Sunday column:

At the time you were sitting there — your hair looking its best, skin miraculously clear of any teenage blemishes — you probably thought you were hot stuff, didn’t you?

It was the beginning of your senior year — Senior Photo Day — and not only were you at the top of the high school food chain, you were at the top of the world. You could say no wrong. You could do no wrong.

Oh, but chances are … you did do wrong.

Chances are, your senior picture — guys in the suit or tuxedo top and girls in a formal dress or (as was the case in my high school) some faux fur monstrosity — is not something you’re proud of today. Chances are, your high school yearbook, no matter what decade you hailed from, is not something you just keep out on your living room coffee table for all to partake in.

This past week, I had the pleasure of thumbing through Lee County High School’s 2008 yearbook (a fine-looking and very well-put-together publication by the way), and while most of the seniors look “normal” by today’s standards, I started to wonder what quirks, what clothes or what hair styles will be laughable 20 years from now.

We all think the era we’re in is what it’s going to be like forever (except for you 80s kids … man what in the world were you thinking?), but it’s not. After seeing LCHS’s annual, I looked back at my own this week (Class of 1994) and couldn’t believe we looked so dated.

The following is a decade-by-decade look at what makes high school yearbooks such a joy to look at. I’ll start with the 1950s, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a yearbook from the 40s (not saying they don’t exist, of course, but I’m told paper wasn’t invented until 1953).

1950s
• Typical yearbook: Your typical 1950s yearbook didn’t have a lot of flash to it. This wasn’t a bad thing … old black and white yearbook photos look much better than old color photos, if you ask me. There was very little “creativity” to the inside, save for a few group photos outside of the typical class photos. In other words, they were very plain. “Pizzazz” was discouraged, I suppose.
• Why they’re funny today: It’s amazing America wasn’t in an oil crisis like we’re in today, looking at all the grease that went into teenage boys’ hair back then. Guys tried like crazy to get that Buddy Holly look … hair slicked on the sides, combed into a curl at the top. Throw in some horn-rimmed glasses, and you’ve got yourself some entertainment. As for the girls, it was actually a good era fashion-wise (the 80s were your downfall), but there were the occasional beehives and giant pointy glasses.

1960s
• Typical yearbook: The first half of the 60s didn’t sway much from the 50s, but as you got closer to the 70s, you saw a huge change. Yearbook themes went from “Good Ol’ Americana” to “Peace and Love,” and some yearbooks started dedicating entire pages to a photo of students in a field of daisies. The hippies had arrived, my friends, and they were taking over yearbook staffs, apparently.
• Why they’re funny today: Unlike the 50s, a page full of “squares” in this decade now included a page full of mostly squares with the occasional “long hair” thrown in. The Beatles obviously had an impact on guys in this decade, as hair was shaggier. Girls began the simple straight hair parted down the middle style, and it looks like floral patterns were the only thing you could make a dress out of back then. Free love, man.

1970s
• Typical yearbook: Like the 60s, many yearbooks look like they were put together after an acid trip. My parents’ yearbooks were from the early 70s, and parts of them looked like an episode of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.”
• Why they’re funny today: The 70s were cool when they were still part of the 60s, but somewhere along the way, the hair went horribly, horribly wrong. Men and women, white and black, sported some terrific afros. I mean, block-the-doorway terrific. If you had straight hair, you usually had it in your face to hide your identity (smart thinking). Besides the hair, you also liked really big collars on your shirts, really big bottoms of your jeans and really short shorts.
Seventies yearbooks are some of the most enjoyable. They would be “the” most enjoyable, had it not been for ….

1980s
• Typical yearbook: Hot pink and turquoise blue, jagged shapes … whatever appeared on MTV at the time appeared in your yearbook. Think of the beginning of an episode of “Saved by the Bell.” Odds are, those colors and shapes are in your 80s yearbook.
• Why they’re funny today: I could write a book on it … but I’ll be brief.
Girls — Hair was either feathered, huge and an Aqua-Net fire hazard, Pat Benetar-short with a bandana, crimped, insanely tall, or fried from too many poodle perms. Your clothes looked like Madonna’s or the girl from Flashdance and your wrists were full of Swatches and rubber bracelets.
Guys — You invented the mullett, you invented the tank-top-short-shorts ensemble, you invented the pencil thin mustache you had no business in attempting, you invented the popped collar and finally, you invented feathered hair for men. Congratulations.

1990s
• Typical yearbook: Color quality in the photos got much better, but yearbooks in this era started to be over-produced. Instead of just getting class photos, we got pages and pages of “candid shots” with often mean-spirited captions, and we got a group photo of every club from the Chess Team to the Eddie Vedder Fan Club.
• Why they’re funny: My yearbook still had some 80s-ness to it, with the big haired girls and male mullets. But we were a small rural school and thus, five years behind everybody else. Your typical 90s yearbook has students wearing lots of flannel (grunge was in, dude), and if they weren’t into that type of thing, they tried to emulate their favorite cast member of Friends.

We all thought we were trend-setters then. Turns out, we were comedians. I only hope students in this decade get the same joy from their yearbooks as we get from ours today.

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4 thoughts on “Sunday column:

  1. Obviously my 1974 yearbook was early enough in the 70s to be “still cool” and “part of the 60s”, cause there weren’t any photos that were laughable —– well, maybe a couple of the photos —- but definitely not MY photo!!!! ha-ha-ha

    Thanks for this editorial — it a thoroughly enjoyable topic!!!

  2. I am paying good $$ for people who have copies of my yearbook so I can engage in some fahrenheit 451 so then no one will know my photo from back then….

  3. Just want to say thank you for your comment : I had the pleasure of thumbing through Lee County High School’s 2008 yearbook (a fine-looking and very well-put-together publication by the way), .

    My son was on that yearbook committee and they have heard nice comments from teachers about the yearbook new layout but have heard nothing nice from students or their parents. Seems they just can’t break away from “it has always been done the other way” syndrome. They thought outside of the box and mixed it up a bit and worked hard to hear so many complaints.
    So thank you for seeing that their efforts were a well put together book. My son was so happy to read what you had said.

    tammy hebert

  4. “My yearbook still had some 80s-ness to it, with the big haired girls and male mullets. But we were a small rural school and thus, five years behind everybody else.”

    Wait, you went to my high school too?? haha

    I’d be willing to bet if you looked at a 2008 edition of my high school’s yearbook, you’d still find a few of those mullets!

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