Fashion & Lifestyle

A 1980s Fashion History Lesson: Lycra, Power Suits, and Clothing as a Concept

A 1980s Fashion History Lesson: Lycra, Power Suits, and Clothing as a Concept

The 1980s were all about power and extravagance.

Whether it was the booming stock market, the rise of personal fitness, or the shattering of corporate glass ceilings, the decade was marked by a sense of ambition and assertiveness.

Fashion reflected this spirit with bold and daring styles that pushed boundaries and made statements.

Lycra became a wardrobe staple, clinging to bodies and highlighting curves, while the power suit emerged as a symbol of women’s increasing presence in the workplace.

Power Suits: Women Suit Up

Power Suits: Women Suit Up

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By the 1980s, the soft, pliable polyester suits of previous decades were replaced with more structured, angular designs that convey strength and authority.

Designers like Claude Montana, Emanuel Ungaro, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Yves Saint Laurent created suits and skirt suits that were more like armor than clothing.

Exaggerated, padded shoulders, double-breasted silhouettes, and peplums made wearers look imposing.

These power suits roared femininity with beadwork, bold colors, and luxurious fabrics.

The Yuppie Arrives: Introducing the Preppy Look

yuppie fashion

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The term “yuppie,” short for “young urban professional,” emerged in the 1980s, capturing the rise of a new social class.

While the label was divisive, yuppie fashion had a significant impact.

Vogue condemned the “horrifying little yuppie suit” by the end of the decade, but the look remained influential.

Women embraced Ralph Lauren skirt suits, pussy-bow blouses, Coach bags, and running shoes, while men sported pinstriped suits, Rolex watches, Burberry trenches, and squash racquets.

Ralph Lauren’s preppy style, blending American Southwest fashion with English gentry traditions, offered a more imaginative take on yuppie fashion.

Body-Con: Fashion Sizzles

Body-Con: Fashion Sizzles

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The 1980s saw the rise of body-conscious fashion, led by designers like Azzedine Alaïa, Donna Karan, and Norma Kamali.

Alaïa, known as the King of Cling, used Lycra to create body-sculpting dresses inspired by athletic wear.

Karan’s designs wrapped women in form-fitting, cling-wrap-like dresses, while Kamali’s Sweats collection turned gymwear into elegant fashion.

In Italy, Gianni Versace celebrated the body with his bold, sensual designs.

Couture’s Comeback: Lagerfeld and Lacroix Rule

Couture’s Comeback: Lagerfeld and Lacroix Rule

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With a booming economy and new wealth in the Middle East, couture experienced a resurgence in the 1980s.

Karl Lagerfeld revitalized Chanel, and Christian Lacroix made a splash with his tutu-inspired skirts.

Emanuel Ungaro and Gianfranco Ferré also contributed to couture’s dominance.

Lagerfeld’s impact on Chanel was immediate, with Vogue proclaiming, “Suddenly, everyone is talking about Chanel.”

New Romantics: The New London Look

New Romantics: The New London Look

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The 1980s also saw the emergence of the New Romantic movement in London, led by designers like Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

Their flamboyant, unisex “Pirate” collection in 1981 set the tone for the decade, featuring ruffled shirting and tricorn hats.

John Galliano’s “Les Incroyables” collection in 1984, inspired by revolutionary France, further cemented the New Romantic look.

Designers like Rifat Ozbek, Martin Kidman, and Stephen Jones also embraced this style.

Clothes as Concept: Japanese Designers Make Their Mark

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Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto revolutionized fashion in the 1980s.

Their designs emphasized concept over convention, using technology and innovative techniques.

Miyake’s red plastic bustier, Kawakubo’s oversized, intentionally droopy silhouettes, and Yamamoto’s red-tulle bustle coat were standout moments.

Japanese designers were changing the way people thought about fashion.

Fashion Gets Physical: A Fitness Craze Begins

The 1980s fitness craze influenced fashion as well.

Lycra bodysuits, leggings, leg warmers, and sweatbands became popular, thanks in part to celebrities like Jane Fonda and her workout videos.

Vogue headlines reflected the public’s fascination with health and fitness, with articles on exercise and its impact on various aspects of life.

Men’s Trends of the 1980s

While women’s fashion was bold and extravagant, men’s fashion in the 1980s was more sober and tailored.

Giorgio Armani’s sleek designs for Richard Gere in “American Gigolo” set the tone, with men favoring classic tailoring over the disco styles of the 1970s.

Men’s power suits were typically pinstriped and double-breasted with wide lapels and ties.

The rise of hip-hop also influenced men’s fashion, with Dapper Dan outfitting artists like LL Cool J and Run DMC in iconic styles.

In the Culture

The 1980s were a culturally vibrant decade.

Princess Diana’s wedding dress set trends for bridal fashion, while MTV revolutionized music consumption and influenced fashion.

Madonna became a style icon with her eclectic looks in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and teen culture boomed with films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink.”

In conclusion, the 1980s were a dynamic and transformative decade for fashion.

From power suits to body-con dresses, from yuppie style to New Romantic looks, the era was marked by bold choices and innovative designs that continue to influence 80s fashion today.

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