The 1980s was one of the most experimental decades in terms of fashion. While the 70s featured genderfluid clothes and disco galore, the 1980s were a time for rockers full of bold styles, loud colors, and big hair. Trends went in all directions, from ripped tights to leather jackets, and it was truly one of the most eclectic decades in fashion.
When you look back at this decade as a whole, the 80s were no doubt a turning point in fashion that has still had an effect on our modern world today. But to give you a deeper look into the changes in the fashion world that took place, in this article, we’re going to delve into everything you need to know about the fashion of the 1980s. From its history to its styles and its most famous icons, let’s dive in and get started with a complete guide to the 80s for both men and women.
History of 80’s Fashion
To start, the 1980s were a decade ruled by music. Nearly all of the styles, the trends, and the icons of the 80s originated from the punk, rock, and hip-hop music scene. Artists such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Queen, and Cyndi Lauper were just a few of the music influencers that inspired youth. With so many different artistic influences inspiring the lives of the youth, it was truly a time of anything goes; women wore men’s style clothing and men wore crop-tops and makeup, and soon people began to embrace genderfluid fashion as a form of self-expression more than ever.
Aside from the music, the 80s were also heavily inspired by the influence of movies and TV shows, as the 80s were the first decade in which TV became more accessible, with nearly 70% of households having a television by end of the decade. With TV more widespread, shows, movies, and actors had a much stronger influence on fashion than any decade so far, influencing the way people dressed just by the characters they portrayed. The newfound media made it easier than ever to push new fashion into the eyes of people all over the world, which undoubtedly left a lasting impact in the fashion world of today, making the 80s one of the first decades of big commercial influence unlike any other.
80s Fashion Icons
Now that we’ve gone over some of the history of the 80s fashion, let’s talk about some of the major icons of the decade. Here’s a brief list of some of the top fashion icons of the 80s for both men and women.
Female fashion icons
The first popular icon of the 80s was undoubtedly the queen of pop, Madonna. Making her mark in the mid-80s, Madonna helped to influence 80s fashion with her music as well as her fashion. Her look was fresh, energetic and fun, and appealed heavily to the young people because of it. This included everything from fishnet glows to lacy tutus, jelly bracelets, leather jackets, and big and wild hair decorated with bows and scrunchies.
2. Jane Fonda
Next, although Jane Fonda was in the public eye in the 70s already, she kept her fame alive all throughout the 80s with her exercise videos. Jane Fonda gained enduring fame for the leotards and leg warmers she introduced to the 80’s fashion scene through her follow-along fitness videos. Because of this, soon sports and exercise clothing became part of people’s everyday 80’s fashion wear and was considered to be very on-trend.
3. Cyndi Lauper
And lastly, another huge female fashion icon of the decade was Cyndi Lauper. With her anthem “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Cyndi inspired an entire generation of young women to get dressed up, let loose, and just have some fun with a message that has even carried over for many women of today. From her brightly colored lips to her big ginger hair, there wasn’t a style she couldn’t pull off, and that’s one of the many reasons she is still considered to be such an icon today.
Male fashion icons
1. Michael Jackson
Next, for male icons, with Madonna as the queen of pop, Michael Jackson was undoubtedly the king. With his timeless military-style accessories, his one glove, and Jheri-curls, Jackson was one of the most iconic people of the 80s and still continues to influence and inspire many today through his music and his fashion.
2. Tom Cruise
Next, Tom Cruise was another one of the biggest stars of the 80s. In addition to his popularity in several hit movies, he always knew how to dress to make an impact when it came to fashion. The outfits in the 1986 hit Top Gun inspired a generation of men all throughout the 80s, which has left a lasting impression even today.
3. Johnny Depp
And finally, Johnny Depp was another famous icon that hit the scene in the ‘80s and became an instant heartthrob. His style was laid back and cool, rocking leather jackets, t-shirts, hats, and don’t forget that sleek and luscious hair! Over the years, Johnny has definitely grown his fame but came from humble beginnings in the 80s that we won’t soon forget.
Popular Styles for Women of the 1980s
Now, when it came to the popular styles of the decade for women, the 80s were incredibly diverse, but the trends were all about being bold, colorful, and self-expressive. However, there are a few key styles for the decade that were more popular than others. Here’s a quick guide to them.
Leotards and bodysuits
Starting off, it wouldn’t be the 80s without leotards and bodysuits. Majorly popularized by Jane Fonda in her fitness videos, sportswear leotards and bodysuits became part of everyday functional fashion for women. This outfit typically consisted of a brightly colored leotard with a set of legwarmers and a headband. However, with the rise of workout fashion, leg warmers quickly became a part of every woman’s fashion statement and could be worn with everything from workout clothes to oversized sweaters and leggings.
Leggings and stirrup pants
Next, another common fashion trend for women in the 80s was leggings and stirrup pants. Stirrup pants were originally considered to be sportswear for women and featured slim pants that encircled the foot at the bottom. These were considered to be one of the trendiest outfits of the decade and were in the closet of most girls and young women.
Aside from stirrup pants, leggings were also popular in the 80s, thanks to singer Olivia Newton-John’s skin-tight black leggings in the 1978 movie Grease. And soon, by the early 80s, leggings started to become a regular outfit piece for women. Towards the end of the decade, women of all ages could be seen wearing leggings with oversized sweaters and large t-shirts. Leggings were almost always bold and typically consisted of neon colors, including yellows, pinks, greens, and blue hues.
Mini skirts and ra-ras
Next, another popular trend for women during the 80s was mini skirts. While mini skirts had been around since the 60s and 70s, during the ‘80s, they made their comeback stronger than ever and were most commonly paired with brightly colored leggings and/or legwarmers. These skirts were most commonly made of spandex or denim and came with a tighter fit than most.
Aside from this, ra-ras also became popular in the 80s and can best be described as a 2-3 layers skirt made with bright or neon colors and were often puffed out like a tutu.
Next, when it came to the casual wear of the decade for women, the trends were incredibly diverse. However, a woman could most commonly be seen wearing graphic tees, striped polo shirts, or shirts in colors of yellow, blue, pink, or red paired with acid wash or stonewash jeans when she wanted to go for a more casual look.
However, pants and jeans aside, women of the 80s still liked to wear more feminine clothes and could also be seen wearing mini skirts, sweater dresses, rugby sweatshirts, and pouf dresses paired with a denim jacket.
Next, when it came to working fashion, in the ’80s, women were entering the workforce more than ever, which naturally meant they had more options for what they could wear to work. With that said, most of the women’s work outfits were inspired by menswear and typically featured blazers with large shoulder pads and extended shoulders.
Alongside a blazer, a businesswoman would typically wear a pair of slacks that were high-waisted with a pleated front. However, a woman might also choose to wear a skirt instead, which would typically be A-line in design and would fall below the knee. To follow, skirts were always then paired with a pair of coordinated pumps and nude pantyhose. A woman never exposed her bare legs at work.
Next, in the ’80s, just like our modern world, there was a variety of shoes a woman would wear for different occasions. From work to home, shoes were vastly unique, and all served different purposes. Here is our list of some of the most common shoes you would find women wearing in the 1980s.
1. Jelly shoes
The first shoes commonly worn by women in the 80s were known as jelly shoes. Jelly shoes were known as the go-to footwear fashion for summer throughout the 80s and 90s. Jelly shoes can best be described as inexpensive shoes made of flexible plastic and were considered to be comfortable to wear for the time. These shoes also came in vibrant and translucent colors with glitter and were adored by women and girls of all ages.
Next, another common shoe of the 80s for both men and women was converse. Converse featured their signature Chuck Taylor lace-ups and came in plain black and white. Everyone from grungers, punk-rockers, school kids, and young adults could be seen wearing them throughout the decade.
And finally, for casual wear, women typically favored flat shoes, with one of the most popular being skimmers. Also known as ballet flats, skimmers were worn by both women and girls in the ’80s due to their casual and comfortable look and their athletic wear craze. These shoes came in a variety of colors and were a prime choice for outings and work fashion.
You can read more about shoe trends for women in the 80s here on 80sworldfashion.com.
When it came to the jewelry of the 80s, jewelry was very large, bold, and expressive all throughout the decade. In the 80s, jewelry was not just a fashion accessory; it was a personality statement, and everyone chose to wear it differently. A few examples of common jewelry trends of the 80s were:
- Neon bracelets
- Oversized hoops
- Clip-on earrings
- Beaded necklaces
- Large pendant necklaces
And more. Of course, every woman’s style was different and was very individual. For that reason, the jewelry trends and possibilities were truly endless when it came to the 80s.
Next, in the 80s, just like the rest of the women’s trends in the 80s, makeup was unnaturally heavy and boldly colorful. Emphasis was on the eyes, and brightly colored eyeshadow and mascara was essential. Unlike the 70s, there wasn’t any intention in keeping makeup looking natural, and the focus was instead put around being as bold, colorful, and expressive as possible. With that said, makeup trends of the decade that you would most commonly see included:
- Eyeshadow in peacock shades, including bright blue and pink, applied up to the eyebrows
- Brightly colored blush
- Colored mascara
- Lips in pink, red, and orange
- Several layers of mascara in a smudged style
And more. Above all else, the makeup of the 80s, like the 70s, was highly expressive, so you can bet no matter what type of makeup was used, the colors were heavy, bold, and certainly unlike the makeup of today.
Next, when it came to women’s hairstyles in the 80s, the trend was all about making your hair look as big as possible. Because of this, a few of the most common hairstyles of the decade for women typically included:
The first common hairstyle women would rock in the 80s was known as the perm. This style consisted of teasing hair to incredible heights and became popular among teens and older adults. The best perms were done with naturally curly hair to achieve the most intense and admirable volume of the decade.
The next style women could be seen rocking in the 80s was crimped hair. Crimping was done with a clamp-down device on your hair that created a zig-zag texture in the hair that resembled a crinkle-cut French fry. This was done, yet again, to create massive volume in the hair and to add unique texture to the hair to allow the woman to express herself the way she desired.
3. Side High Ponytail
And lastly, another one of the most famous hairstyles of the 80s was the side high ponytail. For this style, the hair was pulled up into a ponytail on the side of the top of the head and dangled down one side. This was a hairstyle that was a true fashion statement of the decade and was often worn to show off large, dangling earrings and other jewelry, as well as make a statement in the fashion industry. It was also a neat and tidy way of wearing your hair up throughout the day without it getting in the way.
Popular Styles for Men of the 1980s
Next, when it came to men’s fashion of the 1980s, bomber jackets were one of the biggest trends for men of the decade. Bomber jackets and aviator glasses became majorly popular in the 80s thanks to the release of Top Gun, which is also when Tom Cruise and his unique fashion first came into the public eye. Bomber jackets came in a variety of styles in the 80s and were either made of leather or nylon. They could be found in the style of an air force bomber, a casual bomber, or in a letterman jacket style.
Overall, this wasn’t the first time we saw bomber jackets hit the trends, and it isn’t bound to be the last time either.
Next, sweaters and knitwear were another big trend for men in the 80s. Sweaters were decorated in knitted patterns that included everything from stripes, geometric shapes, Icelandic patterns, and argyle. Believe it or not, the sweater designs of the 80s are what helped to inspire the modern-day ugly sweater trend of today, so you can only imagine how unattractive the sweaters of the decade must have really been. But in their heyday, every man had at least a couple in his closet.
Another popular trend in the 80s for both men and women was 80s rock fashion. Like everything in the ’80s, rock fashion was all about the excess. The hair was big and poofy, while the clothes were wild and rebellious, featuring leather jackets, fishnets, animal prints, mini skirts, leggings, fringed vests, and ripped jeans. In addition to that, accessories were also a crucial part of rock fashion and typically consisted of headbands, chains, buckles, boots, and makeup for both men and women.
Next, alongside the rock fashion of the decade, we also had the punk styles. Before the grunge phases of the 90s and early 2000s, ‘80s punk was where the trend truly began. This edgy and rebellious look featured iconic pieces, including studded leather jackets, band tees, ripped jeans, and boots. The hair was styled in eye-catching ways, including long hair, colored mohawks, and large spikes. The punk fashion of the decade was loud, bold, and truly made a statement.
Today, punk fashion is once again a popular trend; however, the fashion of it is much more toned down and casual.
Next, when it came to the casual wear of the decade, men of the 80s would commonly wear loose shirts featuring abstract prints and colors, with polo shirts being a favorite fashion item of the decade. For pants, don dad jeans and acid-washed jeans were in full force and were rolled at the ankles and were commonly paired with a matching denim jacket. Bomber jackets, leather jackets, windbreakers, and sweaters were also popular additions to your outfit and were commonly worn for outerwear.
During the ’80s, men’s suits were full cut with broad shoulders made possible with shoulder pads. Older men in the workforce continued to wear 3-piece suits until 2-piece suits dominated towards the end of the decade. When it came to colors and patterns, pinstripe suits were a favorite for businessmen, but natural solid-colored suits, such as brown or beige, were also common.
For the men’s 1980s shoe fashion, men had an array of shoes they would wear for different occasions, just as women did. However, in terms of common 80s shoes, these were what you were most likely to see a man sporting.
1. White sneakers
The first common shoe men would wear throughout the 80s was white sneakers. White sneakers were considered to be the ultimate casual shoe of the time. Most commonly for the decade, however, men would pair white sneakers with jeans and denim or leather jackets. However, white sneakers were truly perfect for just about any look and were worn with a variety of outfits.
2. High tops
Next, high tops were another common shoe worn throughout the 80s. Reebok Freestyles high tops or Air Jordans, in particular, gained massive popularity throughout the 1980s, thanks to the aerobics and fitness craze. These shoes featured a very simple design of all-white shoes with thick laces and a high-rise top around the ankle. Today, they still live on through history as one of the most iconic shoes of the decade.
3. Doc Martens
And finally, the famous Doc Martens we have today first originated in the 80s as the British workman’s boot. Best described as black combat boots, Doc Martens were the prime choice of punk rockers and were commonly paired with leather vests. However, they were truly a shoe for everyone and helped to add an edgier or more rebellious look to any outfit or style.
You can read more about the other shoe trends of the 80s for men here on southtree.com.
For accessories, men in the 80s wore a variety of things. This commonly included:
The first common accessory men of the 80s wore was headbands. Thanks to the influence of the new fitness movement, as well as movies like The Karate Kid and Rambo, suddenly, every young man wanted to wear headbands as the latest trend. These came in a variety of designs and colors, but most commonly, headbands were worn in bright neon colors.
2. Aviator glasses
Another accessory that anyone who was anybody had in the 80s was aviator glasses. While these had been in fashion here and there since the mid-1930s, they didn’t really grow in popularity until the 1986 movie Top Gun came out, where suddenly everyone wanted to look just as suave as Maverick. These tinted glasses made every look that much cooler and more masculine, and soon, every man had at least one pair of their own aviator glasses in their collection.
Aside from aviator glasses, Ray-Ban glasses were also incredibly popular amongst celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise and soon became a trend of their own.
For men’s hairstyles, During the ’80s, just like for the women, the trend for men was bigger is better. Therefore, throughout the decade, men were rocking everything from the mullet to the rattail, Jheri curls, feathered hair, and even the perm.
Men who worked in business, on the other hand, often broke from this trend and stayed true to some popular styles of the past, such as neat and tidy slicked-back hairstyles instead.
Overall, the 80s were a memorable decade of bold fashion, big hair, and personal expression. With some influences of the past as well as new trends of the future, the 80s were a truly energetic time to be alive and will always be looked back on with fondness as one of the most memorable, fun, and unique periods of fashion throughout history.