1980s in fashion

1980s in fashion

Like the fashion of all modern decades, 1980s fashion in popular culture incorporated distinct trends from different eras. This helped form a cultivating movement of style. . The most conservative, more masculine fashion look that was most indicative of the 1980s was the wide use of shoulder pads. While in the 1970s the silhouette of fashion tended to be characterized by close fitting clothes on top with wider, looser clothes on the bottom, this trend completely reversed itself in the early 1980s as both men and women began to wear looser shirts and tight, close-fitting pants. Men wore power suits as a result of the greater tendency for people to display their wealth. Brand names became increasingly important in this decade, making Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein household names. In the United States, Madonna was titled the "Material Girl" and many teenage girls looked to her for fashion statements. The popular movie "Flashdance" (1983) made ripped sweatshirts well-known in the general public. The television shows "Dallas" and "Dynasty" also had a similar impact.

1980s in Fashion

New Romantic

The New Romantic was a New Wave and fashion movement that occurred primarily in British nightclubs. New romanticism emerged in the UK music scene in the early 80s as a direct backlash against the austerity of the punk movement. Where punk railed against life in Britain's council estates, the New Romantics celebrated glamour and partied regularly at local nightclubs. The make-up was streaky and bold. The notoriously outlandish designer/club host Leigh Bowery, known for his exuberant designs, became a muse for artists such as Boy George and had grown a huge status in the early 1980s underground club scene. The early designer of the romantic look was Vivienne Westwood who designed clothing specifically for bands, such as Adam & the Ants and later developed the "pirate look." The pirate look featured frilled "buccaneer" shirts often made of expensive fabrics. 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 with the top one or two buttons unfastened. Except in the most conservative communities this became standard casual wear for both men and women. With the exception of business suits, to wear one's collar folded appeared awkward or stuffy. Leggings were also very popular.

Valley Girl

Headbands became fashionable in 1982. The trend started in California and spread across the nation. Other associated trends were leg warmers and miniskirts, especially the ra-ra skirts, modelled 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 1982. Miniskirts returned for the first time since the early 1970s. These styles became associated with the Valley Girl trend that was popular at the time, based on a popular song by Frank Zappa and Moon Unit Zappa. The other fads soon spent themselves, but miniskirts remained in style and became an option for women's business suits throughout the 'eighties and early 1990s with dolly shoes. Frequently, these mini skirts were worn with leggings. These styles are shown in today's fashion with stores such as American Apparel, whos main look is solid colors and simple patterns and the same shapes and silhouettes of the 80s.

In Britain, leg warmers were often worn with tight jeans, long jumpers or sweaters, and high-heeled court shoes.

Power Dressing

Shoulder pads, popularized perhaps by Linda Evans from the soap opera "Dynasty", remained popular throughout the 1980s and even the first three years of the 1990s. The reason behind the sudden popularity of shoulderpads 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 shoulderpads could be attached.

The "Dynasty" television show, watched by over 250 million viewers around the world in the 1980s, influenced the fashion styles in mainstream America. 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.

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 'eighties and lapels on suits became very narrow (similar to 1950s styles). 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 Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley, 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 streetwear. The 1983 film "Flashdance" popularized ripped sweatshirts for women that exposed one bare shoulder. Leotards were also worn during this period and became colourful.

Other dancewear inspirations included Olivia Newton John's Physical video and Jane Fonda's line of aerobic videos.

The Miami Vice look

The 1980s saw an explosion of colourful styles in men's clothing. The growing popularity of the Miami Vice television series saw men wearing casual t-shirts underneath expensive suit jackets - often in bright or pastel colours. The t-shirt with designer jacket look was often accompanied by the "designer stubble" look that was popularized by Don Johnson in the TV series Miami Vice along with a propensity to wear shoes without socks.

One popular look for men in the late 1980s was Hawaiian shirts. Often they would be complemented with sport coats with stitched looks. They were often gray and white, and were worn for both casual and business settings. When worn in the business setting, they were often worn without a tie.

The Thriller look

The "Thriller look" was inspired by Michael Jackson's record breaking album "Thriller". 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", 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 or "shades" as they were known, to be worn at night.


In the 1980s, rising pop star Madonna proved to be very influential over female fashions. She first emerged on the dance music scene with her "street urchin" look - short skirts over leggings, 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 teenage girls emulated her fashion example that included brassieres worn as outerwear, huge crucifix jewellery, 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 colour. Another club fashion for women was lingerie as outerwear. Prior to the mid-1980s it had been taboo to show a slip or a visible 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.

Rap Music and Designer Sneakers

Converse shoes were popular in the first half of the 1980s. Air Jordan (named for basketball player Michael 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 National Basketball Association 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 DMC song "My Adidas". Nike had a similar share of the market coming out with Air Max and similar type shoes. High-tops, especially of white or black leather, became popular.

Ensembles featuring the colors of Africa (green, yellow and red) became wildly popular among African Americans, mainly named kente cloth. In the urban hip-hop communities, sneakers were usually worn unlaced & a large amount of gold jewelry as well as headwraps donned the young of the eighties.

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. Although gay men have often been thought of as trendsetters in the fashion world, elements of gay fashion exploded into the mainstream in the 1980s. The outdoor look, such as the wearing of huge hiking boots, jeans and flannel shirts in the city caught on, drag styles for men and butch styles for women spread into straight society. Tattooing and piercing began to enter the mainstream.

Preppy Dressing

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. 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.


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. Hairpsrays such as AquaNet were also used in excess such as hard rock band Poison. 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 (but not always) 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.

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. Shoulder length earrings often contrasted with hair that was chin length or shorter.

Crimped hair, and contrasting colour streaks were the trends in the 80's popularised by many teens. Many young women dyed their hair a rich burgundy red or plum in the last half of the decade.


Earrings became a mainstream fashion for male teenagers.

Jelly or thin metal bracelets (also known as bangles) were very popular in the 80's, and would be worn in mass quantities on one's wrist.

Designer jewellery, such as diamonds and pearls were popular among many women, not only for beauty, but as symbols of wealth and power.

Designer Underwear

Underwear became a more important fashion accessory for both men and women. Women's looks tended to be in a wide array of pastel colors, with lacy trimmings. Camisoles with built in bras became popular for women, especially visible in the neckline of jackets worn for work. Men became more fashion conscious as well. Underwear was also colorful for men, and boxer shorts were "tapered," or styled after the side-vent running shorts, with a trimmer cut.

Both sexes were wearing stylish undies such as those modeled by celebrities and on television. Women began to favor polyester satin fabrics for lingerie, and the Jocks company, long known for its men's line, began manufacturing lace-trimmed, French-cut styles of g-bangers aimed at more conservative men. The teddy, or all-in-one camisole and tap pants, was often worn on television, by stars such as Cybill Shepherd in "Moonlighting", and was very popular as a more modest garment that nearly eliminated the need for a slip. Bright jewel tones to match the silk charmeuse and satin blouses shown on Dallas and Dynasty were the rage. With baseball star Jim Palmer the new Jockey pitchman, focus on skimpy bikinis and bold prints worn by the athlete in print ads became popular. Fashion underwear was influenced by Michael J. Fox's lilac Calvin Klein briefs in "Back to the Future", and Oakland Raiders star Howie Long in colorful Hanes bikini and colored brief ads. Colored, patterned, and figured men's bikinis or low-rise briefs, for the trim pant silhouettes, were available and widely popular with men of all ages.


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. Teen culture preferred vibrant plastic Swatch watches. These first appeared in Europe and reached North America by the middle of the decade. Young people would often wear two or three of these watches on the same arm.


In the early-to-mid 1980s, glasses with large, plastic frames were in fashion for both men and women. Small metal framed eyeglasses made a return to fashion in 1984 and 1985, and in the late 1980s, glasses with tortoise-shell coloring became popular. These were smaller and rounder than the type that was popular earlier in the decade.

Throughout the 1980s, Ray-Ban Wayfarer were extremely popular, as worn by Tom Cruise in the 1983 movie Risky Business.

Sales of Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses jumped 40%, following the release of the 1986 film "Top Gun",Fact|date=June 2007 where they were worn prominently by Maverick, played by Tom Cruise and Iceman, played by Val Kilmer.

"Miami Vice", in particular Sonny Crockett played by Don Johnson, boosted Ray Ban's popularity by wearing a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer (Model L2052, Mock Tortoise),cite news |url=http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2006-07-24-miami-vice-south_x.htm |title=South Beach and 'Miami Vice,' past and present |publisher=www.usatoday.com |date=2006-09-29 |accessdate=2007-11-25 |work=USA Today] which increased sales of Ray Ban's to 720,000 units in 1984.cite news |url=http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1987/09/28/69577/index.htm |title=A Tale of Mice and Lens |last=Leinster |first=Colin |date=1987-09-28 |accessdate=2007-11-25 |publisher=money.cnn.com |work=Fortune Magazine]

United Kingdom

*London night clubs started to change their format from Friday and Saturday nights as being the only important music nights. The club 'Gossips' in Soho began to do David Bowie nights on Tuesdays and then more one night specials for niche tastes. That set the scene for special one night club evenings throughout London. Narrow tastes could be catered for.
*The former punk posers had taken to glamor and romance in clothing and the club venues offered them a chance to show off that glamor at dedicated evenings. Theatrical ensembles were worn to selected clubs in London such as Blitz and St. Moritz. These were the recognized venues where the romantic movement started.
*The early designers of the romantic look were Vivienne Westwood, Colin Swift, Stevie Stewart and David Holah. Westwood began her romantic ideas with adaptations of dandified Regency designs which later she developed into a Pirate look. She designed especially for Adam and The Ants.
*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.
*Dresses in slinky satins and foulard silks or polyesters were often batwing or with set in sleeves. Both styles had shoulder pads and frequently swathes of fabric were gathered and ruched onto hip bands, with falling silk, crepe de chine or chiffon asymmetric draped swirling skirts.
*Lace was popular for evening, especially cream lace bound with cream satin collars. Lace collars made an appearance after being worn by the Princess of Wales. Mohair sweaters were over-sized, but covered with lavish beading and satin appliqué they could be worn for evening too. Highly styled intarsia knit jumpers became fashionable.
*Glamorous occasion wear was a reaction and an alternative to the dressing down that was emerging from the wearing of sport and fitness wear as casual wear, due to the fitness craze inspired by Flashdance and Olivia Newton-John's popular single Let's Get Physical.
*The shell suit became a commonly-worn item, especially in the UK.
*In the UK as well as most of Europe, Italy in particular, black was the preferred colour for teenage girls and young women.



*John Peacock, "The 1980s", ISBN 0-500-28076-2 (October 1, 1998)
*Tom Tierney, "Great Fashion Designs of the Eighties", ISBN 0-486-40074-3 (Mar 18, 1998)
*Catherine McDermott, "Made in Britain: Tradition and Style in Contemporary British Fashion", ISBN 1-84000-545-9 (May 9, 2002)
*Christopher Breward, "Fashion", ISBN 0-19-284030-4 (Jun 1, 2003)

External links

* [http://www.thefashionpolice.net/80s-fashion-a-guide-.html A guide to 80s Fashion]
* [http://80sxchange.com/80s-fashion/80s-fashion.html 80s Fashion Information]
* [http://www.fashion-era.com/new_romantics1.htm New Romantics 1980s Fashion History]
* [http://www.nostalgiacentral.com/pop/fashion80.htm Nostalgia Central - Fashion in the 1980s]
* [http://www.trackies.co.uk/ Museum of 1980s sports and leisurewear]
* [http://www.80srewind.net/80s/80sfashion.htm Rewind back to 80s Fashion]
* [http://www.klubretro.com Classic 80s t-shirt fashion]
* [http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/collections/online/Results.cfm?ParentID=378550 Children's clothing from the 1980s]
* [http://www.liketotally80s.com 80s fashion: hair, clothes, makeup]

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