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It Was Acceptable in the 80s: The Design and Times of The Americans


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#1

TWoP Lockley

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Posted Feb 4, 2013 @ 9:30 PM

Talk about the approach to the show's setting here.

#2

beldasnoop

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Posted Feb 4, 2013 @ 9:39 PM

Thanks for this thread! This is my post that was originally in the "Pilot" thread, but I thought it would be more appropriate here:

I watched this show with great interest because I am a contemporary of Henry and Paige and I grew up in Northern Virginia, so the period details (or lack thereof) are of great interest to me. My impression from the first episode is that it seems like a riveting drama, but I wish they were more meticulous with the details. Contrary to what the producers may have said, that kind of detail (like in Mad Men) does not distract from the drama for me--in fact, it adds to it, and the lack of detail is what I find distracting. I like the characters and the situation, but as one who is extremely familiar with the time and setting of this show, I wish the writers would do more research.

For one thing, the schools have been mentioned and I can say categorically that not only was there no such place as "Falls Church Middle School" (in reality, Paige would probably have attended Luther Jackson or Whittier), there wouldn't have been in the time period. Fictionalizing and inventing places like schools for the purpose of the plot is fine, but at that time in Northern Virginia, there weren't middle schools. It would have been called "Junior High" or "Intermediate School". Schools in the area started to call themselves "middle schools" in the early 90s when I was substitute teaching. Things like that aren't "make or break" for me for a show like this, but it does get a little frustrating when it's a time and place I know so well, and not only are they getting it wrong, but they're not getting it wrong in the "right way" if that makes sense.

Also, I wanted to add a comment about the hairstyles. I think Elizabeth's hair is OK. It might have been more feathered or flipped to be 100% accurate but the "big hair" wasn't ubiquitous until the mid-80s from what I remember.
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#3

MethodActor05

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Posted Feb 4, 2013 @ 9:40 PM

They're lucky that this is set in D.C.- the D.C. skyline doesn't really change much because of the zoning laws. Isn't it almost impossible to do a period show in L.A. now because of all the skyline changes? I think Take Me Home Tonight had to film in Phoenix instead of Los Angeles because Los Angeles looks nothing like it did back in the 1980's.

Good catch on the middle school part. I wasn't in middle school until the late 90's, and I remember one time looking at old yearbooks from the early 80's that referred to my school as being "Stanton Junior High" instead of Stanton Middle School. I think they still call them junior highs on the West Coast and in Texas.

I do think Paige looks authentic for 1981. Her ballet look reminded me of Kimbery on Different Strokes, and her fringed leather jacket feels like a nod to the Urban Cowboy look. I loved the french braid. Maybe in another episode they'll put her in "the two small braids look" of the early 80's.

The most accurate one is Phillip. Those Adidas running suit and shoes were dead on for 1981, and it looks like Phillip had gotten a perm if you by what his hair looked like in the 1965 scene. Men never get perms anymore, but they did back then. That's a fantastic period touch. (I know Matthew Rhy's hair is naturally curly, but it looks like Phillip doesn't have naturally curly hair.)

It kinda bothers me though that Keri Russell has a natural perm, this is a show set in a time period where a lot of women started getting perms (see circa 1981 pictures of Natalie Wood, Stevie Knicks, Nancy and Ann Wilson, the women from Abba) , and they're still straightening her hair out.

Edited by MethodActor05, Feb 4, 2013 @ 10:10 PM.

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#4

ElectricBoogalo

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 2:19 AM

The costuming is what's distracting me the most. When Elizabeth was wearing that purple scoopneck ballet top and high waisted jeans with a black belt, that looked so early 90s to me (which I know based on what I was wearing at that time - hopefully I wasn't a decade behind the fashions).

Her Guess jeans were another anachronism for me. As I mentioned in the Pilot thread, Guess was founded in LA in 1981 and didn't start advertising until 1982, so I find it highly unlikely that a suburban mom in her late 30s/early 40s like Elizabeth was rocking Guess jeans before they became cool.

In general, I feel like the costume people are just grabbing whatever 80s crap they are finding at flea markets or on ebay and throwing them on the actors without being concerned that 1989 styles were very different from what people wore in 1981. The teen girl at the mall is another example. She was wearing a racerback tank top underneath an off the shoulder top. That was definitely not in style then. Off the shoulder tops like that became popular after Flashdance came out in 1983, but even then girls weren't wearing racerback tanks with them.

Elizabeth's hair doesn't bother me though. In 1981, there were lots of people with long straight hair. The big spiral permed hair didn't start becoming popular until the mid 80s. Paige's hairstyles looked realistic to me too.
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#5

Rickster

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 10:19 AM

The most accurate one is Phillip. Those Adidas running suit and shoes were dead on for 1981,


IMO, his jogging shorts were too long, for the time.

Would have expected to see more 3 piece suits for the men, but I'm not sure about styles in DC as it is a warmer city than the Northeast, plus the FBI might have had a dress code.

Agree about the middle school vs. junior high. Maybe this was a conscious decision to allow the audience to better relate.
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#6

Gabrielle Tracy

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 11:27 AM

As far as Elizabeth's hair...

Maybe the producers thought she'd look too "Felicity-ish" with her curls? I don't think she's worn her hair curly in anything she's done since then.
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#7

ElectricBoogalo

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 11:37 AM

I think the middle schools vs junior high divison was a regional thing. The middle school I attended was established in 1975 (it was always a middle school - it wasn't a junior high that switched to a middle school). I was so disappointed because I grew up watching Happy Days and wanted to go to junior high like Erin.

I agree that Phillip's shorts should have been a little shorter. Heh, and I'm not just saying that in a pervy way. Shorts were really short in 1981!

I expected to see a lot more three piece suits too. That's what I always associate with men's clothing in the early 80s.
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#8

Hallelujah

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 11:56 AM

I don't think she's worn her hair curly in anything she's done since then.

That's what I thought, too. I don't remember seeing KR with such curly hair since her Felicity days, so I don't think it's a case of the hair stylist intentionally straightening her hair. That's probably just how she wears it now.
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#9

beldasnoop

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 3:28 PM

The middle school/intermediate/junior high designations were regional, and still are as far as I can tell, but in Northern Virginia the designation has changed over the years. I guess it bothered me more because I grew up in that area, and I was 11 years old in 1981 when this show takes place. "Middle schools" in that area at that time were all officially called "Intermediate Schools" and often colloquially referred to as "junior high" but they weren't called "middle schools" until the 90s. It's a little detail that will be noticed by people like me who grew up in that time/place but will probably not be noticed by others. I guess it's not a huge deal, but for me it makes the show less specific. It's not "Northern Virginia in the early 80s" really. It's more "a fictionalized area we're calling Northern Virginia in a vague approximation of the early 80s". I'm nitpicking because this was my area, but I was hoping they would be a little more detail conscious. I was hoping there would be some regional landmarks and things to recognize from the era.

As for hair and clothes, it all seemed to be a fairly generic 80s-inspired mixture to me, with a few fashions and hairstyles that seem much more modern. I do hope they do a little more research to make things more specific to the times as the show goes along.

Edited by beldasnoop, Feb 5, 2013 @ 3:40 PM.

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#10

OrdinaryMan

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 3:46 PM

I started high school in 1980, college in 1985. I'm old enough for my college years to be a nostalgic tv setting! Yay for me!

I became a college leftie, and was in a bunch of demonstrations against Reagan policy in Central America and nuclear arms buildups. Even got arrested protesting on an Air Force Base.

I'm appreciating this show because the Cold War is over, and that Air Force base was shut down years ago. Probably hard to realize now, but some of us really thought World War 3 was possible and imminent.

Anyone remember Reagan joking about 'we begin bombing in five minutes?'
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#11

catray

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Posted Feb 8, 2013 @ 12:31 AM

The Time Style section as an interview with the costume designer for The Americans.
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#12

MethodActor05

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Posted Feb 8, 2013 @ 5:34 AM

This is the costume designer on dressing Elizabeth...

Tell us about dressing Elizabeth (played by Keri Russell).
Elizabeth is the classic hot mom. She has classic tastes, but she’s young and fun and hip. So she’s wearing beautiful high-wasted jeans tucked into high-heeled boots. She does a lot of blazers, sexy silk blouses paired with jeans. I was very much inspired by Charlotte Rampling and these cool, sexy women of the 70s.


That's the look they're apparently going for. I'm not entirely sure that's what I saw in the pilot, because the body suit with high-waisted jeans looked sooooo 1992-ish.
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#13

ElectricBoogalo

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Posted Feb 8, 2013 @ 5:43 AM

Loved the lampshade on the light fixture in the kitchen. That was definitely 80s decor.
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#14

meanteeth

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Posted Feb 13, 2013 @ 12:06 AM

I like the show but am increasingly distracted by how un-DC the locations are. I live in DC now and grew up here in the 80's; I was kinda jazzed to see what they would do with the location. So far so bad-- it's really distracting to me. Starting with the shots of "Northeast" that were supposed to be in the opening, to last week's poorly imagined "Anacostia" it's distractingly false.

They're lucky that this is set in D.C.- the D.C. skyline doesn't really change much because of the zoning laws.



If you're talking about the Mall, monument and some of the federal sector, this is true. Not true of the rest of the city, which has been teeming with development for the last 15-20 years. That said, there are still places that could look more authentically DC than what we've been shown. The "north of Dupont Circle" dead drop looked nothing like it, and the police officers looked even weirder with their NYC-cop looking duds. DC Cops wear baby blue on top, and in the 80's had ugly light blue windbreakers. The "Anacostia" shot was bad-- the area is an historic district, and has only just begun to get any development. We don't have stone/block facade buildings like the one they showed-- the ones that were supposed to be in Northeast would have been more plausibly Anacostia, since they were brick facade mid-rises on hilly ground.

I also was annoyed at how lazy it was for them to make the maid live in Anacostia... clearly the producers thought, Anacostia! Because Black People! In the 80's DC was most vibrantly Chocolate City, and we lived all over the city, with a broad range of income. Poor people were not exclusively east of the river, but also, someone working for the Weinbergers would have been in a relatively good position, income wise. I'm not as up on the 'burbs-- I had a few friends who lived in NOVA, but most of them were in Reston.

Edited by meanteeth, Feb 15, 2013 @ 9:18 AM.

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#15

madam magpie

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Posted Feb 13, 2013 @ 12:31 AM

I thought they used Anacostia because it might be recognizable outside the DC area. Just saying Southeast DC might not mean much to a mainstream audience. I grew up in the Maryland suburbs during the 1980s, and Southeast DC and Anacostia were scary places to us. I've been gone from the area for 15 years now, but I get the sense that the city is a lot less dangerous now than it used to be. DC in the 1980s had a reputation as a murder capital and as being rife with deep poverty, especially on the east side. I think the point was to show the maid as without resources, someone who might feel like she had no choice but to do as instructed.

I will agree that it seems unlikely someone like Casper Weinberger would have a poor woman from Southeast DC working in his house, but it didn't seem totally farfetched either.

Dupont Circle was unrecognizable, however, and in the 80s was a fairly seedy place, if I remember right.
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#16

larapu2000

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Posted Feb 16, 2013 @ 10:00 PM

Pravda

Pravda was the mouthpiece of the communist party in the former USSR, right? I love to read the articles, it's obvious they still hate the US, or at best, seriously mistrust us.
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#17

MethodActor05

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Posted Feb 18, 2013 @ 10:35 AM

They did a much, much better job of dressing Elizabeth for 1981 in the second episode. The outfit she's wearing during her second conversation with Paige looked like something Blair Warner would have worn in season 2 of The Facts of Life.

Edited by MethodActor05, Feb 18, 2013 @ 11:05 AM.

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#18

RedHawk

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Posted Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:10 AM

Some background that intensifies my interest in this show is that I have lived in DC since 1985 and spent a lot of time in DC during the five years before I moved here. Also, I studied Russian in 1980 and '81, and in the '90s worked for several years in a building two doors north of the Russian embassy/office building where Nina and her Russian cohorts work.

It bugs me deeply that most DC scenes look like they were shot in Baltimore. In 1981 there were plenty of run-down areas, but almost no part of DC looked like Baltimore. Also, no one refers to "north" or "south" whatever street. It's just "17th Street".

Dupont Circle was unrecognizable, however, and in the 80s was a fairly seedy place, if I remember right.


That scene was definitely was not set in the real Dupont Circle, which was a little rundown back then (the whole city was!), but not a bad or dangerous area by any means. In the early '80s (and for many years after) Dupont Circle was the hub of the city's "alternative" area -- gay culture intersecting with creative, edgy types. There were several independent movie theaters nearby, and a great record store, plus a couple of clubs that played the latest British music (Simple Minds, The Cure, etc.).

Edited by RedHawk, Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:12 AM.

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#19

attica finch

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Posted Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:14 AM

The show is shot in NYC, so none of the locations will be 'right.' Except for the stock footage of DC.
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#20

Anosmia

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Posted Feb 21, 2013 @ 2:55 PM

The interview with the show's costume designer (posted on the last page) was interesting. She said that 1981 style was "A warmer, more autumnal look. Corduroys and velvets and chenille and a lot of knits." It seems spot-on to me. I turned seven in 1981, and so I really didn't pay much attention to fashion, but I do remember it being a time of autumnal colors, and my family was wearing a lot of corduroy and velour. I remember the prairie look and frilly, high-necked blouses were popular. I spent a lot of time wearing shorty shorts and pompoms socks. I don't know if tube socks were a big thing yet or not.

I think the interior of Elizabeth and Philip's house seems pretty period-appropriate, although I raised my eyebrow when I saw that their living room TV was rather small and didn't have dials on it. Had TVs started shrinking and losing the dials by then? The house's exterior looks a bit too modern to me, but maybe that's just because that house style didn't really exist where I grew up in the '80s.

In the scene where Stan and Philip are playing racquetball, I was very surprised to see that Stan had a pager. I didn't realize those existed in the early '80s!
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#21

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Posted Feb 24, 2013 @ 6:55 PM

1981-- junior year of high school-- the pirate look was all the rage. Velvet knickers. Gold and silver flats. Also the preppy look and gunnysack dresses still around. Nothing came between Brooke and her Calvin's.

I went to junior high, and now that school is a middle school. I is not just a name change though. Junior high was grades 7 thru 9' so freshman in high school were in the junior high building. Middle school is grades 6-7-8.
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#22

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Posted Feb 28, 2013 @ 8:17 PM

I was a 14-year-old high school freshman in 1981, just a year older than Paige. So I look at Elizabeth as a mom. She could have been my mom. And NO ONE'S mom looked like Elizabeth! Suburban moms did not wear designer jeans in 1981. They dressed more like Sandra and Martha. I think Elizabeth's hair and fashion sense would be enough to arouse suspicion. Her style just looks very Euro to me which would make her stick out like a sore thumb. Especially the outfit she was wearing last night when she slipped from one trunk to another. I remember cargo pants from the post-disco late 70s but not cropped ones. And she wears some very interesting leather jackets that I don't remember women wearing during the era--but especially not a suburban mom.
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#23

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Posted Mar 4, 2013 @ 12:19 PM

Phillip's shortwave transceiver was far too fancy for the early 80's. That thing had a beautiful fluorescent frequency display. Most transceivers at the time still had dials while the high end ones with digital displays usually had LEDs. This looked like a Japan Radio receiver from the late 90's.

These transmitters were far too bulky for portable spy work (they weighed 30-50 lbs) and far too obvious. Soviet spies usually used smaller transmitters not much larger than CB radios and were tuned with crystals, not with a knob. Before transmission they plugged in the crystal for the frequency to transmit on that day (this was part of the encryption). They used regular portable shortwave receivers for reception since messages sent to spies were from powerful transmitters. They were informally called "number stations" since they usually featured some intro music, then a person reading series of numbers for the spies to decode. These stations still transmit today although they use voice synthesizers instead of human announcers.

They didn't use Enigma machines like Elizabeth was using. They still used the old fashioned system of "one time pads" (OTP). What we should have seen is them slowly encoding the messages by hand at home on paper, burning the original message and the pad they used, then taking the encrypted message to where they going to transmit. Then one of them would have tapped out the encoded message in Morse code on something that didn't look like a radio, and the other would have waited for the acknowledgement signal on a portable shortwave receiver.

Yep, pretty dull for television but the tech for Soviet spies in the early 80's hadn't changed much in thirty years. It was lots of paper and very little electronics.
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#24

indianhoop

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Posted Mar 7, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

Creepy hitch-hiker driver's use of "it's chill" seemed off. I remember using "chill out dude" or some such then but not that phrase.
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#25

Mary Jane Fields

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Posted Mar 7, 2013 @ 5:52 AM

I remember using "chill out dude" or some such then but not that phrase.

Yeah, I kind of called bullshit on that too. Again, I was the same age as Paige in 1981 and the term chill was still fairly new to the vernacular at that time.
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#26

Rickster

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Posted Mar 7, 2013 @ 10:55 AM

Creepy hitch-hiker driver's use of "it's chill" seemed off


I agree. Definitely off. Maybe it was being used by some hip subculture somewhere, but not by the average person.
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#27

Gabrielle Tracy

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Posted Mar 7, 2013 @ 11:10 AM

I'm thinking that "Don't spazz out" would have been the era appropriate response.
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#28

Scrb

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Posted Mar 7, 2013 @ 11:21 AM

"Mellow out"?
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#29

Caillou Shampoo

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Posted Mar 8, 2013 @ 3:28 PM

I'm pretty sure that the expression "to hit on" someone wasn't that common yet, if it even existed.
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#30

Sister Magpie

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Posted Mar 8, 2013 @ 4:39 PM

I'm pretty sure that the expression "to hit on" someone wasn't that common yet, if it even existed.


I know it's often impossible to really remember when phrases came to be, but why does this seem like such a modern expression? I can't ever remember it being a "new" expression to me, so 1981 seems okay by me.

Edited by Sister Magpie, Mar 8, 2013 @ 5:24 PM.

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