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Life Lessons From Sharper Image Catalogs

If you're wondering what happened to The Sharper Image, America's one-stop shop for overpriced junk, this sad tête-à-tête from their website sums it up nicely:

Q. What happened to the Sharper Image retail stores?
A. All Sharper Image retail stores have closed.

After filing for bankruptcy in 2008, the gadget emporium was acquired by a joint venture firm that now operates its website and has nothing to do with the original retailer. In other words, The Sharper Image as you or I know it is dead.

All that remains are old catalogs, and inside each of these is a precious glimpse into a bygone era when we all blissfully teetered on the edge of catastrophic consumer stupidity. The following products were all sold in Sharper Image catalogs from 1987 to 1989 and they each teach us a valuable lesson about what life was like back then.

Man-Sized Dolls Were Your Only Defense Against Rampant Crime

The 1980s were so dangerous, if you didn't have a large man by your side at all times, an 18-wheeler would appear out of nowhere and smash you into smithereens. That scenario serves as catalog copy for Gregory, a "burly six-footer" whose "stern appearance is no accident":

"His rugged cleft chin, square-set jaw, firm expression, and broad shoulders telegraph to criminals that this is a man to avoid." Men want to be this doll, women want to be with this doll.

Some notable features of the $500 mannequin:
-Gregory has no lower legs.
-Gregory can be "changed with cosmetics to any age or race." It should be noted that, in his original state, he looks like a six-foot white baby.
-Like all us real macho men, he is "also available unclothed."
-You can "garb him in sports, casual, or business attire...or put him in a tux for formal occasions." This Gregory didn't get the memo, and showed up to a ritzy new year's celebration in a turtleneck:

Ideally, Piping-Hot Coffee Was Groin Adjacent

The dilemma: You bought great tickets to a San Francisco 49ers game, but you were up all night watching The Pat Sajak Show and need three quarts of coffee to stay awake.

The solution: The Sit N Sip, a seat cushion that stores and insulates three quarts of your favorite hot beverage and dispenses it from a spout placed in between your legs. An invention so simple and elegant, nothing could possibly go wrong to the person using it.

Americans Spent Most of Their Lives Rewinding VHS Tapes

Make that copy of Beaches haul ass with the AutoWinder, a machine that rewinds video cassettes and, uh, looks like a car. The catalog boasts that it "rewinds a two-hour movie in just under four minutes" and "saves your VCR from unnecessary wear and tear." Think of the money you're throwing away by not rewinding your VHS tapes in a tiny plastic car.

Cell Phones Were Important, But Only Because They Made You Look Rich

The Sharper Image was prescient enough to foresee the cellular phone boom, but too status-obsessed to profit on it with anything other than a fake antenna that you put on your car to make people think you were rich.

"Drive to class reunions with this new Phone-E antenna on your car," the catalog's description states, "and even Mr. Most-Likely-To-Succeed will be envious. Everyone will assume you have a cellular phone—the mark of success in the 80s." And if you're worried about someone breaking into your car to steal your rich-person's radio, I know a guy named Gregory who's not to be messed with.

Robots Body Shamed You

Stepping on a scale can be a humiliating experience, but with the Weight Talker II, it's a humiliating experience narrated by a disappointed robot. The scale uses a "pleasant male voice," giving you the terse Ukrainian gymnastics coach you never knew you wanted.

But Getting in Shape Was Easy

"Hello, this is Stetson. No, I can talk, I'm just working out and reading about my stocks. Yes, I too can't wait to see what kind of trouble Alf gets into next. Alright, nice speaking with you, President Reagan."

Toddlers Were Rich Jerks

Little Colby here just had a five martini lunch and he's speeding back to work in his Porsche so he can fire your ass before heading up to the Hamptons.

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George Washington’s Incredible Hair Routine

America's Founding Fathers had some truly defining locks, but we tend to think of those well-coiffed white curls—with their black ribbon hair ties and perfectly-managed frizz—as being wigs. Not so in the case of the main man himself, George Washington.

As Robert Krulwich reported at National Geographic, a 2010 biography on our first president—Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow—reveals that the man “never wore a wig.” In fact, his signature style was simply the result of an elaborately constructed coiffure that far surpasses most morning hair routines, and even some “fancy” hair routines.

The style Washington was sporting was actually a tough look for his day. In the late 18th century, such a hairdo would have been worn by military men.

While the hair itself was all real, the color was not. Washington’s true hue was a reddish brown color, which he powdered in a fashion that’s truly delightful to imagine. George would (likely) don a powdering robe, dip a puff made of silk strips into his powder of choice (there are a few options for what he might have used), bend his head over, and shake the puff out over his scalp in a big cloud.

To achieve the actual ‘do, Washington kept his hair long and would then pull it back into a tight braid or simply tie it at the back. This helped to showcase the forehead, which was very in vogue at the time. On occasion, he—or an attendant—would bunch the slack into a black silk bag at the nape of the neck, perhaps to help protect his clothing from the powder. Then he would fluff the hair on each side of his head to make “wings” and secure the look with pomade or good old natural oils.

To get a better sense of the play-by-play, check out the awesome illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton that accompany Krulwich’s post.

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"American Mall," Bloomberg
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fun
Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

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