The 1980s, an era marked by eye-catching leotards, power suits, a fusion of Punk and Preppy attire, extravagant earrings, and acid-washed denim, gave birth to a plethora of style icons like never before.
During this vibrant decade, fashion knew no bounds. It was a time when oversized sunglasses were paired with power suit jackets, miniskirts were paired with fitness sneakers, and thick belts cinched waists with fearless abandon.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit the 21 most iconic fashion trends that defined the 1980s.
The Business Woman Power Suit
The 1980s witnessed the rise of the Power Suit or ‘power dressing’ for women. This trend was championed by influential celebrities and movie stars portraying power-hungry career women.
Grace Jones’ sharply-tailored suits with broad padded shoulders ignited the ‘girl power’ and cross-dressing movement of the 1980s, serving as inspiration for artists like Annie Lennox, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Solange, and Lorde.
Moreover, in a sign of women’s ascent in the ranks, Britain was led by Margaret Thatcher, the nation’s first-ever female Prime Minister.
Dresses With Oversized Shoulder Pads
Shoulder pads made a significant impact on 1980s fashion, with dress designers wholeheartedly embracing them.
These notable shoulder pads were skillfully incorporated into vaporous dresses with puffed sleeves, resulting in unique geometric shapes and cuts.
Fitness Mania & 80s Leg Warmers
The fitness craze of the 1980s was greatly influenced by stars and celebrities, who promoted physical fitness and aerobic exercises on television.
Icons like Olivia Newton-John and Jane Fonda, especially in “Flashdance,” turned leg warmers into a must-have fashion statement for women.
Aerobic attire, gym leggings, oversized sweaters, and even skinny jeans for women all demanded the finishing touch of legwarmers.
Leather Jackets with Rolled Up Sleeves
Worn by music and movie stars such as Bon Jovi, Madonna, Cher, Tom Cruise (in “Top Gun”), and Morten Harket, leather jackets were an indispensable part of 1980s fashion.
The most popular leather jacket style of the era featured large, padded shoulders and was often worn with the sleeves stylishly rolled up, as exemplified by Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller look.
Other notable styles included the double rider and cafe-racer jackets, which could be customized to suit one’s preferences.
Revival of the 80s Preppy Dressing Style
The 1980s also marked a resurgence of comfortable preppy fashion. Brands like Polo, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein introduced college-inspired jackets, trousers, and shirts in pastel hues adorned with stripes.
During this period, preppy-style shirts were worn as formal button-downs with chinos or as smart casual polo shirts, reminiscent of the ‘Light Academia’ aesthetic.
Power Slogan T-shirts
Statement tees, also known as slogan t-shirts, made a bold statement in 1980s fashion, with Katharine Hamnett being a notable designer in this category.
Her anti-nuclear-missiles T-shirt, famously worn while meeting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984, is now an iconic piece of 1980s fashion history.
The trend of slogans emblazoned on t-shirts gained momentum and was embraced by brands like Pepsi, Nike, Adidas, and Guess, recognizing the advertising power of printed logos on T-shirts.
Mini Skirts with Thick Belts
The 1980s were synonymous with mini skirts, skater skirts, and Rah-rah skirts crafted from denim and spandex (think of Kylie Minogue’s high-shine minidresses).
Paired with go-go boots, mini skirts had their roots in 1960s fashion but truly reached their zenith in the mid-1980s.
They were often paired with leg warmers and leggings or layered with nets and lace, taking inspiration from the iconic Madonna-style fashion.
Polka Dot Dresses:
A resurgence of the classic polka dot pattern from the 1940s and early 50s graced the fashion scene of the 1980s with renewed vigor.
Emanuel Ungaro, the renowned French fashion house, reintroduced this timeless print in their SS 1985 ready-to-wear collection, causing a sensation among royalty, pop stars, and cinema celebrities alike.
Princess Diana elegantly sported polka dot skirts, while the Strawberry Switchblade pop duo adorned big PVC belts with this playful pattern.
Claudia Cardinale made her mark with characteristic dresses featuring tie necklines, further cementing polka dots as an iconic 80s fashion trend.
Clothes Printed With Animal Patterns:
Despite concerns about using natural animal skins, the 1980s saw an unapologetic embrace of over-the-top animal prints in fashion.
Celebrities flaunted these bold prints on virtually every conceivable garment and style. From leggings to handbags, skirts, and even sunglasses, animal prints like leopard, zebra, tiger, giraffe, and python roared their way into the mainstream.
80s Oversized Eyewear:
The 1980s were synonymous with oversized eyewear, featuring massive frames and colorful or mirrored lenses.
Some of the most popular eyewear frames of the era included oversized Wayfarers and Aviators by Ray-Ban.
Depending on your social circle, you might have spotted Gucci, Cartier, and Vuarnet frames in similarly generous proportions.
Clothes Cut In Asymmetric Patterns:
Thierry Mugler’s spring 1983 ready-to-wear show epitomized the trend of clothing with asymmetric designs, where one side differs from the other.
Hollywood star Molly Ringwald became an iconic figure of the asymmetric style.
Asymmetrical features included one-shoulder bodices, slanted hemlines, or necklines, elements that continue to influence contemporary streetwear and Japanese fashion.
80s Fitness Leotards and Bodysuits:
The 1980s marked a shift from the free-spirited “flower power” era of the 70s to a more self-conscious decade.
Jane Fonda tapped into women’s newfound obsession with dance and exercise, releasing fitness videos that featured a vibrant array of brightly colored bodysuits.
Music divas like Cher also played a significant role in promoting and selling sportswear apparel in bold hues.
What we now know as “athleisure” began as leotards and bodysuits, a functional yet fashionable choice for the fitness-conscious.
80s Double Denim Trend:
The 80s witnessed the enduring influence of celebrity endorsements on fashion trends, exemplified by the double denim craze.
Levi’s 501 jeans campaign featured top celebrities of the time, including Nick Kamen, who scored a top 5 hit single in 1986, written and produced by Madonna and Stephen Bray.
The trend of pairing double denim jackets with high-waisted jeans continued throughout the decade, with artists like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King, and Percy Sledge boosting Levi’s sales and the sales of vinyl records.
High-Top Trainers With Thick Socks:
A trend ignited by fitness celebrities transitioning from gyms to 80s catwalks, thick socks, layered socks, and even lace-edged socks made a bold fashion statement for women.
Neon socks layered over one another and paired with high-top trainers found popularity in various settings, from the gym to casual meetings with friends and even the office.
As the idea of wearing socks everywhere gained traction, ankle socks became a fashion statement when worn with heels, gracing music videos on MTV, movies, and the catwalks.
Colored Sheer Tights:
In the 1980s, flaunting your legs in short skirts was all the rage, exemplified by Debbie Harry’s chic little black dresses paired with striking hosiery.
Initially, sheer tights came in neutral shades like daytime browns and evening blacks for a more natural look.
However, the burgeoning fitness craze of the mid-80s paved the way for the popularity of colored sheer tights, with numerous top fashion brands introducing a spectrum of hues.
This trend carried over into 90s fashion, becoming a staple for office wear and dinner events.
80s Stirrup Pants and Leggings Trend:
Stirrups, traditionally metal frames on the sides of a saddle for mounting or riding, inspired the design of stirrup pants.
These pants featured a material strap at the foot’s end to keep them securely in place. Initially popular in sporting activities like aerobics, ballet, and dancing, stirrup pants gradually infiltrated everyday fashion.
By the late 80s, women of all ages could be spotted donning leggings and stirrup pants paired with oversized t-shirts or cozy oversized sweaters.
Lace Clothing with Accessories:
Madonna’s iconic launch of “Like a Virgin” on MTV in 1984 catapulted lace dresses and gloves into instant fashion stardom during the 80s.
This trend permeated various facets of culture, including the world of cinema. One of the most prominent figures to embody this style was Alexis Carrington in “Dynasty,” portrayed by Joan Collins.
80s Harem Pants Trend:
Originally known as a harem skirt, Parisian designer Paul Poiret introduced these distinctive pants to Western fashion in 1910.
These pants featured a long, baggy design with an extremely low drop-crotch, tapering to a fitted ankle.
They also became known as MC Hammer pants in later years. In the 80s, harem pants made a comeback with psychedelic colors and mesmerizing patterns, adding another layer of uniqueness to 80s fashion.
Some of the most iconic swimsuits of the 80s featured high-cut one-pieces, reminiscent of the swimwear worn by the original Baywatch lifeguards.
This high-cut design was engineered to elongate the legs while creating a slimmer silhouette by cinching the waist, regardless of whether there were curves on the hips or tummy.
80s Punk Dressing Style:
The 80s punk fashion style drew inspiration from London’s 60s skinhead culture, offering a milder yet enigmatic look.
This softened take on post-punk 80s fashion incorporated elements from various cultures and musical trends, ranging from Goth Rock to Glam Rock and Psychedelic Rock.
The late 80s also witnessed the rise of the Goth fashion style within the post-punk movement.
80s Trend of Acid Washed Denim:
Distressed and acid-washed jeans were a ubiquitous presence in 80s rock fashion, extending from the mid-80s into the early 90s.
This trend, pioneered by the Italian company Rifle Jeans, involved using chlorine and pumice stones to distress denim material.
Loved by heavy metal and rock bands, acid-washed jeans were often paired with biker jackets or fringe jackets that exuded cowboy and country music aesthetics with their abundant tassels.
The acid-washed denim craze gained such momentum that even non-rock acts like Bros and Salt-N-Pepa adopted it.
Brands such as Jordache, Guess, Wrangler, Levi’s, and Gitano capitalized on its popularity, creating limited collections and collaboration pieces.