Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fashion Era: The 1980s

While my late teens and early twenties were all about disco suits and platform shoes, my style really came into its own in the 1980s.  Let’s take a look back at some of those trends that we loved then and love to make fun of now.

In the 1970s, fashion silhouettes tended to be characterized by close fitting tops with wider,  looser clothes on the bottom, in the 1980s this trend completely reversed itself as both men and women began to wear looser shirts and tops with tight, close-fitting pants. Men began wearing power suits and the trend for people to display their wealth began. The brand name became increasingly important, making household names of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

New Romance

The New Romantic trend was a New Wave fashion movement that occurred primarily in British and Irish nightclubs. Most of the fashions of this new period were taken and modified right from punk fashion, the black streaky eyeliner, spiked hair, etc. that was worn by most early 80s synth New Romantic groups. New romanticism emerged in the UK music scene as a direct backlash against the punk movement. Where punk railed against upper middle class life, the New Romantics celebrated glamour. Make-up was streaky and bold.  An early designer of the romantic look was Vivienne Westwood who designed clothing specifically for bands, such as Adam and the Ants and later developed the "pirate look." The pirate look featured full-sleeved, frilled "buccaneer" shirts often made of expensive fabrics. Hussar-style jackets with gold-braiding were worn with the shirts as well as high-waisted, baggy trousers which tapered at the ankle. One element of this trend that went mainstream and remained popular for most of the decade were short shirt collars worn unfolded against the neck (popped collars) with the top one or two buttons unfastened.. The short, tight Lycra mini skirt became a popular fashion item for young women in the second half of the 1980s and leggings were also very popular.  Occasion wear included a return of cocktail dresses and evening suits with flared basque jackets, or Chanel line brocade jackets and just above knee short straight skirts, paired with heels.  The early designers of the new romantic look were Vivienne Westwood, Colin Swift, Stevie Stewart and David Holah. 
The Valley Girl
This trend started in California and spread across the United States. Other associated trends were leg warmers and miniskirts, especially the ra-ra skirts, modeled after the short, flared skirts worn by American cheerleaders. Leg warmers, which had long been staple gear for professional dancers during rehearsals, became a teen trend in 1981; their popularity, and that of sweatshirts with their collars cut open, exploded following the 1983 release of Flashdance. Miniskirts returned for the first time since the early 1970s. These styles became associated with the Valley Girl trend, based on a Valley Girl the movie in 1983 and popular song by Moon Unit Zappa. The mid eighties 84-87 saw more designer jeans and the rise of leather in clothing, there was also a female trend for "Lace" accessories. Headbands became fashionable in 1981.  As the decade closed miniskirts remained in style and became an option for women's business suits throughout the 1980s and early 1990s with dolly shoes. Frequently, these miniskirts were worn with leggings. 

Power dressing

The Dynasty television show influenced the fashion styles in mainstream America and most of the western world. The show, targeted towards females, influenced women to wear jewelry often to show one's economic status. Synthetic fabrics went out of style in the 1980s. Wool, cotton, and silk returned to popularity for their perceived quality.
Shoulder pads, popularized by Joan Collins and Linda Evans from  Dynasty, remained popular throughout the 1980s and even the first three years of the 1990s. The reason behind the sudden popularity of shoulder pads for women in the 1980s may be that women in the workplace were no longer unusual, and wanted to "power dress" to show that they were the equals of men at the office. Many women's outfits had Velcro on the inside of the shoulder where various sized shoulder pads could be attached.
Men's business attire saw a return of pinstripes for the first time since the 1970s. The new pinstripes were narrower and subtler than 1930s and 1940s suits but similar to the 1970s styles. Three-piece suits gradually went out of fashion in the early '80s and lapels on suits became very narrow. While vests in the 1970s had commonly been worn high with six or five buttons, those made in the early 1980s often had only four buttons and were made to be worn low. Neckties also became narrower in the 1980s and skinny versions appeared in leather. Button down collars made a return, both for business and casual wear.

Meanwhile women's fashion and business shoes returned to styles that had been popular in the 1950s and early 1960s with pointed toes and spiked heels. Some stores stocked canvas or satin covered fashion shoes in white and dyed them to the customer's preferred color. While the most popular shoes amongst young women were bright colored high heels, a trend started to emerge which saw 'Jellies'—colorful, transparent plastic flats—become popular. 

The top fashion models of the 1980s were Brooke Shields, Christie Brinkley, Kim Alexis, Carol Alt,  Kelly Emberg, Elle McPherson, and Paulina Porizkova.


The popularity of aerobics and dance-themed television shows and movies created a dancewear fashion sense—professional dancewear, such as leggings and leg warmers, were worn as street wear. The 1983 film Flashdance popularized among women ripped sweatshirts that exposed one bare shoulder. Leotards were also worn during this period and became colorful. Other dancewear inspirations included Olivia Newton John's Physical video and Jane Fonda's line of aerobic videos.

 The Miami Vice look

The 1980s brought an explosion of colorful styles in men's clothing.
Popularity of several television series’ leading men set fashion trends among young and middle-aged men.
The Miami Vice look featured casual t-shirts underneath expensive suit jackets—often in bright or pastel colors. The t-shirt-with-designer-jacket look was often accompanied by broad shoulders with padding, and a few days' growth of facial hair, dubbed "designer stubble" and remains popular today.

Another popular look for men, beginning in the early 1980s was the Hawaiian shirt, as worn by Tom Selleck from Magnum, P.I. With the popularity of that TV show, Hawaiian shirts sales soared, complemented with sport coats, often with top-stitched lapels, micro-suede and corduroy jackets became popular choices, especially those with a western style. Cowboy boots, in the early 1980s became highly popular In counterpoint to the bright shirt, jackets were often gray, tan, rust or white, donned casually and in sunny locales doubled even as business attire, in which case they could be seen worn with a tie.

Another  high popularity young men’s look that emerged in the early 1980s, and remained popular for what became middle-aged men through the early 1990s, was the  "Members Only", jacket, with a slim, auto-racer’s, mandarin-style, neck-strap-snap.

The Thriller look

The Thriller look was inspired by Michael Jackson. Teenagers would attempt to replicate the look of Jackson, which included matching red/black leather pants and jackets, one glove, sunglasses, and jheri curl. Leather jackets popularized by Michael Jackson and films like The Lost Boys were often studded and left undone to create a messier look. Oversized, slouch shouldered faded leather jackets with puffy sleeves from Europe caught on. Gloves, sometimes fingerless, would also accompany the jacket. Late in the decade plain brown aviator jackets made a comeback, styled after World War II fighter pilot jackets. Already popular aviators were joined by other forms of sunglasses. It was not unusual for sunglasses to be worn at night.

Enter Madonna

In the 1980s, rising pop star Madonna proved to be very influential to female fashions. She first emerged on the dance music scene with her "street urchin" look—short skirts over leggings, necklaces, rubber bracelets, fishnet gloves, hairbows, long layered strings of beads, bleached, untidy hair with dark roots, head bands, and lace ribbons. In her Like a Virgin phase, millions of young girls around the world emulated her fashion example that included brassieres worn as outerwear, huge crucifix jewelry, lace gloves, tulle skirts, and boytoy belts.
Gloves, sometimes lace and/or fingerless, were popularized by Madonna, as well as fishnet stockings and layers of beaded necklaces. Short, tight Lycra or leather mini-skirts and tubular dresses were also worn, as were cropped, bolero-style jackets. Black was the preferred color. Another club fashion for women was lingerie as outerwear. Prior to the mid-1980s it had been taboo to show a slip or a bra strap in public. A visible undergarment had been a sign of social ineptness. In the new fad's most extreme forms, young women would forego conventional outer-garments for vintage-style bustiers with lacy slips and several large crucifixes. This was both an assertion of sexual freedom and a conscious rejection of prevailing androgynous fashions.

Track suits and Doc Martens

In the 1980s, tracksuits became popular as leisure clothing and Jogpants would become a general trend in the decades to come.
Doc Martens shoes were worn by both sexes in the 1980s. They were an essential fashion accessory for the skinhead and punk subcultures in the United Kingdom. Sometimes Doc Martens were paired with mini skirts or full, Laura Ashley- style dresses. They were an important feature of the post-punk 1980s gothic look which featured long, back-combed hair, pale skin, dark eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick, black nail varnish, spiked bracelets and dog-collars, black clothing, often made of gabardine, leather or velvet trimmed in lace or fishnet material. Corsets were often worn by girls. British bands which inspired the gothic trend include The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Cult. This trend would resurge in the 1990s and 2000s.

Hair metal

By the late eighties, acid-washed jeans and denim jackets had become popular with both sexes. Acid washing is the process of chemically bleaching the denim, breaking down the fiber of material and forcing the dye to fade, thus leaving undertones of the original dye evidenced by pale white streaks or spots on the material. This became associated with the heavy metal trend (called "hair metal" in later decades for the large frizzy coiffures worn by both male and female enthusiasts).
Severely bleached and ripped jeans, either manufactured purposely or done by hand, become a popular fashion trend, being a main component of glam metal music acts such as Poison. Tattooing and piercing began to enter the mainstream.

Punk style

Throughout the 1980s, although especially apparent in the first half, the punk style was popular. Characterized by multi-colored mohawks, ripped skinny jeans, worn band t-shirts, and jean or leather jackets, it was practiced by people who listened to punk music such as The Sex Pistols. Usually the jean jackets were adorned by safety pins, buttons, patches, and several other pieces of music or cultural memorabilia. Often people of the punk style would take random bits of fabric and attach them with safety pins. 

Rap Music and designer sneakers

Converse shoes were popular in the first half of the 1980s. Air Jordan basketball shoes  made their debut in 1984. Athletic shoes had been worn as casual wear before, but for the first time they became a high-priced fashion item. The NBA banned these shoes from games when they first debuted, which increased their cachet. Soon other manufacturers introduced premium athletic shoes. Adidas sneakers took the decade by storm, popular amongst teenagers and young men; the Adidas sneaker was popularized by the Run-D.M.C. song My Adidas. Nike had a similar share of the market with Air Max and similar shoes. High-tops, especially of white or black leather, became popular.

The Preppies

Conservative teenagers, especially in the United States wore a style that came to be known as "preppy." Preppy fashions are associated with classic and conservative style of dressing and clothing brands such as Izod Lacoste, Brooks Brothers, Polo Ralph Lauren and clothing from The Gap. An example of preppy attire would be a button-down Oxford cloth shirt, cuffed khakis, and loafers. Also popular were argyle sweaters and vests. It was also considered "preppy" to wear a sweater tied loosely around the shoulders. In the 1980s, preppy fashions featured a lot of pastels and polo shirts with designer logos.

 Casual Wear

In the 1980s and continuing through the mid 1990s casual wear became a fashion trend. Leggings were a big part of this trend. They were usually worn with oversized sweaters and sweatshirts in the cooler months and with oversized tee shirts in the warmers months. It was also popular to wear slouch socks and sneakers with leggings. Plaid skirts with leggings were also worn with sneakers and slouch socks or with flats or Boat shoes as part of the preppy look. Also bike shorts were popular under baby doll dresses and short dresses with sneakers and no socks or sneakers with slouch socks.  Soccer shorts were popular to be worn by kids and teenagers in the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s shortalls, a version of overalls in which the legs of the garment resemble those of shorts, were popular.
Champion sweatshirts became popular for guys and girls to wear in the late 1980s through 1997. In colder weather the sweatshirts were worn over a colorful turtle-neck.  Leotards, body suits and body shirts also became popular in the late 1980s through to 1997 and 1998. They were worn as tops with jeans and skirts.  Opaque tights were very popular in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s and could be worn as part of casual wear or formal wear. A common outfit was to wear a skirt or baby doll dress or short dress with black opaque tights, white slouch socks and white sneakers. 


Sideburns of the 1970s saw a massive decline in fashion in 1980, big and eccentric hair styles were popularized by film and music stars in particular amongst teenagers. There was generally an excessive amount of mousse used in styling an individual's hair which resulted in a desired shiny look and greater volume, some mousse even contained glitter. In 1984, sideburns made a comeback but were slightly thinner and shorter, and better groomed than those of the 1970s, lasting until the end of 1986. These sideburns were usually used as an add-on to the Mullet haircut. The Mullet existed in several different styles, all characterized by hair short on the sides and long in the back. Mullets were popular in suburban and rural areas among working class men. This contrasted with a conservative look favored by business professionals, with neatly groomed short hair for men and sleekly straight hair for women. White collar men's haircuts were often shaved at the nape of the neck to create an artificially even hairline. Women's hairstyles became increasingly long in the latter part of the decade and blunt cuts dominated. Unlike 1970s blunt cuts, which were often longest at the spine, late 1980s long hair reached an equal length across the back. During the middle and late 1980s it was unfashionable to part either men's or women's hair.
Scrunchies and headbands in all different colors, styles and patterns were popular. Scrunchies were very popular in the side pony tail hair style. Bangs were another popular hair style during this time.
Frizzy hair was cemented as a common fashion style and was complemented by the attire of the times. "Banana" clips were another favorite. Young women wore wild earrings, often long or of peculiar design, and not always matching. A single earring was often worn. Shoulder length earrings often contrasted with hair that was chin length or shorter. Crimped hair, and contrasting color streaks were the trends in the 1980s popularized by teenagers. Many young women dyed their hair a rich burgundy or plum-red in the last half of the decade.


At the beginning of the decade, digital watches with metal bands were the dominant fashion. They remained popular but lost some of their status in later years. Newer digital watches with built-in calculators and primitive data organizers were strictly for gadget geeks. Adult professionals returned to dial watches by mid-decade. Leather straps returned as an option. By late in the decade some watch faces had returned to Roman numerals. In contrast, one ultramodern status symbol was the Movado museum watch. It featured a sleek design with a single large dot at twelve o'clock. The Tank watch by Cartier was a fashion icon that was revived and frequently seen on Cartier advertisements in print. Rolex watches were prominently seen on Miami Vice tv show. Teen culture preferred vibrant plastic Swatch watches. Young people would often wear two or three of these watches on the same arm.


  1. I love this article! It brings back so many memories...and of course, what the heck was I thinking wearing that?! And the Swatch watches? I still check out the new styles. Such fun!

  2. Like oooowww mi gawd! Did I just get my hair done pink today? And I'm wearing an oversized sweater and huge earrings. Oh no!!! :)

  3. I am agreeing with you Valerie; that this was very informative article and I love it also. It brings back so many memories for the past kinds of clothing and how good suits is it. This was the memories for the old fashion for a year passed by. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Michelle | wholesale rocawear

  4. Also love this article


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