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80s Fashion – What Did People Wear to Feel Stylish?

80s Fashion – What Did People Wear to Feel Stylish?


16 minute read

When it comes to freedom of style and glam, there is one period that we often go to – and that’s the 80s. Those were the years when you could freely express yourself through clothing, and hair. The 90s only followed in their footsteps, but what set everything in motion was indeed the 80s fashion.

 

They say that fashion always comes back – and lately, we have been seeing a lot of themes dating to the 80s. People want to be flashy and stylish again, to make a statement, and once more they are looking back to those glorious years. However, in order to dress like in the 80s, you need to properly understand that period.

 

80s Fashion - Leopard Print Jumpsuit - Frances Henaghan, Vogue US, 1986. Photography by Nancy Ney

 

The model wears a leopard print jumpsuit, Vogue US, October 1986.

Model: Frances Henaghan, Photography by Nancy Ney

 

80s Fashion Comeback - Bhumika Arora Looks 80’s Glam in Grazia UK Editorial

 

‘80s Fashion Revival: Bhumika Arora Looks 80’s Glam in Grazia UK Editorial

  

 

What Is the 80s Fashion Style?

 

The main thing about the 80s style is that it didn’t have a pattern in particular, aside from the fact that it was quite flashy. Fashion history regards it as a time with the best fashion – a time when people could explore and combine good style in their own way.

 

As a result, in the 80s, you would have people clad in fancy pads and big shoulders, people with graphic tees and ripped jeans, with or without a fancy style. Often, those who wore the big shoulder pads and the trendy clothing would have a simple combed hairstyle, whereas those in ripped jeans would go for a crazier one.

 

80s Black and White Graphic Dress With Big Shoulder Pads and Large White Square Collar

 

80s Black and White Graphic Dress With Big Shoulder Pads and Large White Square Collar,

Curly Hairstyle and Big Earrings

 

Usually, people in that period would choose the classic big hair look (the equivalent of today’s afro), including mullets, rocker, and punk rocker styles. As long as it was flashy enough to send a statement, people loved it.

 

 

What Was a Classic 80s Look?

 

Whenever you are thinking about the 80s, there are probably a million things that come into your head. You think about the big chains, tracksuits, bucket hats, and Adidas shoes. There were so many things going around at that time that it’s rather difficult to point out a style in particular.

 

80s Fashion Looks

 

80s Fashion Styles

  

All the 80s needed was an icon to give the crowd a nudge. For example, at some point, MC hammer came up with an entirely different look that forever changed the style for the hip hopcrowd. People were intrigued, and the idea started catching on.

 

This style in particular had skin-tight shirts and balloon-type pants. This was something you did not usually see on hip-hop artists. However, later on, every rapper would wear this kind of clothing.

 

 

POPULAR CLOTHING CHOICES OF THE 80s

 

We have an idea that “the flashier, the better” was what described the 80s – but what were some specific pieces that people used to wear then? What were they looking for in order to feel stylish and trendy? Well, here are just a few ideas on what men and women were often wearing at the time:

 

‘80s Power Suits

Power suits with padded shoulders were a must-have if you had a desk job in the 80s and still wanted to be fashionable while at the office. Featuring a knee-length skirt and a blazer that was cinched around the waist, the power suit was usually made from a glitzy fabric, a jewel in fabric form, and was often worn with a simple blouse.

 

 

80s Fashion André Laug 1985 Power Suit

 

André Laug Power Suit, 1985

 

 

80s Power Suit - A model wears a belted pleated power suit, Escada magazine, 1988

 

The model wears a belted pleated power suit,Escada magazine, 1988

 

 

80s colorful power suits for women

 

1980s Women’s Power Suits

 

 

80s power suits - Three models in colorful power suits while going for a casual walk down the street

 

Three models in colorful power suits while going for a casual walk down the street, 1986.

 

 

80s fashion - Ines de la Fressange is wearing a Chanel power suit, a lace shirt and a belt with chains, 1980s

 

Ines de la Fressange wears a Chanel power suit, a lace shirt, and a belt with chains.

 

 

 

80s fashion power suits

 

'80s power suits in a masculine style

 

 

 

‘80s Sweaters

 

 

 

 

80 sweaters metallic thread mohair

 

'80s glitter sweaters with metallic threads

 

 

80s sweaters graphic pattern

 

‘80s sweaters in geometric patterns

 

 

80s mohair fuzzy sweaters

 

‘80s Icelandic large sweaters

 

 

 

Fuzzy sweaters in pink, yellow, blue, and coral colors were popular in the ‘80s.

 

 

80s cardigans

 

‘80s long and oversize cardigans over tight jeans or leggings.

 

 

80s color block cardigans

 

Two models wear color block cardigans in different styles.

 

 

80s fashion - The model is wearing a long and oversized sweater over black sheer tights, Vogue US, 1986

 

A model wears a long and oversize sweater dress over black sheer tights, Vogue US, 1986

 

 

‘80s Shirts

 

 

80s shirts victorian inspired lace blouses

 

'80s Victorian-style blouses with lace, ruffles, and eyelets.

 

 

80s shirts women fashion

 

Women would wear silk shirts and blouses both for work and everyday wear in the ‘80s.

 

 

 

80s geometric pattern silk blouses women fashion

 

In the ‘80s, blouses with bows or ties at the neck were popular.

 

 

80s geometric pattern silk blouses women fashion

 

'80s silk blouses in different colors and patterns.

 

 

80s shirts metallic purple gold women fashion

 

Left: Michel Comte for Vogue, May 1982. Purple lamé shirt by Giorgio Armani.

Right: Gold lamé shirt, Charles Ford for Vogue Patterns magazine, Dec 1986

 

 

‘80s Dresses

  • Lamé Dresses

No, not a lame dress; a lamédress. These dresses were far from lame, and they made any woman feel confident and dashing when she was wearing them. Whether you were an 80s teen going to prom or a middle-aged mom going to a party, you had to wear a lamé dress.

 

80s lame prom dress fashion

Lamé prom dresses

  

Usually in shiny, dazzling colors, with ruffles around the shoulders and occasionally a one-off shoulder, these dresses made your shoulders looked bigger (and your hips look smaller). Paired with lots of accessories, makeup, and a pair of dashing high-heeled pumps, these gowns were among the top choices for ladies going to formal events.

 

80s dress women fashion silver silk lame

 

The model wears a silver silk lamé dress with a thin black belt, black sheer tights, and black high heels.

  

‘80s Jeans

  • Distressed Jeans

Distressed jeans are also quite popular nowadays, particularly in punk rock, heavy metal, or other similar scenes – but throughout the 80s, almost everyone was wearing them. Rock bands such as Nirvana, or Sonic Youth brought distressed jeans in the mix, and if people were not buying designer distressed clothing, they were always making their own. Acid wash jeans were also a popular type of jeans from this category.

 

 

80s fashion madonna wears distressed jeans

Madonna wearing distressed jeans.

 

  • High-Waisted Jeans

Remember when some 10-15 years ago, high-waisted jeans were seen as “granny pants” and no one dared to wear them, preferring a low waist instead? Well, nowadays, high-waist jeans seem to be having a comeback, but the fact is that the 80s made them popular first.

 

 

80s fashion high waisted acid wash jeans women

 

1989, high waisted acid wash jeans

 

‘80sLeggings and Stirrup Pants

 

Just like sheer tights, leggings and stirrup pants were quite popular in the 80s. Olivia Newton-John was the one to kickstart this trend along with her apparition in Grease.Wearing skin-tight leggings made you look both comfortable and hot. So, these pieces of apparel replaced women’s fitted slacks and became available in all kinds of patterns.

 

80s fashion trend gold leggings women

 

‘80s huge fashion trend: Leggings

 

 

80s fashion trend stirrup pants women

 

‘80s fashion trend: Stirrup pants

 

‘80s Jackets / Outerwear

  • Bomber Jackets

After Top Gun was released in 1986, bomber jackets reached a high peak in fashion. They were popular even before that, after quite a useful leftover from serving in the military. Whether they were made from leather or nylon, bomber jackets turned into a classic fashion staple.

80s fashion - Kelly-McGillis wears a leather bomber jacket in Top Gun by Tony Scott, 1986

 

Kelly-McGillis wears a leather bomber jacket in Top Gun by Tony Scott, 1986

Photo: allposters.com

 

  • Denim Jackets

Denim jackets began rising to popularity in the 70s, but it was in the 80s that they reached their peak. In the 80s, the most popular kind was the short-waisted jacket model. Worn with a pair of tight jeans and with a ruffled blouse or a T-shirt, this look became a classic in the 80s. People preferred stone-washed denim over the classic kind, as it gave a more “rugged” look.

 

80s fashion denim jacket women

 

Acid-wash denim jacket with animal print.

 

‘80s Shoes

  • ‘80s Jelly Shoes

They may seem odd to people now, but jelly shoes were quite popular in the 80. They were very comfortable to wear, and with a little bit of vision and imagination, they could be turned into something quite pretty. Despite the fact that they were often cheap, they made a good part of the 80s fashion trends, to the point that even Jean-Paul Gaultier had these types of shoes in their range.

 

80s jelly shoes

 

Colorful jelly wedge shoes and jelly sandals.

‘80s Sneakers

·     Reeboks

You couldn’t call yourself an “80s kid” if you didn’t have a pair of Reeboks around – or at least a pair of shoes that looked like Reebok. Classic Reeboks were not only very comfortable, but they also doubled as fashion statements. And the chances are that in every 80s picture, 2 out of 3 people would be wearing Reebok shoes.

 

Reebok Hightops 80s sneakers

 

'80s Reebok Hightops.

 

  • Vans and Converse Shoes

Vans and Converse shoes came back just a couple of years ago, but in the 80s, the trend was soaring. Skateboarding was everyone’s favorite sport, and you could not show off your skills without sporting a stylish pair of slip-on Vans. Kids started to wear them because they wanted to be like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and very soon after that, adults started wearing them as well.

 

80s sneakers converse vintage ad

 

Converse All Star ad, 1980s

 

 

80s sneakers vans skateboard shoes vintage ad

 

Vans ad, 1980s

 

  • Bally Sneakers

The hip-hop scene in the 80s also led to the popularity of bally sneakers. Groups such as Salt N Pepa often wore them, and a lot of other rappers from the 80s such as Rakim and Slick Rick seemed to be wearing these types of sneakers themselves. Very often, these shoes would be paired with baggy, colorful clothes.

 

80s Bally sneakers

 

Bally sneakers

 

‘80s Accessories

  • Sheer Tights

We know, sheer tights are worn today as well, but not really as often anymore. Now, many ladies are going commando when it comes to their legs, preferring a nice shave and a fresh look – one that is not hidden by sheer tights. In the 80s, however, sheer tights were all the rage. Worn with short skirts, they showed quite a bit of leg, making the ladies feel tall and confident.

 

80s Fashion Louis Dell’Olio wears black sheer tights with a mini skirt for Anne Klein, American Vogue, September 1985

 

Louis Dell’Olio wears black sheer tights with a mini skirt for Anne Klein, American Vogue, September 1985.

Photograph by Arthur Elgort

 

 

  • Leg Warmers

Leg warmers were pretty much everywhere in the 80s. Stating as an addition to outfits in fitness shows, leg warmers began being added to any outfit. It didn’t matter if the woman was wearing shorts, leggings, or skinny jeans; the leg warmers were just as fashionable as they were comfortable. Along with the other accessories, leg warmers always turned out to be a great finishing touch.

 

80s fashion trends knitted leg warmers

 

Knitted leg warmers

  

·     Ray-Ban Sunglasses

80s people were also crazy over Ray-Ban sunglasses, something that spurred them even more into the fashion trend when stars such as Madonna and Tom Cruise started to wear them. They were big, hot, and able to make a statement. What attracted the masses to the brand was the fact that they could be found in a variety of colors, all of which were able to help you stand out from a crowd.

 

Ray ban wayfarer sunglasses 80s fashion vintage ad

 

Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses ad in the 1980s

 

Ever since Tom Cruise showed up in Top Gun with a pair of aviator sunglasses, the crowd loved it – and all of them wanted to sport the same look as he did. Before that, in Risky Business, he wore what we know today as the classic Ray-Ban glasses, making them extremely popular.

 

Tom Cruise sporting aviator sunglasses by Ray Ban in Top Gun (1986) 80s fashion

 

Tom Cruise sporting aviator sunglasses by Ray-Ban in Top Gun (1986)

 

At that time, Ray-Ban had the type of aviator and wayfarer glasses that everyone was looking for – and obviously, the trend sparked. Plus, as per the 80s fashion trends,sunglasses had to be brightly colored, unlike today’s glasses that are usually in black or dark colors.

 

‘80s Bags

80s fashion trends colorful fanny packs waist bags bumbags

 

'80s fanny packs.

 

‘80s Jewelry

Click here to find out everything you need to know about 80s jewelry 

 

 

‘80s Hairstyles

 

80s hairstyles 80s short hair fashion trends women

 

80s short hairstyles

 

 

80s hairstyles 80s curly hair fashion trends women

 

80s long hairstyles

 

 

‘80s Makeup

 

80s makeup fashion trends women

 

80s makeup trends

 

Fashion Icons of the ‘80s

In the 80s, fashion was inspired by the artists seen on TV. Music icons in particular were very daring when going on stage, trying to get into the spotlight – and obviously, every 80s kid wanted to be like them.

 

A lot of these icons were featured on MTV (a music TV channel that dates back to 1981). At that time, MTV and flashy celebrities were like a match made in heaven. Thanks to this music program, it became very easy to “spread the news” of the latest fashion, as many teenagers had their eyes glued to MTV.

 

Here are some icons that inspired the 80s fashion trend:

 

  1. Madonna

Madonna was, without any shadow of a doubt, the pop queen of the 80s. Not only did she heavily influence the music of the 80s, but she also had incredible energy and a physique that prompted many ladies to adopt her style in fashion. From leather jackets, lacy tutus, and wild hair “tamed” with scrunchies and velvet bows, she started a trend that many youngsters of those years would go crazy for.

 

80s Fashion Icons - Madonna 1980s

 

Madonna, 1980s

 

2.  Boy George

When it comes to icons of the 80s, Boy George is certainly someone that pops into your head. Leading pop music and culture, Boy George saw 80s fashion as a form of art. He lived on a philosophy that said “everything goes,” which made him a very daring icon. He and other American contemporary artists went on to prove that wearing make-up and dressing up should not only be limited to girls.

80s Fashion Icons - Boy George in the 1980s

 

Boy George, 1980s

 

3. Michael Jackson

If Madonna was considered to be the queen of pop back in the 80s, then Michael Jackson was undoubtedly the king. Not only were the people crazy about his music, but they loved his style as well. Wearing military-style accessories, power jackets, and crazy curls, he became a fashion influence whose style went down through the decades.

 

80s Fashion Icons - Michael Jackson performing on stage during his "Bad" World Tour at Wembley Stadium on the 15th of July 1988

 

Michael Jackson performing on stage during his "Bad" World Tour at Wembley Stadium on the 15th of July 1988

 

4.  LL Cool J

Hip hop and rap enthusiasts of the 80s significantly looked up to artists such as LL Cool J when it came to fashion. Fishnet shirts, lace-less high-top sneakers, big finger rings – even the boomboxes on the shoulders were inspired by this artist. Undeniably, he left a significant mark on the 80s fashion.

 

80s Fashion Icons -  LL Cool J kangol hats boombox

 

LL Cool J with a boombox on his shoulder.

 

5.  Princess Diana

Princess Diana may not have been a pop star or a music icon, but she shaped the 80s fashion nonetheless. Many of the fashion trends from the 80s, believe it or not, actually started with her – even though she professed that she had no interest in fashion.

 

Loved by the people ever since she began to publicly appear by the side of Prince Charles, people always took note of the way she dressed. They loved the padded shoulders, the patterned blouses made from silk, the pearl earrings – even the winged hairdo that became known as the ‘Diana.’ She was also the one that sparked several strange design trends, such as wearing more than one watch at the same time.

 

80s Fashion Icons - Princess Diana wearing polka dot dress red hat 1980s

 

Princess Diana wearing a polka dot dress with a red hat.

 

 

6.  Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda was one of the first actresses to ever start doing workout videos. Already quite famous because she appeared in Barbarella, she became a fashion icon for the fact that she introduced leotards and leg warmers in the 80s scene. It was also because of her that sports clothing became popular even on the catwalk, not just at the gym. 

 

80s Fashion Icons - Jane-Fonda-1980s-fashion-1

 

Jane Fonda in the 1980s

 

7.  Tom Cruise

Many of the choices in fashion in the 1980s were inspired by Tom Cruise. His 80s style was considered flawless, and he always liked to keep things calm, cool, and collected. His usual style included T-shirts, straight-cut jeans, leather jackets, and an odd print injection (but still done with elegance). Plus, he also started the trend with wayfarer and aviator glasses that shook the 80s so hard.

 

80s Fashion Icons -  Tom Cruise wears a bold red shirt 1980s

 

Tom Cruise in a bold red shirt.

 

 

The Bottom Line

 

Today’s fashion is slightly more muted, with people going on a “less is more” mantra. In the 80s, however, it was quite the opposite. Wearing bright colors and daring designs, people in the 80s felt that if they wanted to choose life,they had to dress the part as well. This is why you did not see too many neutral colors, especially when it came to streetwear – everyone wanted to be a part of the colorful life ahead of them.

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