over the years that they were finally a better substitute for electric can openers. (Remember the flimsy manual can openers of the 1970s?)

Electric can openers were also expensive. They cost $16 in 1970, which is equal to $123.37 in 2023!


We Decorated Our Kitchens with Trendy Wall Clocks

Every ’70s kitchen had a trendy wall clock that matched the kitchen decor. My mom had the wall clock on the far left hanging in her kitchen for years.

Mushrooms, owls, and vaguely colonial-themed accessories were also popular choices.


We Hung Black Light Posters in Our Bedrooms

psychedelic black light poster of the 1970s

If you had an older brother in the 1970s, he probably decorated his room with black light posters and told you to keep out “or else.”

Black light posters had brightly colored, fluorescent designs that glowed under ultraviolet or “black” light. They were typically printed on black paper or velvet, which made the colors stand out even more.

You might be lucky enough to be invited into your older brother’s room occasionally. Your brother would turn out his overhead light, turn on the black light, and play Pink Floyd while you sat in silent admiration.

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