80s Clothing

Fashion in the 1980's

The eighties were a time when many of the fashion trends that people love to hate were created. In complete contrast to the 70s, shirts became looser and trousers became tighter. Hair was heavily styled and voluminous (teased and permed to the limits!) and make-up was bold with clashing colours - almost like face paint. Some call it "the time that fashion forgot", as most laws of fashion were broken & torn to shreds.

Music Videos were a major influence for 80s fashion, as well as American TV shows such as 'Dynasty' and 'Dallas' - shoulder pads spring to mind!

80s Aerobics and Fitness
For quite a while an aerobics craze grabbed hold of the nation, and it was created by American dance movies such as Fame and Flashdance. Here in Britain, Jane Fonda workout videos helped fuel the craze and you may remember Diana Moran (nicknamed the "Green Goddess") stretching her limbs on BBC's Breakfast Time, much to the delight of presenter Frank Bough. It just looked like far too much effort for me, especially that early in the morning!

Olivia Newton-John was also at it in her controversial video for her hit song Physical. It seemed like every female wanted to join in, and we suddenly saw women appearing out on the streets in aerobics gear just to do the shopping - this was in broad daylight, too!

The 80s keep fit look for women included items such as neon-coloured, plain, pastel or stripy legwarmers that were scrunched up and worn over leggings, tights or even their jeans for a more casual style. They were also worn with mini skirts.

The over-sized, grey sweatshirt with a large neck opening (which was ripped open and worn off-the-shoulder) became hugely popular after Jennifer Beals wore one in Flashdance.

The classic 1980s aerobics look included a headband, leotard, tights or leggings and, of course, those legwarmers.

Visit our 80s Workout Clothing page
sporty keep fit 80s girl wearing legwarmers, shorts, mesh vest, headband
Ladies Aerobics in the 1980s
Aerobics in 1985
80s-fashion-ideas-02
Women's Retro Gym Shorts (Dolphin Shorts) with drawstring
Dolphin shorts (Gym shorts) with a drawstring also became popular and were in usually in one block colour and often with a contrasting edging colour such as white. Interlock running shorts were very similar but without the drawstring. 
Puffball Skirts
During the latter half of the eighties a reinvented version of a 50s fad emerged its ugly head. Yes, it was the awkward-looking puffball skirt which, I believe, was called the bubble skirt in the U.S. As the name suggests (not to be confused with multi-layered ruffle skirts/tutus), these skirts which puffed out at the hem like a mushroom and sat just above the knee and made women's hips look ridiculously huge. They became popular in the mid to late 80s and I certainly remember Princess Diana wearing a one with diagonal stripes, and also Pepsi & Shirlie wore them, too.

If you're thinking of creating an 80s costume using a puffball skirt, then I would suggest thinking again. They are extremely hard to find these days and despite extensive searching, I have been unable to find much at all, and what I did find looked nothing like the original skirts from the 80s.

However, there are plenty of other styles of skirts and costumes available, such as minis, ra-ra and skater, and you can see these further down this page and on our Ladies Fancy Dress pages.
Mini Skirts
Ra-Ra's and Skaters

Of course, mini skirts made their first appearance in the 1960s when they were often worn with go-go boots. During the 80s, more often than not, they were worn with legwarmers and/or leggings. Popular materials were denim and spandex and they were tight and clingy. Rah-rah's and skater skirts were particularly popular.

The ra-ra (or rah-rah) is a skirt with more than one layer (usually two or three layers/tiers, but I've seen some have six!) and during the eighties they came in a whole range of colours. Layers could be flat or in a puffed-out tutu style.

Kylie Minogue wearing a red rah-rah skirt in the 80s
You can see many more skirts on our Ladies Fancy Dress pages
Animal Print Clothes
Animal print was also a popular choice in the eighties for both men and women, particularly leopard, zebra and snake. It featured on skirts, leggings, dresses, jackets and well, just about anything wearable! Metal bands loved it, too, and at least one member of most bands could be seen wearing animal print.
1980s - Girl in a zebra print dress with batwing sleeves
This photo from the 1980s shows a girl wearing a zebra print dress with batwing sleeves.
80s Hair Metal Band Cinderella
Here we see 80s glam metal band Cinderella donning animal print trousers and accessories on their 1986 album Night Songs.
Animal Print Leggings for 80s Fancy Dress
Deely Boppers/Bobbers
Invented by Stephen Askin in 1981, teeny boppers (also called bobbers) sold in their millions. Basically, it was just a headband with two, bouncy martian-like antennae protruding from it. Quite why everyone felt the need to look like a little green man I've no idea!

There were many variations with lights and pom poms being particularly popular. They're still worn by party-goers today and,  no doubt, should you risk venturing out onto the streets on a weekend night there will be, at least, one hen party wearing them.

Deely Bobbers
Photo by Jim Lane (self-made (the model has consented)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Silver Glitter Ball Deely Boppers for 80s Dress-Up
Power Dressing
80s Shoulder Pads and Batwing Sleeves

Dynasty Diva - Joan Collins Outfit
Now here's a great idea for an 80s fancy dress costume. Just add the Dynasty Wig to complete your look.
80s style Padded Jacket with geometric shapes design
Now this jacket is about as eighties as you can get!
Grace Jones wearing shoulder pads
Priness of Wales in 80s Shoulder Pads
Not one to be left out of the latest fashion trends, Princess Diana also sported shoulder pads, although, she was often responsible for starting a new trend.
Is there anyone who thinks that padded shoulders were a great idea? This has to be one of the worst fashion fads to come out of the 80s. I believe it was a "girl power" thing, and this was long before the Spice Girls came onto the scene. Women were rising through the ranks like never before, and here in Britain, of course, our country was being run by our first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Then there was Joan Collins, who played super-bitch Alexis Carrington in Dynasty. Let's face it, any woman with broad-looking shoulders and big 80s hair was going to make any man run for cover!

 The New Romantics

New Romanticism was flourishing in the early eighties, and was born in the nightclubs of London such as The Blitz and Billy's. We saw flamboyant men wearing frilly shirts, eye-liner and other forms of make-up. 70s glam rock was a big influence for the look, whilst Kraftwerk influenced the sound, with many (but not all) acts using synthesizers and electronic drums to create their music.

New Romantic Hair Style 80s
Japan Quiet Life - New Romantic Fashion

Above we see some typical New Romantic hair styles. On the left is some bloke I've never seen before wearing a dodgy wig, and on the right is the cover of Quiet Life by Japan, featuring a very typical fashion look from the early 80s where we see the hair sweeping over one eye. Quite often the hair was also cut shorter on one side of the head.

One of the earliest examples of New Romanticism can be seen in the video Planet Earth by Duran Duran.

Duran Duran on the cover of their self-titled debut album
Duran Duran on the sleeve of their self-titled debut album in 1981

Choose Life and Relax

In 1984, whilst Wham made the "Choose Life" T-Shirt popular, Frankie Goes to Hollywood made the "Frankie Say Relax" T-Shirt even more popular!

Pepsi and Shirlie, the backing singers with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley's Wham! made the Katherine Hamnett "GO GO" and "Choose Life" t-shirt famous by wearing them in the video for the 80s hit single 'Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)'.

These days there are more Wham style T-shirts available than ever before, with lots of variations of the original "Choose Life" message and also available in a whole array of colours.

Photo: Holly Johnson with Paul Rutherford who is modelling a "Frankie Say War! Hide Yourself" T-Shirt, which was designed by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's PR manger (and co-founder of ZTT records) Paul Morley. The design was based on Katherine Hamnett's slogan T-shirts, and also included "Frankie Say Arm The Unemployed" and, of course, the more popular "Frankie Say Relax".

Acid Washed Jeans


This is one eighties fashion craze I'd rather forget about. The trend for yukky acid wash jeans was popular from the mid to late 80's and into the early 90's before they died a quick death.

The process involves washing denim with chlorine using a pumice stone and was invented by the Rifle Jeans company in Italy. They were often worn with motorcycle jackets or fringe jackets (cowboy/country music style leather jackets with lots of tassles) by heavy metal and rock bands, although plenty of non-rock acts (such as Bros and Salt N' Pepa) also jumped in on the trend. Acid Washed jeans made a bit of a comeback during the late noughties.

Tight-Rolled Jeans
Kylie Minogue in tight-rolled jeans in 1989
Also known as pegged jeans/pants, during the late 80s and into the early 90s both males and females decided to tight roll the bottom of their jeans 2 or 3 times over. If you tight-rolled a pair of acid-washed jeans then you were ultra-trendy!

Rolling-up the bottom of your jeans is something that is still popular amongst some youngsters today. It's also a good excuse for me to claim that I'm being trendy when I've bought a pair of jeans that are too long for me!

An original pair of Levi's 501 acid-washed high waisted jeans from the 80s
An original pair of acid-washed, high-waisted 501's
1980s Levi's 501 Denim Jacket
Levi's 501 Denim Jacket from the 80s

Levi's 501's UK TV Adverts

The 1985 advert featuring Nick Kamen (see the video playlist at the top of the page) dramatically increased sales of Levi's 501 jeans in the mid 80's. Nick Kamen also had a #5 hit single in 1986 with Each Time You Break My Heart which was written and produced by Madonna and Stephen Bray.

After this success, ads featuring old classics by artists such as Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King and Percy Sledge also boosted sales of both Levi's and vinyl records during 1986 and 1987.

80's pin badges
Denim jackets were often covered with pin badges
Debbie Gibson wearing acid washed denim in the 1980s

Pixie Boots

80s Pixie Boots

Pixie Boots featured pointy toes and fold-over cuffs and were extremely popular with girls in the early eighties. 

80s Disco Diva Fancy Dress Costume

Create a similar 80s look on the 80s Fancy Dress page. Plus, discover more info about tutus and ra ra skirts.

Ray Ban Sunglasses

There has been something of a resurgence in this 80s fashion trend in recent years. When I was 14 years old back in 1982 I bought a pair of cheap mirror lens shades from the local market. Street Markets were really popular back in the eighties (in the UK, at least) as there were no chain pound stores or numerous discount clothing superstores on the high street like today.

Ray Bans were also popular and worn by many of the pop stars and film stars of the day, but I suspect that a good many of us ordinary folk bought cheaper replicas.

It's funny how Ray Bans (particularly Wayfarer), Aviators / Mirror Lens sunglasses are popular once again, along with so many other 80's clothes.

Visit my 80s costume ideas blog at 80sFashion.info


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This ladies MTV Music Television logo vest top is one of the most popular 80s tops at Amazon UK. The music video channel launched on 1st August 1981, and that logo is now iconic.

 

80s Mullet Compilation