A Field Guide for Time Travellers – 1960 to 2020

Posted by Marlinee on Nov 4, 2010 in Travels |

If you are a time traveller, you know that it is important to understand what time period you are travelling to, in order to make sure you don’t look like you don’t belong. Ideally, you want to prepare in advance and acquire the right clothes and accessories for a particular time period. However, all of you know it is annoyingly common to miscalculate your astral coordinates and arrive not at all sure of when you have ended up. These tips provide visual cues to time periods between 1960 and 2020 (planet Earth only). They work pretty much in any circumstance where a large number of people congregate, such airports, public transit, and sporting events. Alternatively, observing a representative sample of pedestrians at the major downtown intersections of any city will suffice.


Glasses are a straight forward cue if you can rely on the fashion maxim of changing your frames at least every two years. Unfortunately there are several demographics that can throw you off completely. These include people with grey hair or no hair, and people who wear sweat pants or athletic jerseys in public. However, in general, if there is little variation in frames you are somewhere between 1960 and 1975, If the frames are ridiculously large and squarish, you have landed in the 1980s, a preponderance of wire frames will place you in the 1990s, and if you see a lot of smallish, rectangular and coloured frames you are somewhere around the turn of the 21st century. Past 2010 you shouldn’t see any eyeglasses at all, since everyone would have had their eyes lasered under the public health system.


Of course prior to 1980 you will not see personal electronics in public. That leaves you with a twenty year span to deal with if there are no devices in evidence, so flesh out your analysis with one or more of the other techniques provided. If you see Walkmans (rather clunky devices that could be black or coloured, but fairly easy to spot because they clearly say Walkman), you are squarely in the 1980s. When you get into the early 1990s you may see primitive cell phones that look like bricks, or even like attaché cases. Be careful not to spontaneously point and laugh, because in that era people with some form of cell phone were on the bleeding edge of technology and were carrying the equivalent of a luxury car.

You would think that once you get to the era of ubiquitous technology in the latter part of the 20th century that it would be easier to pinpoint the year more specifically. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Yes, you will see a lot of earbud-style headphones, but you will rarely see the device it is actually attached to. It could be anything from a first generation MP3 player (placing you around 2000) to a tenth generation iPod. The devices themselves stay pretty much the same size, although their storage capacity follows Moore’s Law. Your better bet is to eaves-drop on what the person is listening to, which will not be difficult, given the sound transmission qualities of the earbud headphones and the propensity of people who habitually use these devices to crank the volume up.

Personal Adornment

The early 1960s are a dead giveaway, because you will not see any jewellery on men besides a watch or perhaps wedding ring, and women will be similarly unadorned, with perhaps the addition of pearls or earrings. Once you get into the latter half of the 19060s and the early 1970s, you will see more elaborate earrings and neckware best described as tribal. You may find it difficult to distinguish between men and women at this point, but that in itself is a good cue. You will find the 19080s readily recognizable with this technique. Gold chains will be in abundance and many men will be wearing one earring. This seems to have had the effect of women going into the multiple ear piercings as a differentiator.

In the 1990s men also got onto the multiple earring bandwagon, but still stick pretty much to the one ear. After the turn of the century things get a little unfortunate, with the rise in popularity of tattoos in the younger demographic. This makes it easy to tell if you are in the first twenty years of the 21st century, but difficult to place yourself in an exact year, as the trend persisted. This cue will become more useful in the next edition of this guide (2020 to 2100), as all you will need to do is note the apparent age of the tattooed subject, subtract 20 and add it to 2000.

We hope this guide proves to be useful and we are always grateful for feedback on the effectiveness of these techniques, and for your own tips and tricks to incorporate into future editions of this guide.

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