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.