They were a totally cute 80s fashion, but they made your feet sweaty and smelly. The plastic broke easily, and that meant you were always begging your mom to take you to the store to get a new pair. Yeah, they came in lots of colors and a few different styles. But out of all the trendy 80s shoes, we hated wearing jelly shoes the most — even if we did go through a gazillion pairs of them.
Stinky Plastic 80s Fashion
Why would anyone want to stick their bare feet into plastic shoes? Okay, so some people may have worn them with socks, which was, like, fashionably questionable (at best), but what did we think was so stylish about stinky feet? And believe me, no 80s fashion smelled worse (except maybe Aqua Net hairspray). I remember sitting around the house, wondering what’s that foul odor? — only to discover it was coming from my own jelly shoes! It was totally disgusting!
But 80s Shoes Had to Be Cute
But they were soooo cute! And when it comes to fashion, it’s all about aesthetics. They make your feet smell? So what? They look awesome! Women have been wearing uncomfortable shoes for decades… centuries even, and 80s shoes were no different.
All of my jelly shoes were made mostly out of soft plastic, but the back piece was hard and it used to give me blisters — blisters that hurt! The plastic along the sides of the shoes was always breaking. Did I mention they were cheap? You could get a pair for under five dollars, which was a good thing since I always had to replace mine.
But on the playground, jelly shoes totally ruled. I remember all too well how much all the girls thought jelly shoes were the greatest 80s fashion ever. We flaunted them, and for about a season, we gave them top honor among all our other 80s shoes. But alas, the love we had for our jelly shoes did not last (thank goodness).
Rest in Peace, Jelly Shoes
I’m sure all my old jelly shoes are in a landfill somewhere, stubbornly NOT decomposing. This is one 80s fashion that I’m glad has been laid to rest and one pair of 80s shoes that I hope never comes back into style.
Good riddance jelly shoes!
80s hair had to be grandiose. Heck, what wasn’t big in the 80s? We doused our locks with Aqua-Net until our hair was thick and sticky. But at least our hairstyle was securely fixed. No wind could knock down that 80s hair!
But we didn’t always have time to tease our hair. Some styles took hours to master and involved wrangling with styling mousse, gel, a hairdryer, a curling iron, a crimping iron, and that unwieldy can of Aqua-Net.
When you had to run out the door, a ponytail was your only option. But it was the 80s, so if you couldn’t find your banana clip, you probably went with a side ponytail.
Quirky 80s Fashion
In the 80s, we just had to be different. We had to be bold. Everything was an overstatement. Our 80s fashion was no exception and neither was our 80s hair.
Hairstyles come and go, and in the 80s, styles came and went pretty quickly. The most popular 80s fashion, the one you totally HAD to have, was one you wouldn’t be caught dead in six months later.
It was like – one day you had to have pair of jelly shoes to be cool. Anyone who was anyone had a pair (or twenty pairs) of jelly shoes. But just a few months later, anyone caught wearing a pair of jelly shoes would be ostracised. Lame, I know, but all 80s fashion was like that, especially 80s hair.
80s hair styles went in and out. You changed your hair about as often as you changed your underwear, so like, every day basically.
One day it was feathered, the next day it was teased up to the sky. A week later, you slicked it back, and a month after that you pulled it up into a ponytail.
If it was the 80s, maybe you secured your ponytail with a scrunchy or a banana clip. More likely, you swept it up into a side ponytail.
The Side Ponytail
Ponytails have always been popular. They’re fast and easy. They get annoying strands of hair out of your face and neatly pulled back where they’re, like, out of your way.
Anyone with hair past the chin can appreciate a simple ponytial. But you had to be a child of the 80s to appreciate the side ponytail.
80s hair came in many different styles and colors. The side ponytail could be teased up into a puff of curls, or it could hang loose. You could secure it with an old-fashioned rubber band, a scrunchy, or even a banana clip (more on those later).
It was all a part of 80s fashion – the shoes, the clothes, the accessories, and the hair. The side ponytail was a fast fix that kept your style current (trendy) and marked you as an 80s fashion pro.
80s hair and 80s fashion went through many fads and phases throughout the decade. The side ponytail was just one popular hairstyle. But there were many others. And we’ll totally be talking about those in future articles.
As a kid growing up in the 80s, I wore my leg warmers out.
Leg warmers could be found just about anywhere. They were wearing them on TV, in the movies, and even in schoolyards. As far as 80s accessories go, leg warmers were about as rad as it got.
You Wanted Leg Warmers
You wanted as many pairs of leg warmers as possible. If you were lucky, you had a pair for every outfit. Or at least each pair of shoes. They rounded out your big awesome collection of essential 80s accessories because they went with just about everything.
You could wear them to school, to a friend’s house, out on the town. And of course, you could totally wear them to aerobics class. Oh yes, aerobics were big in the 80s. Everyone was trying to be a Solid Gold dancer and you couldn’t do that without a solid collection of leg warmers and some wicked awesome dance moves.
The funny thing was that leg warmers weren’t that easy to find, even though they were like the most popular of all 80s accessories. You totally had to search if you wanted to build up a tubular collection of leg warmers. Sure, you could get them at dance wear shops, but those ones were usually plain and boring. You could find wilder patterns and colors of leg warmers at departments stores. And that was, like, way before the internet. So you for sure couldn’t buy them online.
80s Fashion and the Decade of Dance
If there was one running theme in 80s fashion, it was BIG. Everything was oversized and bold. If there was a second theme, it was dance. The 80s sparked a whole new dance craze that leaked into 80s fashion, and the 80s accessories were no exception.
We used to wear leotards, like, every day. Yes, you pulled your jeans on right over your leotards and then pulled your leg warmers on over your jeans. Other 80s accessories inspired by dance wear were the off-the-shoulder cutoff sweatshirt and the sweatbands that we wore as stylish headbands, ala Olivia Newton John’s song and music video, “Physical.”
But when it came to the marriage of dance and fashion, not one of the 80s accessories could beat out leg warmers.
80s Accessories and Leg Warmers Layered
Most 80s accessories that came from dance style were altered for everyday wear. You didn’t actually wear a sweatband on your head. No. You used a ribbon or a piece of scrap material. I used to cut up old t-shirts. Even the leotards you wore out and about weren’t the same ones you actually wore to aerobics.
But not leg warmers. You bought them and wore them just as they were. And you layered them too. You totally layered everything in the 80s.
We layered shirts, tights, pants, and socks. We would’ve layered shoes if we could’ve found a way to do it and lord knows, somebody probably did. Leg warmers were totally perfect for layering, especially with some bitchen neon socks and two different colored sneakers.
Love That 80s Fashion
We slid them on over our pants and under our skirts. Sometimes we tucked them into our socks. Other times, we rolled them down over our boots. Leg warmers were an 80s fashion necessity. And they make little comebacks every now and then. Which is a good thing. For sure.
Look around and you’ll occasionally see someone rocking leg warmers. Just go to any dance studio and you’ll find them. Lately, they’ve been popping up as a retro trend. You better go find yourself a pair.
But no matter who’s wearing them now, to those of us who grew up in the most bodacious decade ever, leg warmers will always belong to 80s fashion.
We already know that 80s fashion was over the top. In the 80s, shoes could be pretty wild, but we totally embraced one classic piece of rad footwear that had been around since 1908 and continues its popularity today: Converse hi-tops.
Converse Rubber Shoe Company was launched in 1908 by a dude named Marquis Mill Converse. The originals were rubber, but in 1915, they started manufacturing athletic shoes. Then, in 1917, a basketball player named Chuck Taylor went to the company complaining about sore feet. His original job with Converse was to market and promote their shoes. It wasn’t until 1923 that his signature was added to the shoe.
There have been many imitations over the years, and a similar shoe by Keds has been popular on and off. But no shoe has had the longstanding, massively popular success of Converse All Stars.
80s fashion made a statement. The brighter and bolder, the better. Wild prints and vivid colors were totally trendy. We mixed and matched and we layered. Nothing was off limits, and our footwear had to take us places, literally and figuratively. The right shoe has always made the outfit, but 80s fashion required extra special shoes. Because the outfits were so wild, 80s shoes had a lot to live up to. A boring white sneaker or basic black pump just didn’t cut it.
80s shoes came in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They were made out of leather and lace, plastic and rubber, canvas and vinyl. They came in every color of the rainbow as well as any print imaginable. Some were even layered. I was particularly fond of a pair of floral print canvas hi-tops with lace overlay. I wore those shoes ragged.
The 80s fashion scene was demanding. All those colors and prints required a pretty big shoe collection so you could choose the right kicks for every outfit. Red shoes, yellow shoes, green shoes, and blue shoes. They came in plaid, paisley, and polka dots. Casual, formal, and athletic.
Converse hi-tops were the answer to many 80s fashion prayers. Made of canvas and rubber, they came in a huge array of colors. And canvas was friendly to permanent markers, so you could customize your own shoes with names of your favorite band or whoever you had a crush on.
Of all the 80s shoes, Converse were the most flexible. If you had two pairs, say a pink pair and an aqua pair, you could mix and match. Wear a pink one on your left foot and an aqua one on your right foot. If you had a best friend with a similar shoe size, you might even double match and swap.
You could roll your pants up and show off the hi-tops or get a tight pair of socks and tuck the pants in. Lots of us laced the Converse hi-tops halfway and then folded the top down, which wasn’t technically layering, but sure looked like it.
The totally awesome selection of colors and prints alone made Converse hi-tops iconic 80s shoes. But they were also affordable, which meant you could get a few pairs for mixing, matching, trading, and swapping. Everyone likes flexible footwear and Converse hi-tops delivered.
Best of all, they still do.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: everything in the 80s was BIG. Including hair. Especially bangs.
It was the decade of decadence. Too much was not enough and everybody wanted more. 80s fashion rules stated that one accessory didn’t cut it. One shirt didn’t pass muster. One pair of socks was not enough. We were overclothed and buried in layers of big, bright fabrics and plastics.
Stylish 80s hair was just like everything else. The bigger, the better. Throughout the decade, different hairstyles came and went, and sure, there were brief interludes when your hair didn’t have to be bigger than your head. But the running theme was to puff it up and make it occupy as much airspace as possible.
80s hair was ridiculous. You teased it, crimped it, curled it, and then stuck a bunch of accessories in it — maybe even topped it off with a hat. We were barely recognizable under all that enormous 80 hair! But without the big hair, you were just 80s fashion roadkill.
Tools of the trade included blowdryers, curling irons, crimping irons, mousse, gel, and plenty of hairspray. And not just any hairspray. To make your 80s hair stand up and stand out, you needed Aqua-Net, which was more like glue than a hair styling product.
In any given week, we’d spend countless hours sitting in front of a bathroom mirror with all our hair products, tools, and accessories scattered all over the counter. Once the ‘do was done, we’d make it even more ridiculous by applying clips, rubber bands, and other random items, either to help it stay in place or just to show that our heads could hold all that weight!
Big bangs were especially popular. You could get away with small, tame, or slicked hair if your bangs were gigantic. It wasn’t unusual for a girl to slick her hair back into a side ponytail or banana clip but then tease her bangs to the heights of the greatest skyscraper.
Even if hair was worn down, full and curly, the bangs were totally the main attraction. Using all those 80s hair styling tools, we tried to get our bangs into unnaturally bodacious positions. They reached up and out. I’m sure some of them were so big and hardened with hairspray and gel that they poked a few eyes out.
Some 80s fashion mavens were more extreme than others. You had regular, everyday people who did the minimum — they enlarged their bangs but not to the point that they would knock birds out of the sky. Then, there were those who couldn’t get their bangs big or high enough. Many of them had bangs that were longer than the rest of their hair!
In the 80s, fashion was extreme. The more extreme you were, the more fashionable you were. 80s hair followed suit and throughout the decade, big bangs grew to great heights, then slowly deflated back to a more normal and natural size. Some 80s styles are worth bringing back, but big bangs are not one of them (not for me, anyway). It was just way too much work. All those styling tools and products racked up a big bill, and let’s face it, big hair wasn’t doing any favors for the environment. So I say let’s reflect on 80s hair and big bangs with due nostalgia, but let them totally rest in peace.
Everybody knows that fashion plays heavily to the ladies. But in the 80s, clothing designers made a play for the guys by popularizing parachute pants. Oh sure, the girls wore them too, sometimes. But parachute pants were mostly welcomed by legions of boys who otherwise didn’t give a hoot about 80s fashion.
What they did care about was breakdancing.
Hip hop music was new, and it was totally hot. Rap was in its infancy and it was celebrated on city street corners where the dancers showed off their moves against beats that thumped out of portable boom boxes. Breakdancing, rap music, and parachute pants were so totally cool that the city couldn’t hold them, and soon, they made their way past city walls and swept through suburbs across the U.S.
80s clothing for dudes was limited compared to the many options that the ladies had to choose from. Guys were stuck with a few choice items: checkered sneakers, skinny ties, Ray-Bans, and parachute pants.
Dance in general inspired a lot of 80s fashion, but breakdancing in particular flooded department stores everywhere with items that were especially suited for street dancing. Accessories like headbands and wristbands, practical footwear like cushy sneakers, and stylish 80s clothing — like parachute pants — were majorly popular.
Even though the clothing and accessories were originally created for dancers, soon they were adopted by the masses, converted into streetwear, club gear, and everyday or even office attire.
Parachute pants had a special status among 80s clothing. They were mostly worn by guys and they were especially favored by guys who either were or wanted to be breakdancers.
The first breakdancers wore pants made of heavy nylon because it didn’t tear easily. This made dancing on the street and doing moves on the ground less likely to destroy the clothing they wore. Parachute pants were eventually made from ripstop nylon and were worn comfortably baggy, to allow the body to move.
Like most 80s fashion, you could get them in just about any color imaginable. They usually had plenty of pockets, (like cargo pants). Often, they were worn with windbreakers and a number of 80s fashion accessories or just accessories for breakdancers. Some were practical — wristbands and headbands absorbed the sweat. Others were just for show — heavy gold chains and patterned sneakers.
In the 80s, fashion didn’t last long. Everything was a fad. Timeless, classic styles were out and trendy, fleeting fads were in. Parachutes pants were no exception and totally faded out before the 80s did.
But parachute pants were a remarkable piece of 80s clothing – worn for style and/or function, originally embraced by city street dancers and eventually hijacked by millions of suburban wannabes. They looked cool and had purpose.
Most 80s clothing was just for show but parachute pants actually had purpose too.
Everything in the 80s was big, including our 80s accessories. One of the most popular accessories of the decade was the big, fat belt. Every girl had at least one and if you were lucky, you had a drawer full of them.
We needed the big, fat belt for a few reasons. First of all, you wanted to load your body with as many clothes and accessories as possible. Lots of layers, plenty of jewelry, and tons of 80s accessories. But the belt could also help you create that totally 80s silhouette. It cinched just above your hips, keeping the top part of your shirt baggy but defining your waist.
You had to wear a nice, big and totally oversized shirt with your big, fat belt. You might wear a large tee with a smaller one (or a tank) underneath. Since layers were all the rage, clothing and accessories had to be positioned carefully so the world could see all your layers. It was all part of the look.
Belts were just one of many 80s accessories that were raging popular throughout the decade. But these belts didn’t make it all the way to the end. Their popularity died down by 1988 and by the end of the 80s, they were pretty much gone, making them just another of many 80s fads that disappeared before we were all forced into the 90s.
They came in all shapes and colors. Many of them were specially cut on an angle so they’d fit right and so your shirt wouldn’t get all hiked up and twisted. Problem was, no matter how they were cut, they usually slid around and twisted out of place. Like many 80s accessories, big, fat belts could be a pain to wear, even though they looked wicked awesome. 80s fashion was style over comfort though, so we totally rocked them.
You could get them in basic shades like black and white but it was better to be bold in the 80s, so if you could pick one up in in bright red or purple, you were ready for the catwalk. Print and patterned belts were even better and made a total 80s statement that said: I’m an 80s fashion rock star.
If you had any clue about 80s fashion, you probably had a decent collection of belts and a few of them were thick. First, you put on a tank top, maybe a black one. Over that, a red tank top just big enough that you could see the black one underneath. Then you’d button up a super oversized blouse, one that was so big, you felt like you were swimming in it. It came down past your bottom and maybe reached all the way to your knees. You left the top buttons open so the world could see your layered tanks underneath. Then you dug through your 80s accessories to find a crazy fat belt and snapped it over your shirts. You could wear jeans, leggings, or a skirt with the getup, but that belt made everything come together.
And it was over the top like everything else in the 80s.
From preppy to punk, style was everything and could involve wearing just about anything — from the hats we wore on our heads to the legwarmers we wrapped around our ankles.
80s fashion was busy and bright, fun and fierce, and like everything else in the 80s, it was larger than life.
What do you know about 80s fashion? Find out by taking on this 80s trivia challenge.
Are you an 80s fashion maven or an 80s fashion failure? Answer each of the questions below, then scroll down to check your answers.
1. 80s fashion was:
D. All of the above
2.True or False:
Dancewear became popular as streetwear during the 80s
3. 80s hair (and especially the bangs) was always worn:
A. Slicked back
B. Loose and messy
C. Big with lots of hairspray
D. Short and cropped
4. In the 80s, it was popular to:
A. Keep it simple – very few accessories and hardly any jewelry
B. Dress up your wardrobe with tons and tons of 80s accessories
C. Wear nice, classy jewelry
D. Put your jeans on inside out
5. One pair of 80s shoes made our feet stink and kept breaking:
B. Thigh-high boots
C. Jelly shoes
6. To get your 80s hair out of your face, you might opt for:
A. Shaving it all off
B. A side ponytail
D. French twist
7. Celebrities have always started fashion trends. In the 80s:
A. Tom Cruise made Ray-Bans popular
B. Madonna made hoop skirts popular
C. Prince made baseball caps popular
D. Molly Ringwald made t-shirts popular
8. True or False:
In the 80s, accessories like hats and gloves were forbidden!
9. Popular 80s fashion trends included:
A. T-shirts worn under spaghetti-strapped sundresses
B. Oversized shirts
C. Bell bottoms
D. Floor-length skirts
10. Who was an 80s fashion icon?
A. Coco Chanel
C. Margaret Thatcher
D. Ronald Reagan
80s Fashion Trivia Answers
1. (D) 2. (True) 3. (C) 4. (B) 5. (C) 6. (B) 7. (A) 8. (False) 9. (B) 10. (B)
80s fashion is hailed for being big, bold, and bright. Big hair, bold shoulder pads, and a collection of brightly colored accessories to tie it all together were totally essential during the 80s. Fashion closely followed music, breaking into niches and cliques that were diverse and catered to various sub-cultures.
Black was back, prints were on everything including pants and shoes, and hair and makeup were thick, radical, and wild. The fashionable silhouette was top-heavy – big, baggy shirts with tapered jeans. Leather and lace came together and colors took on a strangely bright, luminescent hue when neon accessories became a raging fad.
80s fashion was wild and over the top but it was accessible. It could be trendy or alternative, subtle or outrageous, and it was a lot of fun for anyone with a penchant for style. It’s like the fashion gods woke up when 1980 kicked off and said, “This decade, anything goes.”
80s Fashion Subcultures
Dance Wear & Breakdancing - If the 80s had a single theme, it would probably be dance. Traditional dancewear made its way into popular 80s fashion and street wear when girls started wearing legwarmers, leotards, and thanks to the movie Flashdance, ripped sweatshirts that hung off one shoulder, which was totally sexy. This look, heavily accessorized, was super trendy among Valley Girls. When breakdancing became popular, it came with its own fashion items including windbreakers, parachute pants, bandana accessories and wrist- or head-bands and the ever-present hip-hop sneaker (preferably ADIDAS).
Preppy - The preppy look borrowed heavily from TV show Miami Vice. That’s where it got light-colored suits with bright tees underneath and ultra-skinny ties. Other prep 80s fashion items included Alligator (golf) shirts, Bermuda shorts, and upper crust loafers. If you ask me, the look was pretty lame compared to…
New Romantic - It was punk gone soft and sweet. The New Romantic style, which eventually gave rise to new wave style and gothic fashion, featured lots of black and dark clothing with loose, flowing fabrics. Puffy sleeves and designs that echoed pirates eventually became New Romantic staples. For the ladies, cinched waists, corsets, and bustiers gave a romantic, old-fashioned flair. Think Marie Antoinette meets Sid Vicious. It was totally rad.
Designers and Name Brands
Fashion designers got lucky in the 80s when name brand designers became a symbol of wealth and posterity. Yeah right. They were just a symbol that meant you had a clue. Guess, Calvin Klein, and Esprit were popular with the middle class. Suddenly, the name on your sneakers said something about your identity as a member of society. ADIDAS or Rebok? Converse or Keds? Boots or barefoot?
80s Fashion Accessories
During the 80s, accessories were a staple of any fashionable ensemble. Jewelry was bulky and chunky and the more the better. Both guys and girls sported pierced earrings. They were huge, they dangled, and you wore lots of them at once — as many as you could. Layers of necklaces, faux pearls and big cross pendants were made popular by pop star Madonna, who quickly became an 80s fashion icon in her own right. Hats and gloves also popped back in mainstream fashion. Fedora hats were wildly popular thanks to Michael Jackson who also made wearing one glove seem like a cool idea. Madonna made fingerless lace gloves hip, sexy, and stylish (and let’s face it, those fingerless gloves were totally awesome!). Belts were as big as everything else, and the girls wore them hung loosely around their hips to cinch huge, baggy tees and blouses. It was pretty insane.
80s fashion will forever be remembered as the decade of decadence. More! Bigger! Brighter! It was bold and bodacious, loud and lacy. In the 80s, fashion became an integral part of each celebrity’s image and celebrities themselves became major trendsetters. Those trends made their way into the suburbs and became standard fare. 80s fashion was a bitchen way to express your identity. And it still is.
It definitely was not covering my derriere. Not good.
“Can I get you anything in a different size, Miss?” the salesperson asked.
“Yes, I’ll take the red blouse in size large, and the gold in extra-large. Thanks.” The woman paused, and I could almost hear her wondering what a petite girl like me wanted with such totally big sizes. She probably opened her mouth to protest, but realizing that she wouldn’t win over a stubborn, fashion-sensitive teen, she hurried off to get me the sizes I had requested.
Moments later, I pulled on the gold blouse, buttoning it up halfway. Over that, I put on the red one, making sure that plenty of the gold blouse was peeking out from underneath. With my black ribbed tank showing at the neckline, the outfit had pizazz. I dug through my own discarded pile of 80s clothing and popped my black felt fedora onto my head and then wrapped my three-inch belt around my waist, fastening it just at my hipline.
Finally, I turned again to check my rear end. The bottom hem of the gold blouse came to the bottom of my bottom. Perfect. I was an 80s fashion star.
80s Fashion was Top-Heavy
The 80s fashion silhouette was top-heavy. T-shirts, blouses, sweaters, and sweatshirts had to be, like, three sizes too big so they would hang loose and low. They were often cinched with fat belts or doubled wrap-around belts, emphasizing the hips and lower waist.
And if that didn’t make our torso grand enough, we were also shoulder-pad happy. Almost all 80s clothing had shoulder pads sewn in, and if you were unlucky enough to fall in love with a top that was missing this essential 80s fashion staple, you could always buy a pair and sew them in yourself. Those shoulder pads made your upper half even heftier.
For contrast and emphasis, you wore the tightest pants you could find, making your bottom half appear skinny while your top half was enormous, swimming in yards of fabric. Oh, and it all had to be layered. Yes, totally layered.
80s Clothing Supersized
It’s amazing that years later, we were buying the tiniest shirts we could find and doing everything under the sun to make sure our midriffs were on display. Throughout most of the 80s, you really covered up as much as possible.
Once Madonna made a splash in 80s fashion, the hemlines on our tops started moving up, drastically altering the trendiest styles in 80s clothing. But that didn’t mean the shirts had to be tight-fitting. We still wore them loose. Oh yes, you could still by an extra-large tee and simply hack off the bottom half with a pair of scissors.
T-shirts had to cover your buns, blouses grazed your thighs, and sweatshirts draped around your knees. Oversized shirts were an 80s fashion staple, essential pieces for a worthwhile, stylish wardrobe packed with big and bold 80s clothing.