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Growing Up In The Suburbs: A Teen’s Memoirs of Life in the 1970s

Feathered Hair - Late 1970s

Growing Up In The Suburbs With Feathered Hair – Late 1970s

“. . . the late 1970s suburbia . . . young kids full of angst and hormones – what are they to do? I’ll give you a hint – it WASN’T bowling. Roller skating yes, bowling NO. Bowling was for the old man, not the young kid.”

In September 2010, a woman born in either 1964 or 1965, started the anonymous blog Suburbia Kid. Until December 2011, she wrote short posts about growing up in the suburbs during the 1970s. Her brief memoirs highlight numerous touchstones of first-wave Gen-Xers including feathered hair, Chemin-de-fer and Ditto jeans, Love’s Baby Soft and Chef Boyardee pizza. Here is an excerpt from her introductory post:

This is a true-blue teenaged drama blog, complete with the diary entries and goofy stories from one young kid growing up in the quiet suburbs in the late 1970’s.

“Leisure time for young teens in the burbs during the late 70’s was a hotbed of stupid fun. So sit back and enjoy the buzz of one teens’ experience as it plays out through diary entries, photos and journal musings.

Growing Up In The Suburbs

Through quips and commentaries, Suburbia Kid walks us through the adolescent days of Baby Busters. That’s what they first called Generation X because of the decline in live births that followed a baby boom that began in 1946 and ended around 1960. In the following excerpt she explains what it was like to be a teenage girl growing up in the suburbs during the 1970s.

In a word, sheltered. Although my friends and myself liked to think of ourselves as rebels, we were really just bored teens looking for a bit of fun in a largely unexciting environment. While urban areas were bustling with disco, punk rock and gender bending explorations, suburbia was asleep with banal shopping malls, three channels for your TV viewing pleasure and shag carpets.

“At times a bit of the real world did edge its way into our quiet neighborhood. I remember hints to the Watergate scandal (my dads’ ever-increasing bad mood and outbursts of profanity while watching the evening news), the gas crisis (we bought a compact, gas saving foreign car, much to my dads’ dismay) and the ominous shadow of nuclear power plants melting down, thanks to the accident at Three Mile Island. But all of this was so far removed from my teen-aged concerns. Boys, Bubblicious, Loves Baby Soft and 8-track tapes were foremost on my mind.”

1970s living room owl macrame afghan chemin de fer jeans

I’m always amazed at how a simple photo can reveal so much about a particular era. How many 1970s things can you count in this picture? Here’s my list. Let me know if I missed anything!

  1. Crushed velvet ottoman
  2. Gold shag carpet
  3. Curly telephone cord
  4. String art
  5. Owl macrame
  6. Afghan
  7. Embroidery crewel wall art
  8. Mushroom art

Complicated Digital World

Here is an excerpt from a post that talks about how complicated our lives have been made by too many choices, too many channels and possibly, too much information.

…History through TV seems so precious; it’s a time capsule of what was once simple. Mork and Mindy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat  – simple. Raise your hand if you miss SIMPLE.

“This current information overload seriously has me waxing nostalgic for the days when we only had three main TV networks, “instant” Polaroid cameras, and Pong was the only game that interfaced with your TV. What was once simple has become overly complicated. I hate complicated.”

Suburbia Kid in a 1970s Down Jacket

Suburbia Kid in a 1970s Down Jacket

Writing Notes in Class

Texting 80s style involved writing actual notes to your friends. Sometimes, we exquisitely folded those notes. You can read about that here in a post I wrote, Texting 80s Style + How To Fold A Note. Suburbia Kid shared old notes, lists, scribbles and diary entries with her readers. This was so typical and reminds me of the notes a missing Oklahoma girl, Monique Daniels, wrote to her friends.

Ever wonder what young, bored in suburbia girls REALLY did in class?” the blogger wrote. “They might have looked like they were dutifully taking notes on the days topics, but what they were earnestly concentrating on was writing the name of their one and only true love, over & over & over & over . . .you get the idea.

“And in this case of MY one and only true love, it was Chuck, as you can see by my binder ramblings. I actually have at least three pages of the same thing, “I Love Chuck” written so many times I HAD to have run out of ink at some point.”

chemin de fer sailor jeans with five buttons on each side

Suburbia Kid in Chemin-de-fer sailor jeans. I never had a pair of these and only vaguely remember a couple girls wearing them at my junior high in East Texas. My cousins in California, however, wore them a lot! My cousin Deanna also had about a closet full of Ditto jeans in every color. This picture reminds me of all the fads that didn’t quite make it to the South-Central Plains and Heartland. In those days before Instagram and Facebook, we poured over the latest styles via magazines like Seventeen and ‘Teen, but we were never brave enough to try anything too weird, too soon. Doesn’t Suburbia Kid look awesome in her Chemin-de-fer jeans? My cousins did, too!

One of the best posts she wrote captures the economic angst of the 1970s. Here is an excerpt:

Economic times were BAD here in the U S of A, and TV gave us a glimpse into the America that exposed bigorty, lying politicians, class wars and an unrealistic ideal of life that never really existed. Were we dupped?! My family was. “Buy American!”. So we did. “Support your local union!” And we did. But to what end? Well, by the end of the 1970’s we had unprecedented levels of unemployment, jobs lost due to cheaper goods produced outside the US of A. Are we better now?”

This post was preceded by a post about shoplifting Bonnie Bell lipsmackers, Kissing Potion and eyeliner. She was quite a hoodlum back in her bored, suburban days.

Oh, the things young teenage girls bought (or in my case, shoplifted) in the late 1970’s. My ‘looking good’ obsession started with Bonne Bell Lip Smackers…And then there was the highly addictive Maybelline Kissing Potion. What a gooey liquid mess these were!

“Besides the ever-popular Loves Baby Soft, I also wore a fragrance called Blue Jeans. I can still smell the light, musky scent. And yes, I most definitely wore the cologne while skating at our local roller rink in an attempt to drive the boys wild…

“Last, but not least, one of the easiest items to um, lift. Eyeliner pencils…We were bored and we wanted to look good…”

Preservation of the Recent Past

Many blogs that were created by Gen-Xers prior to the Internet of Things (among other “things”) often serve as a treasure trove of memories and images. I grab up what I can in an effort to bring you these stories and to do my part to preserve the recent past. (It doesn’t feel so recent anymore.) We have no idea the true identity of Suburbia Kid or what has become of her in the years since she stopped blogging about growing up in the suburbs. It’s been over six years since she wrote a post.

The web is a transient place with bloggers fading from the landscape faster than a digital start-up. Through unintentional clues provided in her blog, I figured out her name and that she grew up in California — probably in a rural suburb of San Jose.  I hope wherever she is she is doing OK. I hope life is treating her well. I’m grateful for the brief memoir she has left behind — a testimony of a bored and rebellious generation surviving teenage wasteland in the suburbs.

Seriously, what else were bored kids in suburbia to do during the summer?,” she wrote. “There was only one mall, and it was a small one at that. We had ‘free swim’ at the local high school during the day, the rope swing in the creek, and boring, hot summer nights to get into trouble. And boy did we try our best to get into trouble…Being a rebel felt liberating. Doing ‘bad things’ felt good. And the fun that ensued was only the tip of the rebel life I was sliding into.”

Do you have memories of growing up in the suburbs? More importantly, did you have feathered hair?

Growing Up In The Suburbs | Suburbia Kids with Feathered Hair

Matching super feathered hair AND rugby shirts. Remember when wearing the same shirt as your boyfriend was a thing? Bonus points if you both had feathered hair! This is Suburbia Kid at a Sadie Hawkins Dance, 1978.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Maureen

    Oh how life turns, you forgot those mammoth ear phones you were wearing. Up here in Canada the Burbs were quite different depending on what province you lived in. My dad being military we had the pleasure of moving a lot, living on military bases was a suburb all of its own. I remember visiting a cousin one summer and she was spoiled with a back yard pool. Couldn’t wait to get back to tell my friends. No walking across the base to swim, all she did was open the back door and jump right in.

  2. Jeff

    I went to school with the suburban girl, and all of the kids in the pictures, I was an early stoner kid and was known as buzby. The girl with her back to the camera was my girlfriend for a short while and this post made me so happy and brought back great memories. I still live in San Jose and Married my jr high sweetheart Toni Wakefield, we have been married 36 years and together for 45 years. We have two children and my eldest went to that same now middle school, then it was jr high. Thank you for posting this, it made my day!

    • Jennifer X

      Oh, wow! How wonderful! Great story about your marriage!

  3. Alexandra

    I live in a small town in Italy, where every summer is the same as the previous, but I love it. The boys usually go swimming in the river, or play soccer until late evening, and the girls usually cycle and stop to the gelateria (ice cream shop) where, while eating an ice-cream, they chat and gossip. I’m a girl too, but I spend more time at home, reading books and doing my homework because I dislike boiling weather. And if I have the occasion of going out, I spend more time with my childhood friends (all boys), swimming, playing water games, board games, videogames or eating lemon flavoured popsicles. Dad says that, except for videogames, summertime here where I live, has never changed. And I hope it never changes

    • Jennifer

      What a miracle to be completely content in a place where things stay the same. I’m so grateful for your note today, Alexadra. You write beautifully.

  4. Brooklyn

    I’m a 16 yr old from a city and I’ve never fit in with the way I dress, the music I listen to, my hobbies and aspirations. Always admired suburban life from coming of age films and wanted to experience all the stereotypical things about it. I love the idea of being given little to do and finding ways to get in trouble and make the most of it. Things like school dances, starting a band, and walking down the street finding local kids to hang out with.

    Now I know there’s problems in suburbs but compared to urban areas there’s obviously a better place to raise a family.

    We city kids have so many options for places to go, schools attend. People start becoming strangers in your own community. There’s never a place for all the teens to go and hang out together.

    All of the stories I hear about the entertainment and non politicizing of everything instead of letting kids be kids proved that Suburbia wether today or years ago, is the best way for kids to experience the best of youth.

    Thanks for posting this it was fun to read.

    • Jennifer

      Ahh, Brooklyn – what a beautiful and insightful comment. I’m so impressed with you and your perspective. You’re so right — Suburbia did offer something special to teenagers in my generation. I never realized it until now. You’re from a very special generation, Generation Z, like my two youngest children. My son is 15 and my youngest daughter, 13. God bless you on the journey. I’m so glad you stopped by.

  5. Dave Ormand

    This is classic and proved my argument about my hairstyle back then. My wife and kids call it a mullet & I told them the mullet was non-existent at that time. Thank you for unintentionally supporting my stance and validating the feathered hair of the 70’s & early 80’s.

    • Jennifer

      LOL! Your welcome. The mullet was mid-1980s and well into the 1990s. It was mostly popular in the 1990s when Billy Ray Cyrus made it most iconic! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Sara

    I was born in 66 and lived in San Jose. I went to Toyon, Piedmont and Blackford. This was the best article and seriously took me back to the good days. Can’t even imagine life without those memories. We really were lucky and my son is sooooo jealous we had those years to grow up in. Everything was so innocent, so normal!

    • Jennifer

      Hi Sara – Thanks for stopping by. It fills my heart with so much happiness when I hear that our children have affection for those years. Wouldn’t want him to be jealous – just striving toward a better station in life. Preferably, one with far less “screen time.” God bless you! I bet San Jose during those years was simply divine.

    • Julie Thompson

      Hi! I went to Moreland, Castro & Blackford…Class of 74’…My sisters went to Rogers…all native San Joseans…I sure miss a lot of the places we used to go to when I was a kid and recently! Kiddie World, The OLD Valley Fair, Town & Country, Harry’s, Santa’s Village & Bob’s Big boy/The Centuries, Andy’s Pet Shop..RIP! 🙁

  7. Carrie

    I love this!! I was just taken back to jr high in the late 70s (born in ’65). There were things that I had forgotten about and you brought me right back. Thank you so much. Looking forward to reading more.

    • Jennifer

      Thank you, Carrie. This is one of my all-time favorite posts. The subject was very generous in letting me post the pictures.

  8. Joni Stewart

    This is great!! Although, not from the south but north….Bloomington,Minnesota….if you lived in Suburbia in the 70’s it was exactly the same. Thank you for bringing back treasured memories! I would go back in an instant.

  9. Brandi

    Hi, I was curious in the pic of the girl wearing the white pants it says she lived in East Texas. I grew up in East Texas. I was a teenager in the 80s

    • Jennifer

      Hi Brandi – I wrote that cutline below the picture and I attended junior high in East Texas, Gilmer to be specific, in the late 1970s. Where are you from?

      • Brandi

        I grew up in Longview Texas

        • Jennifer

          I lived in Gilmer during junior high. I finally made it back to the Yamboree in 2015. I love East Texas.

      • Brandi Harris

        I’m from Longview, Texas. I also lived in Henderson when I was a kid

  10. Julie Thompson

    Did you go to Rodgers Jr. High?? A couple of the pics looks JUST like Rodgers. Both my sisters went there in the late 70’s…San Jose, CA!

    • Jennifer

      No, I didn’t. I do believe these pictures were taken in the San Jose area.

      • Mike

        Looks like Covina, CA (a retro LA suburb), too. Lol thanks for the memories, Jennifer. Sadie Hawkins! Forgot about those 🙂 – Mike (‘63) ps I don’t think we’re Boomers and we’re definitely not Gen X. I think of us as the ‘Lost Gen’.

  11. Jeannette

    I hope you continue this blog as a series. I was born in 1966 and cherish my childhood, teenage, and college days growing up in suburban Los Angeles more than ever. Funny thing is, so does my 15-year old daughter. She is enamored with the 70s and 80s and always tells me she wishes she was born in 1960. Looking at the world today, with social media and political polarization, I believe we lived in the best of times. Our memories are definitely ones to cherish.

    • Jennifer

      Thank you ,Jeannette. Reminds me of that song by Styx, The Best of Times. Little did we know…My husband was born in 1966 in Oakland, and I was born in L.A. in 1967. If you have any pictures of your years growing up in suburban L.A., and you would want to share them, that would be awesome. Also, the political polarization is ridiculous. Remember when we only saw the POTUS on TV two or three times a year?

      • Martine

        I have NEVER seen anything like this politically speaking. But then, we have allowed a few people to turn this country into a mess. It wasn’t a mess in the 1970’s. No matter what you say about the 70’s, people were doing better then now.

        • Jennifer

          This is one of my all-time favorite posts. She embodies something of our generation. Just lovely all around.

  12. Sue

    Hi Jen, Suburbia Kid here! Just wanted to thank you for such a well written post. And I’m glad you are sharing these stories of our generation. I have written drafts to post to my blog but just haven’t gotten around to posting. Now that you’ve shared this I’ve got a bit more inspiration to post! So I’m alive and well, still living in California, working as an artist. And I’m still a bit of a rebel 😉

    • Jennifer

      Sue!! Oh my gosh. I’m so glad you’re alive. When a blogger stops writing, I always wonder. I hope you’ll post some of those entries! It was a great blog. The pictures of you are so beautiful and of a bygone era. Photography was so bad back then – you have quite a treasure. I’m amazed that you were able to hang on to so many “relics” — especially the notes with the bubble letters. =) As you can tell, I really loved your blog. Thanks for stopping by and keep in touch. I’ve added Suburbia Kid to my Feedly so I can get alerts when and if you post. Also, congrats o n your work as an artist.


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