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.
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.