CEDAR RAPIDS — Remember the fight you had with your parents about wearing “That outfit” to grandma’s birthday dinner?
Chances are, your parents had the same argument with their folks — not that they’d admit it.
“It doesn’t matter which generation you grew up in,” says Melanie Alexander, executive director of The Carl & Mary Koehler History Center. “Your parents don’t understand you and you don’t understand your parents.”
The history center will explore the generation gap, as well as the fun, fashion and angst of teens, in its new exhibit: “Parents Just Don’t Understand: Coming of Age in the 20th Century.”
The exhibit features clothing, technology, slang, and fads from each decade of the 20th Century. Visitors can test their knowledge against the pop culture timeline and discover — or “revisit” — the teen hangouts of Linn County and Cedar Rapids.
“Parents Just Don’t Understand: Coming of Age in the 20th Century” opens Thursday, Aug. 23.
“This is an exhibit I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Alexander says. “It’s interesting to see that no matter how many changes we’ve experienced, there’s always been this push/pull action between teens and adult authority figures.”
Research for the exhibit started in December of 2011, with staff members throwing themselves into the trends and fads of each decade. The project brought back memories for nearly everyone at the museum — except Director of Education Caitlin Treece.
“I started high school in 1999, so I’m not actually in the exhibit,” Treece says with a laugh.
Not that she didn’t enjoy getting a glimpse at the clothes her colleagues wore, the music they listened to and the hairstyles they had.
“That was actually pretty fun for me,” she says. “I collected photos of staff members and board members as teens for the exhibit. I had to get pretty pushy with some people.”
“No one wanted to part with those embarrassing photos,” Alexander adds.
Panels with the slang, national trends and local hangouts for every decade are one part of the exhibit. These panels also include a timeline along the bottom that identify pop culture trends of that decade, such as leisure suits and pet rocks.
“I owned a pet rock,” says Lisa McKirgan, the museum’s director of communications. “Let’s not make fun of my pet rock.”
There are also topical panels that focus on dating, teenage brain development and milestones, including the first car, first date and Prom.
“The trends were easier to define in the earlier decades,” Alexander says. “After the 1960s, there was so much. It was hard to pin down a few things that defined the decade.”
For example, the 1990s were a mix of grunge and Goth fashions, but it also was the decade that introduced the world to Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
“Parents Just Don’t Understand: Coming of Age in the 20th Century” will remain at the museum through May 11, 2013. Yearbooks and newspaper clippings have a large role in the exhibit, meaning those who attended a Cedar Rapids high school in the 20th Century could find their images in the exhibit.
“People should come and try to find themselves,” Treece says.
“I really hope people come to see it in groups and share their experience with each other,” Alexander adds. “There will be some teasing, but also some reminiscing.”