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Jem and the Outrageous Beauty of the 1980s

Universal Pictures

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"Glamour and glitter, fashion and fame..." the intro song to the TV show Jem promised, and the seminal ’80s cartoon really delivered. Crime-fighting rock stars! Characters with names like Pizzazz! And, of course, those eye-popping makeup looks and cotton candy hairstyles. The show originally aired from 1985 to 1988, and has been enjoyed by later generations, first via VHS and DVD, then on The Hub, and now on Netflix. Last Friday, a new live-action movie, Jem and the Holograms, dripped its glitter into theaters, with Nashville's Aubrey Peeples starring as Jem.

The original Jem cartoon was created by screenwriter Christy Marx, and it followed our heroine, Starlight Music owner Jerrica Benton. Jerrica transformed in to her hologram alter ego, pop star Jem, with the help of a computer named Synergy.

Why the musical angle? "Remember that MTV was the hot thing at the time," says Marx. "Music videos were new. And a couple of the biggest names in music were Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. It wasn’t exactly a leap to have strong female characters as rock stars."

Why not try applying pink eye shadow up to my brows? And I’ll add a few lightning bolt accents to my cheekbones...

But when it came to showing a tech-savvy woman, Marx was ahead of the curve. She started using a computer while writing G.I. Joe, at a time when most scribes were still on typewriters. Not only that, but Marx, who is still actively working today, was a pioneer at a time when there weren’t a whole lot of women writing for television.

"It’s been gratifying talking to many, many fans over the past couple of decades, but especially recently, who were inspired to become musicians or work in some creative field or a tech field because they had Jem/Jerrica as a role model," she says. "The show was firmly a part of the ’80s with the fashion and music, but it has gone way beyond that. There are 5-year-old Jem fans out there who love the show as much as their parents did. Because ultimately it isn’t about the fashion or the ’80s look; it’s about the characters and their stories. Good stories transcend the test of time."

One thing is for sure: you cannot watch Jem without wanting to up your cosmetic game. Yes, you find yourself thinking, Why not try applying pink eye shadow up to my brows? And I’ll add a few lightning bolt accents to my cheekbones...

With the film release, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at some of the show's inspring fashion. So make like it’s 1986 and pop open your Jolt Cola. These beauty throwbacks are all ideal for Jem-viewing.

Lee Press-On Nails

Before there were gel manicures, teens were sticking fake plastic talons onto their nails with little adhesive strips. Lee Press-on Nails came in Active, Natural and Glamour lengths, and were "fun at your fingertips." On the plus side, they were pretty easy to apply and reusable. On the con side, they tended to fly off at inopportune moments —like when you were shimmying along to "Money for Nothing" at the 8th grade formal. Lee Press-ons are long gone, but the concept lives on. Press on options from Walgreens and ImPRESS are still available.

Image: ullstein bild/Getty

Aqua Net

Hair-metal fans depleted at least a half a can of Aqua Net to blast their bangs up to the ceiling. True believers — and there are plenty — complain that the current formula just doesn’t freeze hair in place like the old stuff did. The key in application, by the way, was to hold your breath while you sprayed so you didn’t glue your nose hairs shut on the way to the Mötley Crüe concert.

Love’s Baby Soft

Despite the fact that it smells like baby powder and was primarily used by preteen girls, the fragrance was still controversial thanks to its advertising. Lolita-esque magazine ads featured a baby-faced girl, cuddling a stuffed bear, with copy that reads: "Because innocence is sexier than you think." Uh, that pedophillic invite would just not fly today. Then there’s the fact that the bottle resembles... well.... It’s a penis, ladies. Let’s be honest. A pink phallus. But a lot of people love the light fragrance. Stock up on it at Dana.

Conair Hot Sticks

I found some vintage 1980s Conair Hot Sticks on eBay, in the original box, and I’m happy to report that very little has changed when you compare it to the Hot Sticks still on the market today. Same flexible, curl loop design. Same ability to make tight spirals that will look righteous with leg warmers. The only difference? Tourmaline ceramic technology for less frizz. Find them here.

Moodmatcher Lipstick

Introduced in 1987, Moodmatcher has since sold 25 million of its longwearing, personalized lip colors. The schtick is that the lipstick looks crazy in the tube — think Kermit green or Cookie Monster blue — then it magically shifts with your body chemistry to flatter your complexion. Company founder Fran Wilson has a lot of fans for her aloe vera and vitamin E formulas (including Linda Rodin, of Olio Lusso fame). For $3 a tube, it’s hard to go wrong. Find the original stuff at Moodmatcher.

Image: Virginia Turbett/Getty

Village Lip Lickers

My little brother ate my root beer lip balm — busted! The ’80s were all about flavored lip glosses, from Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers, to the roll-on cherry Kissing Potion that you prayed to god might result in some junior high action. At the height of preppy chic spectrum, Village Lip Lickers came in little gold tins that slid open to reveal mouthwatering flavors like watermelon and bubble gum. Village Bath, which made them, doesn’t seem to exist any more, but the founder of Tinte Cosmetics loved them so much as a kid she created a line of Vintage Lip Colors, in 28 flavors, that look just like the originals.


Dyed, fried and flipped to the side. Well, this product could accomplish two out of three for you. It’s meant to "lighten blonde to medium brown hair" but that did not stop darker-hued brunettes from trying, resulting in many an orange ’do. Today the spray comes in two scents and is available all over.

Sea Breeze

Skincare was scarily strong in the Reagan years. Beauty regimens included scrape-y exfoliants like St. Ives Apricot Scrub and Buf-Puf, and drying, alcohol-based toners like Sea Breeze and Ten O Six. Shiseido, which owns Sea Breeze, has brought back its original formula astringent. Sure, you can wipe grime off your face, or, the company says you can also use the product to clean cell phones and ear buds, disinfect yoga mats, and soothe skin after a wax. It’s also good on mosquito bites.

Wet N Wild

What goes better with Bon Jovi’s 1986 album Slippery When Wet than a Wet N Wild makeup splurge? This LA-based brand launched in 1979 with 99-cent lipsticks and nail polishes. One to try: the Brandy Wine lip liner (#666), reportedly a dead ringer for Chanel’s lip liner in Nude and way less expensive. And hats off to Wet N Wild, which despite being a cheapie brand, has never tested its products on animals; has many vegan-friendly offerings; and produces lipsticks without lead, according to tests by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Image: NBC/Getty

Rave Home Perm

Home perms were introduced in the mid-1960s, but sales didn’t take off until the late 1970s, when tight, dare-we-say frizzy hairstyles became popular. By 1980, a brand called Rave was marketed aggressively to women ages 18 to 30, and sales jumped to $100 million a year. Hair had a LOT of volume in the 1980s, and a home perm was just the ticket for creating maximum drama (or trauma). A Rave home perm took two hours to complete and lasted two to three months. Home permanents have stopped making waves as a trend, but if you want to take matters into your own hands, Ogilvie still makes one.

Impulse Body Spray

Men had a hard time controlling themselves if a woman sprayed on Impulse, a line of scents launched in South Africa in 1972 and introduced in the U.S. in the early 1980s. Similar to Gatorade, with its inscrutable flavors like "Glacier Freeze," this line of perfumes features odd, ambiguous names. I’m not sure what "Elation," "Suddenly Sassy" or "Possibly Playful" have as a top note, do you? Women still enjoy smelling like "Illusions" and "Tease" in the UK and Ireland, where Impulse remains the top-selling ladies body spray; you can buy the brand through the importer The British Food Depot.