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High School Stereotypes of the 1980s

by Jim H

About High School Stereotypes

Were you a Valley Girl, a Head-Banger, or a Stoner-Surfer? Movies from the 1980s such as “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science” highlighted teen high school stereotypes that were common at that time.  What turned these movies into instant classics was their ability to portray different cliques in the hilarious way others perceived them.  If you grew up in the 1980s, you instantly related to a lot of these movie screen characters.  In fact, you most likely saw a lot of similarities between these high school movie stereotypes and people you know from high school . . . or maybe even yourself.

So we decided to take a trip down the memory lane of 1980s high school stereotypes and describe exactly what gave those belly-aching laughs.  What defined these groups?  What music did they tend to listen to? What did they find important in life? And most importantly of all – what were their idiosyncrasies?
high school stereotypes

Typical Teen Social Cliques of the 1980s

The 1980s is not unique when it comes to teen social cliques.  Every decade had them.  Of course, there were the 60s hippies, and then there were the disco kings and queens of the 70s. But it seems the 1980s saw a social upheaval of that left youngsters clamoring for a menagerie of new identities, each boasting a greater, cooler sense of individuality.  Here is our list of the most common teen social cliques of the 1980s.


Populars consistently hung out with all the high-profile student positions in High School. Although similar to Over-Achievers, Populars believed that being the center of any social circle was just as important as good grades.  Whatever the Populars listened to or wore tended to reflect contemporary sensibilities.


Synonymous with “yuppies,” this crowd was all about affluence, the upper crust, and dressing in pastels and sweaters. Preppies listened to anything that was in the Top 40.


An entire clique notable for its incredible athletics and lacking academics. Jocks are constantly working out doing training sessions and oftentimes seeing the team coach as a stand-in father figure. Jock musical tastes might be some variety of rock, metal or music common to workout routines.

Valley Girls

This term applies to the materialistic girls originating from the San Fernando Valley region of California. Valley Girls are almost always seen hanging out at the mall, wearing lots of accessories and brightly-colored outfits. They are often portrayed as airheads, but this is rarely the case.  Where Jocks are concerned with muscle, Valley Girls are known for their drama, sexuality and iconic way of speaking.  Their vocabulary is loaded with “likes, “y’knows” and “Oh my God”.  Valley Girls tended to listen to musicians who inspired their style, such as “Madonna”, “Cindi Lauper”, and the “B-52’s”.


Surfers seemed to have inherited many of the personality traits of their generation predecessor, the Hippie. They have a very carefree mentality and their world revolves around catching that big wave.  When it comes to fashion, Surfers tended to wear beach-themed clothing, board shorts, and sandals. They are also big fans of surf brands such as Billabong and Quicksilver.  Surfer musical tastes tended to include “The Pixies”, “Sonic Youth” and classics such as “The Beach Boys” and “Jimmy Buffet”.


While there is some degree of overlap in the personalities of Surfers and Skaters, Skaters’ preferred hobby is one of grinding on concrete, asphalt, and wood. Inland wannabe Surfers embraced the popular skating culture since they had no proximity to the surf. Jeans and T-Shirts are a common fashion choice for Skaters. Because their hobby was seen as a rebellious exercise of the youth, Skaters frequently listened to punk rock from groups like “Suicidal Tendencies”, “Black Flag” and “Misfits.”


high school stereotypes

High School Headbangers in 1986. © inthe1980s.com

Imagine a long-haired guy or girl in a black leather jacket or jean jacket, and you have the basic physical representation of a Headbanger. These Metal Heads get their name from the habit of banging their head to aggressive rock music. Headbangers gravitate to a number of popular Heavy Metal bands such as “Judas Priest”, “Iron Maiden”,  “Motley Crue” and “AC/DC.”.  When it comes to their favorite bands, they are walking encyclopedias – able to tell you every minute detail of the group.  Headbangers love band t-shirts, and regularly read Hit Parader and Circus magazines.  They also ritually watch MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball on Saturday nights.


Nerds are the social clique for teens lacking in confidence, athletics, and social skills but brimming with intellect and high grades. Although they would probably never even reach first base during high school, they would become the future astrophysicists and mathematicians of America. This clunky, clumsy, awkward group tended to gravitate towards tech items such as the Commodore 64 and arcade games.  Their socialization mainly consisted of getting together with other nerds and challenging each other in a Nintendo game.


This social clique was where anyone went if they failed to fit into any of the other cliques. Perhaps downtrodden by years of being teased, this group was perceived as having no cool identifying characteristics, and they seemed to lack charisma.  They tended to be shy, quiet, and lack social skills and, if they were lucky, may have had a “loser” friend or two.


1980s stereotypes

High school Goths (1988). Image Credit: Q on punkfoto.de

Goths appeared as dark, angst-ridden kids who favored pale skin and a solemn look. Groups like “Joy Division,” “Siouxsie and the Banshees, and “Bauhaus” inspired their serious personalities. Gothic attire involved as much black clothing as possible and regular access to clove cigarettes such as Gudangs and Djarums.  Although people often ridiculed them as wannabe vampires, they never seem to mind the attention.


This is one of the high school stereotypes that was virtually unknown prior to the 1980s.  This clique was inspired by the popularity of hip-hop and the default “clique” for many African-American students. Hip-hoppers are easily discernable by their stylized hair and interest in break-dancing. As befits their name, this group’s identity is defined by its musical tastes; Ice -T, Public Enemy, and Run DMC are some of the big names they listen to.  A lot of slang terms spawned by the Hip Hop community became a regular part of the English language.  Slang words such as “Homey”, “Gangsta,” and “Hood” are just a few of them. When it comes to high school dances, they are one of the most uninhibited groups to get up on the dance floor when the Dee Jay plays their music.

New Wavers

high school social cliques

A high school New Waver. Image Credit: Lauren Bell Davis.

Similar to the hip-hoppers, New Wavers drew their fashion and music sense from the eponymous music genre of Second British Invasion. New Wavers were fond of groups like Duran Duran, Talking Heads, and Cyndi Lauper.  You could always pick out the New Wavers based on their hairstyles and colorful fashion accessories.


This crowd tended to be a smaller group than other cliques. Over-Achievers dedicated their lives to academic excellence, teacher praise, and the all-powerful GPA. They would sacrifice social lives for as many extracurricular activities as they could cram into their day. While they share some societal overlap with the Nerd clique, Over-Achievers tended to have at least some grasp of socialization and fashion sense.

Did We Leave Any Out?

The 1980s was a booming time for youth culture, leading to colorful diversity and trend-setting fads. We think we hit all the major high school stereotypes that were popular in the 1980s, but we may have missed a couple.  Which high school clique did you belong to?  Give us your feedback in the comments below.

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