By Mark Nobes

Not many would argue with me when I say that the most awful fashion item to come out of the 80s was the shell suit. This shiny and gaudy, nylon descendant of the tracksuit became popular with the hip hop and breakdancing scene, and was actually cool for a short while, believe it or not! 
It was the perfect choice for the couch potato who wanted to look like a fitness freak, but would rather lay on the sofa stuffing themselves with Bejam cheese and tomato pizza.
However, it soon became one of the most socially unacceptable fashion statements ever seen, when they were worn by ageing and controversial celebrities who were trying to "get down with the kids". One of the most infamous characters to wear one was David Icke, who was spouting wild and controversial conspiracy theories, claiming that the Queen is a shape-shifting reptilian and that he was "the son of a godhead".
David Icke wearing a shell on Wogan in 1991

David Icke on Wogan in 1991

When comedian Harry Enfield's scouser characters donned them - along with their bubble perm hair styles and inflated liverpudlian accents - this was the final nail in the coffin for the shell suit, creating a stereotype that is still regularly associated with Liverpool.
And, of course, then there was a certain cigar-smoking BBC presenter who added a string vest, pink teashades and his jingle jangle jewellery to complete his vile look.
Original 1980s nylon shell suit jackets

Original 1980s nylon shinyshell suit jackets complete with creases

Yes, I was one of the fools who bought a turquoise shell suit from Fosters, along with a pair of Adidas Hi-top trainers. Quite what I was thinking I do not know. However, it was about a year before they started to get a bad press, and they were considered to be trendy for a short while - well, I thought so! To be honest, I never really felt that comfortable venturing out in it, and I probably only wore it a couple of times, thank goodness - I just hope no one ever took a photo!
1980s his and hers shellsuits advert

His and hers shell suits for £39.99 - each! Do they have gold lining?

80s and 90s Shell Suit Costumes

So the shellsuit went from being cool in the 80s to naff in the 90s. Of course, its comedic value makes it an ideal choice for fancy dress purposes.

You'll find a substantial range of shell suit costumes at ebay, and the prices are probably as low as you're going to get anywhere. There is a huge range of designs available for both men and women. You can also use ebay to find original shell suits, should you wish to look authentically 80s.

The following outfits are an example of what's available to buy online...

Two adult females wearing colourful 80s shell suit costumes.

If you're female, then for an 80s style you can add a big perm wig (hair style back then were big and bold) or a sweatbands set (headband and wristbands) for a more sporty look.

If you're male, then you can also add a scouser perm wig and tash set (some costumes come with this)or sweatbands.

You can also create an 80s hop hop style by adding an inflatable boombox

I particularly like this blue ladies shellsuit by Bristol Novelty, which has disntinctly 80s chevron stripes. It's available in small, medium and large sizes for an adult female.

Smiffy's Adult men's 80's Height of Fashion Shell Suit Costume, Jacket and trousers, Back to the 80's, Serious Fun, Size L, 39298Smiffy's 43130M 80's Height of Fashion Shell Suit Female Costume (Medium)Women's 80s Shell Suit Costume Size 8-10 or 10-1280s Men's Orange Tracksuit - SHellsuitLadies 80s Pink and Blue Shell Suit Costume in 3 Sizes80s Purple, Green and Pink Shell SuitAdults Pink 80s Shelll Suit CostumeLadies Purple and Blue Shell Suit CostumeWomen's Shiny Purple and Orange Tracksuit with 80s PattenAdults Turquoise and Pink Shell Suit Costume by Amscan.


Ladies Shiny, Crinkly Blue and Pink Shell Suit with Zip Up JacketWomen's Turquoise Shell Suit with Retro Stripes. In 3 sizesMen's Purple retro 80s Stripes Shell Suit, Standard or XL sizes availableYellow and Orange Men's Shell Suit with 80s Pattern Design


Add a perm wig or an 80s wig and some hi top trainers to complete your look. You may also be interested in reading our 80s Trainers page for more advice. It features images of original trainers that we were wearing back in the day. From what I remember, most of them had two or three angled stripes down the sides or the company logo (such as Nike and Reebok), and they were mostly plain white.

AN original pair of 1980s Reebok Hi-top trainers

1980s Reebok Hi-tops

80s Pink Shell Suits for Him and Her


The costume featured here is a fine example of the colours and style used for a late 80s/early 90s shell suit. The accessories such as the pink wayfarers, headband and boombox are not included, but these can be easily bought at Amazon.

Now, that guy in the picture looks like he's ready for a good old 80s workout, but you can go for a more hip hop look with the following costume;
You can create the classic Scouser style that was adopted by Harry Enfield in his 90s TV show Harry Enfield's Television Program with a scouser wig. Of course, the characters he portrayed were very 80s with the perm and tash.