When you think of ’80s fashion, you probably think big, bright and bold. There was no one-size-fits-all when it came to style, although most of the clothing seems to have been one size: large. You could be preppy, yuppie, punk, hip-hop – possibly all within one outfit.
Let’s explore some of the trends that made the ’80s the ’80s.
Although the phrase “power suit” conjures images of douche-bros with slicked back hair (oh who are we kidding, we totally have a crush on Gordon Gekko), the power suit was also the uniform of the ’80s working woman, from Diane Keaton to Melanie Griffith (and of course actual non-fictional people).
Made popular by designer Giorgio Armani, the power suit – for both men and women – featured broad shoulders and wide lapels. For men, a crisp shirt with banker stripes, suspenders and a classic silk tie completed the look. Think Gekko of course, but also Judd Nelson in St. Elmo’s Fire or Richard Gere in American Gigolo.
Women’s power suits were apparently aimed making women as sexless as possible, with giant shoulder pads and below-the-knee skirts. Add a high-necked blouse and “pussy bow” and you’re totally ready to pass yourself off as an executive and steal Harrison Ford.
“Athleisure” was a buzzword in 2016, but this trend began in the early ’80s. Track suits, made from polyester and rayon as well as velour made their way off the fields and into the mainstream.
The aerobics craze, coupled with the popularity of movies like Fame and Flashdance, made legwarmers a thing, and these colorful tubes – ideally the same color as your Forenza sweater – could be found on young women from Boston to the Bay Area.
Lisa Birnbach’s 1980 book The Preppy Handbook was intended to skewer the upper middle class, but instead ended up inspiring a trend.
Preppy fashion took its cues from New England prep-schools – think khakis, oxford shirts and sport coats (or blazers for women). Leisure wear included brightly colored pants with little designs and polo shirts. A popped collar was de rigueur.
Add some pearl earrings and a little alligator (or polo player) on your breast and you’re all ready to party at Dorrian’s Red Hand.
Clothing was conservatively tailored, but came in bright colors, like pink and Kelly green. Tying a sweater around your neck was not unheard of, and if you happened to be wearing a sweater around your neck while appearing in a high school movie of the period, chances are, you’re the bad guy.
Punk traces its beginnings to England in the ’70s, where it was seen as “an intentional rebuttal of the perceived excess and pretension found in mainstream music.” Shorter, unkempt hair and dirty, torn t-shirts paired with jeans and a leather jacket replaced the slick, flashy styles of the disco era.
By the ’80s, Punk music had evolved in both the U.S. and UK and so did its fashion. T-shirts with political slogans and customized leather jackets or denim vests became popular.
Hair was spiked, sculpted into a mohawk or cut really short.
Body piercings and tattoos were in and the Doc Marten or combat boot adorned most punk feet.
Designers like Vivienne Westwood, Anna Sui and Jean-Paul Gaultier began to introduce punk elements into their lines, which brought many of the styles into the mainstream.
Hip-hop originated among African-American and Latin youth in NYC, L.A., Chicago and other inner cities, each of which contributed its own elements.
In the late ’70s, sportswear brands such as Le Coq Sportif, Kangol, Adidas and Pro-Keds attached themselves to the emerging hip hop scene. Its adherents wore brightly colored track suits, leather bomber jackets and brand name sneakers, such as Pro-Keds, Puma, Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-stars, and Adidas Superstars.
Heavy gold jewelry – chains for men and big earrings for women – became hallmarks of hip-hop fashion. Other popular accessories included bucket hats, nameplates and multiple rings. Luxury brand names like Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Gucci and logos adorned custom-designed tracksuits, jackets and mink coats, made popular in the early ’80s by Dapper Dan, a Harlem-based designer.
Toward the end of the decade, styles began to incorporate traditional African influences, such as the fez, Kente cloth (a textile) hats and kufis (another type of hat). Blousey pants were famously worn by artists like MC Hammer.
And that wraps up our partial overview of the ’80s fashion scene. We hope you enjoyed it. If you want to learn more, check out the sites below.
And just for fun, here are some pics of Les Femmes in all their gnarly ’80s glory.
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