Opinion: ’80s and ’90s Style Is In, But What’s Ugly Then Is Still Ugly Now

Mitsubishi L400 Delica action

Style and trends are a funny thing. There’s always this desire for retro, whether we’re talking clothes, music, or automotive styling. Currently, ’80s and ’90s style is in, and the nostalgia can hit hard. Heck, we own three 1990s Mitsubishis. But some people are making caricatures of these retro rides, going way overboard—even more overboard than they did with actual ’80s or ’90s cars.

Listen, I can appreciate a set of period-correct flashy graphics from the 1980s or 1990s. I mean, it was the thing back then. Our ’94 Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear has its original graphics. I dig them, and they’re original but also not over the top.

Wild custom Suzuki Sidekick from the SEMA Show.

Back in the day, there were splashes, paint blotches, zig-zags, and everything in between. “It was the ’90s!” But I was never a big fan of that. I was also never deep into the show car scene. Underground Styles (@undergroundstyles.us) has some excellent examples of ’80s/’90s show cars, and yeah it was wild.

I can appreciate the work that’s gone into the above Tracker/Sidekick. But the graphics aren’t my style. It was, however, in the SEMA Show, so that explains a lot.

Personally, I wouldn’t put loud graphics on a new car; it wouldn’t look right. To quote The Dude from The Big Lebowski, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, your opinion, man.” Yes, indeed it is.

Overused, Gaudy, and Overstyled

Solo Jazz Graphic

Here, have some eye poison. Everyone remembers the hideous Solo Jazz graphic from cups the 1990s. This could be the horrible epitome of ’90s graphic design. Lately this swatch has been plastered on the side of everything from period-correct Geo Metros and Trackers, to Nissan GT-Rs in an ironic fashion. Speaking of fashion, it’s been adorned on everything from t-shirts to phone cases as if to say “I’m in on the joke.” A subtle reminder from the ’90s is now it’s just overdone.

The real irony is if you drove around a car in 1992 with the Solo Jazz graphic on the side of your car—or many of the other over-the-top retro-inspired graphics people are pasting onto their ’80s/’90s rides—in the 1990s, you’d get clowned. Hard. Now people are like “Oh that’s so rad!” “It’s so ’90s!” No, these graphics were dorky then and still are. Ask me how I know. I was around the car scene in the ’90s. And worse, they’ve been done to death. I feel like some people make caricatures of 80s/90s builds—and these graphics don’t help.

Here’s an example. I love this Honda Acty; I adore it. I even met the Roundcat Racing guy at SEMA and he was great, and I love kei trucks. But those graphics? Would they even have been good in the ’90s? I’m going to say no. At least not to me. I don’t think they do anything now other than to show off how hard they’re trying to be ’90s. I know scads of people like it, but not for me, thanks.

Graphics Can Be Done Well

Subaru GL wagon - 2023 Wicked Big Meet

Listen, I’m not saying retro graphics can’t be done well. I’ve seen plenty of ’80s or ’90s vehicles with tastefully done graphics, or restored stripe packages. This Subaru GL from Wicked Big Meet is a perfect example. This is how the vehicle would’ve looked new. It’s totally period correct. But it’s not over the top. It’s just the right amount of “ugly” for nostalgia.

Too Loud And Flashy. Maybe I’m Old.

But adding some loud, flashy ’80s or ’90s styles that probably looked better on a shampoo bottle, seems tacky to me. And even back in the day, many people would’ve thought so too. The addition of ostentatious graphics, neon colors everywhere, and other style stereotypes often just makes things look tacky. Oh, and get off my lawn!

Then again, it could be argued that many of the graphic designs from the ’80s and ’90s were tacky and that further embodies the spirit of the decades, whether your author, Old Man Andy, likes it or not.

In the end, it’s your car and your decision on how to build it. I’ll never be that guy telling you what to do with your hard-earned money. I personally like a clean, period-correct look. Less is more.

When I was in high school in the 1990s, kids were wearing ’60s and ’70s styles: choker necklaces, bell bottoms, etc. I remember my mom commenting, “Once you’ve lived through a phase, you don’t want it to come back.”

Maybe that’s just it. After all, you’ll never catch me in a set of Rollerblades with hot pink wheels again. And I’ve said too much.

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