Back to Top

c. 1980s

Spring Break in the ’80s

These photos show what was acceptable in the '80s at Spring Break.

These pictures show what was acceptable in the ’80s at Spring Break. But then, for that holiday, pretty much anything is acceptable.

You need to go back 50 more years, to the 1930s, in order to locate the origins of these bacchanalian revelries. In 1934, Colgate University’s male swimming team took themselves to Fort Lauderdale in order to practice their moves. By the 1950s, around 20,000 students were to be found on the beaches and in the bars each year.

1983: A tricycle made for two at Daytona.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The sea-change (if you will) came in 1960 with the publication of Glendon Swarthout’s novel, Where the Boys Are. The plot was as more complex and nuanced than you might imagine, and was made into a film the same year. Student numbers at Fort Lauderdale’s Spring Break immediately leapt to 50,000. 

1983: Facing the sun.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Which was nothing compared to the 250,000 to 350,000 who were ammassing at Fort Lauderdale by the time these pictures were taken. Such was the devastation that the local Florida government enacted new laws to restrict the level of partying. 

1983: Sharing beers.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Meanwhile, other beach locations like Daytona had been playing host to students looking for a quiet reprieve from the rigors of study. 

1982: Cruising the streets of Fort Lauderdale
Kevin Fleming/Corbis/Getty Images

By the close of the ’80s, only 20,000 Spring Breakers were to be found in Fort Lauderdale.

1982: Shield your eyes.
Kevin Fleming/Corbis/Getty Images
1987: Rev. Fred Tondalo (L) passes out condoms along the highway A1A strip
Getty Images
1986: On the trunk at Daytona.
Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images
1987: On the couch on the beach.
Shelly Katz/LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
1988: Getting the beers in, Key West
Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
see more from