What rich 1980s white-collar workers were called in the decade when the western world revelled in unapologetic materialism.
Yuppies (an acronym for “Young Urban Professionals”) ostentatiously stocked their New York-style apartments with the most expensive designer appliances and the latest in high-end stereo and video gear and drove to work in shiny new Benzes and Beemers.
Their clothing was designer clothing, their furniture was designer furniture . . . even their coffee was designer coffee!
In the USA and Britain, the Reagan and Thatcher governments’ barely concealed contempt for the poor gave tacit approval to those who viewed abundance as their inalienable right, and movies like Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) served as an anthem and a call to arms for the nouveau rich “upwardly-mobile”.
Nearly 75% of yuppie households were childless couples (Yuppies often worked so hard that they had little time for sex and more than one couple admitted that they had an answering machine at home just so they could talk to each other at least once a day!).
Unsurprisingly, a new yuppie sub-set emerged called DINKs (“Double Income – No Kids”).
Married or not, DINK couples worked long hours at professional/managerial jobs, postponed having children for the sake of their careers. These couples had lots of disposable income which they used in consuming conspicuously.
The work of talented young writers like Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and Jill Eisenstadt created a yuppie literary explosion, McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City was a huge success in 1984 and became a hit movie in 1988 starring Michael J. Fox, Phoebe Cates and Kiefer Sutherland.
With witty and fast-paced writing, McInerney subtly portrayed the downside of frenetic yuppie existence through a protagonist who resorts to “Bolivian marching powder” (cocaine) to help him keep up with a life in the fast lane.
Bret Easton Ellis explored the foibles of the “New Lost Generation” in his bestseller, Less Than Zero (1985), while Eisenstadt scored big with From Rockaway in 1987. But not everyone was enamoured of the yuppies, and “Die Yuppie Scum” bumper stickers were not an uncommon sight.
According to Newsweek, 1984 was the “Year of the Yuppie”. Yuppies were lambasted as excessively consumptive in their pursuit of “the dream” without any real regard for those left behind.
But the yuppie heyday was to be short-lived – critics gleefully described the stock market crash of October 1987 as the consequence of yuppie folly and the beginning of the yuppie’s end.
“Yuppie” quickly became a derogatory term and as the decade came to a close, the term became synonymous with greed, self-absorption and a lack of social conscience – and no one would admit to being one.
A popular joke at the time celebrated that, unlike pigeons, yuppies could no longer make a deposit on a Porsche . . .
But in hindsight yuppies weren’t all bad. Yuppies led the way in gentrifying urban neighbourhoods, turning warehouse lofts and run-down brownstones into valuable real estate, and there can be little doubt that the yuppie phenomenon had a lasting cultural impact.
As Hendrik Hertzberg, editor of New Republic wrote, “The fact is that . . . yuppies have better taste than yesterday’s well-off young adult Americans, are less ostentatious in their display of wealth, . . . set a far better example of healthful living, and are more tolerant.”
The Young Urban Professional lady engrossed in a snog at the top right of the picture (right) is none other than future posh totty cookery queen Nigella Lawson.