Your Guide to 80s Fashion

Apr/06/2022 / by Melanie Fourie
80s fashion
Image credits: Shutterstock

80s Fashion was associated with an array of styles for women and men alike. Street fashion was garish, as was the makeup of that day. Alternatively, men and women sported a more elegant look for formal occasions. Hairstyles and accessories were unique to the era too. However, some 80s fashion trends have proved to be timeless. In fact, if you carefully observe some of the latest trends, you’ll find a definite 80s fashion influence there. Here’s a look at what the world of fashion entailed in the 1980’s.

The World’s Top 80s Fashion Influences

Celebrities like Madonna played a pivotal role in 80s fashion. Deemed as the queen of pop, Madonna’s signature style included hair bows, cut-off lace gloves, midriff tops, black gothic-like bangles, hooped earrings and big hair.

Michael Jackson played an influential role too, with his studded leather jackets, black pants and white socks and his white t-shirts. His power jackets, complete with huge shoulder pads were also adorned with military-like accessories. The signature white glove he often wore on stage, was a fashion statement in itself too.

The elegant look most women adapted was largely a result of influences like Princess Diana of Wales. A self-professed non fashionista, she certainly influenced 80 style dresses like the asymmetrical off-the-shoulder black cocktail dress, her signature pearl earrings and high waist denims. The royal was also responsible for the flurry of women who took to wearing those sheer elegant silk blouses.

Songstress and actress Olivia Newton John, began a fitness revolution with her song ‘Let’s Get Physical’. As a result, women flocked to get the latest in fitness apparel such as legwarmers, leotards and headbands. Similarly, the Jane Fonda fitness revolution also came with ardent fans who wanted to emulate the fitness look and dress just like the star.

Some TV shows in the 80s were also largely responsible for 80s fashion. This included Dallas, with women like Sue Ellen and Pam Ewing sporting power suits with large shoulder pads. Other 80s outfit ideas coming from this TV show included Pam’s baggy knit jumpers, and Lucy’s tight fitting denim jeans and heels. Dynasty also showcased several fashionistas, with one of them being the super stylish Joan Collins. She strutted her stuff with elegant cocktail dresses and costume jewelry, and not to mention the classic power suit and dress with its signature big shoulder pads. She also wore tops with a cinched waist, giving the impression of the peplum waist, which is actually a current trend.

Besides celebrities, brands were also influencers of 80s fashion. Some of these brands included Coco-Cola, who had their own statement t-shirts in the 1980s. Influential fitness brands of the day also included Adidas and Nike. Jeans were just as big in the 1980s, as what it is today. Back then brands like Levi and Guess were popular too. They manufactured all types of jeans back then you can easily find today, including mom, dad, distressed and stonewash jeans. Converse was a prominent brand in the 80s with their range of high top sneakers. Other influential shoe brands of the 80s included Puma and Doc Martens. Ray Ban also played a pivotal role in sunglass trends in the 1980s, with the advent of the aviator sunglasses in movies like Top Gun with Tom Cruise sporting it.

Women’s 80s Fashion

Mini skirts, layered skirts and skater skirts were all the craze when it came to 1980s fashions. Note that the 80s did not see the advent of mini skirts, as minis were first introduced in the 60s. Minis were often worn with fish-net stockings and shoes like Doc Martens. Women also donned the mini with leg warmers or neon colored leggings. Layered skirts were also often puffed and looked a lot like a tutu. Today, both mini skirts and skater skirts are as popular as ever.

Layered polka dot dresses and skirts were also a popular aspect of 80s fashion. These were worn with leggings or stockings and boots. The skirts were also almost always paired with a broad buckled belt.

Besides the legwarmers, tights, and leotards mentioned, women also wore drawstring shorts with their leotards and legwarmers in the 80s. These shorts were usually monotone, with black or white edging to break the main shade.

Animal prints were also highly popular with women in the 80s. Some of the most common prints were leopard or zebra print. Women bought leggings and bodysuits in animal prints. They also wore off-the-shoulder animal print tops, and paired it with leather skirts or pants.

Acid washed jeans formed part of 80s fashion as well. So how exactly did one get the acid wash look? Well, getting this result involved a process where the denim was immersed in chlorine, and rubbed with a pumice stone until the color for the fibers changed. Women often wore this type of denim in the form of a biker’s jacket, or in the form of a fringed jacket.

Pegged jeans or jeans that were rolled at the ankles, were also a part of 80s fashion. In fact, celebrities like Kylie Minogue often wore this. Today this look is still fashionable, and is often worn with boots.

Women also wore stonewashed or light colored denim jeans and jackets in the 80s. The mom jeans was popular then too, just as it is today. The stonewashed cropped denim jacket was also a favorite with many women in the 1980s. That being said, stonewashed cropped denim jackets are trendy once again.

Bubble skirts were super trendy with women back then too. This skirt consisted of a section that was puffed at the hem. In fact, it looked a lot like a mushroom. It also sat just above the knee, and came in an array of bold or neon colors. These bubble skirts were usually worn with hi-top sneakers. The bubble look also came in dresses. The dresses were often asymmetrical off-the-shoulder types, with a tight-fitting bodice, attached to the bubble skirt section. This style dress was also popularized when Princess Diana once took to the red carpet wearing a striped black and white bubble dress, with a white blazer and black and white court shoes.

Rompers or jumpsuits were 80s fashion favorites too. However, the 80s jumpsuit comprised a more tapered look than its 70s version, and it had bat-wing sleeves. 80’s Fashionistas often wore a jumpsuit with a belt and matching knee-high boots too. Summer rompers were worn in light or pastel colors, and paired with flat shoes. Women also donned checkered jumpsuits with matching t-shirts underneath, and a pair or pumps. That being said, rompers were also made with some huge shoulder pads, just like the power suits and dresses of the 80’s.

Leggings were manufactured in so many different designs and shades in the 80s. Women sported neon leggings with legwarmers, to match the color of their armbands and workout tops.  They also wore animal print leggings and leggings with geometric designs, paired with stilettos or court shoes.

Velour tracksuits were all the craze in the 80s, as it is currently. These items definitely had a glamorous edge, and although they were comfortable enough to work out in, they were often deemed as athleisure and just worn to relax in.

80s Fashion
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Men’s 80’s Clothing 

1980s fashion also included a range of styles worn by men. Casual wear for men included wearing a stone wash denim jacket, with a stone wash dad jeans and high top sneakers. Men also wore hoodies with their jeans and high top sneakers. Other looks included wearing a rolled up jeans with a belt jumper, and matching shoes and briefcase. They also donned striped shirts tucked into stone wash jeans, and a matching pair of dress shoes and belt for something more on the smart casual side.

Hip hop fashion was all the craze for men in the 80s too. Rappers of the day wore tracksuits or hoodies with heavy chains draped around their necks. They then completed the look with a pair of shades and a fedora or bucket hat. This look transcended onto today’s fashion landscape, as hip hop fashion has never gone out of style. 

On the other end of the fashion spectrum, men took to dressing elegantly. This was often referred to as preppy fashion. This comprised a smart casual laid back look. For instance, men would wear a formal pants and t-shirt, with a matching belt and shoes, and then drape a jumper over their shoulder. The preppy aesthetic also included the wearing of blazers. Here they’d wear a chino pants with a matching shirt and tie, plus a blazer, a belt and a pair of formal shoes without socks. Or they’d wear a dress shirt with a linen shorts and belt, and pair it with some loafers and a pair of sunglasses.

Tracksuits were highly popular then, as it is now. Back then tracksuits were mainly worn with high top sneakers. Today, men wear tracksuits with a variety of sneaker types. 1980s Style tracksuits included brand names like Adidas. Some men took to wearing velour tracksuits as well.

A men’s beach look in the 80s often included the classic tropical shirt, paired with a pair of jeans or a shorts, sneakers and sunglasses. Alternatively, men also paired tropical type floral shorts with plain shirts and sunglasses.

Suits back in the day were known for its shoulder pads and wide shoulders. Men wore these with shirts or t-shirts and ties. The pin stripe suit was also highly popular in the 80s. T-shirts were mainly branded, or of the logo type. This trend it evident today as well. In the 80s, most logoed t-shirts boasted a brand name. Today t-shirts sport logos, as well as characters like Marvel or an intriguing meme. Back in the day, t-shirts were often paired with leggings or a pair of jeans. The same applies today, as most men pair their branded and logoed t-shirts with skinny jeans, slim fit jeans or leggings. Men today have also adopted the 80s sockless look.

So what else did people wear in the 80s? Well, for one, jackets were a definite staple for men. These included windbreakers, which are evidently still worn today as active or outer wear. The windbreakers are also manufactured with hoodies, just like the windbreakers of the 80s. Men also wore stone washed denim jackets in the 80s. The same applies today, as this item is often paired with jeans and a jumper. Leather jackets were a hot commodity in the 80s too. This was worn with black leather pants, or a ripped or distressed jeans. Men in the 80s also loved wearing a rolled up pants with dress shoes, with a t-shirt and a leather jacket. Bomber jackets were popular too back then, and worn with dad jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. Today, bomber jackets are primarily paired with skinny or slim fit jeans, even though men do pair this with dad jeans too.

Chunky sweaters formed part of 80s fashion for men too. These jumpers were oversized, and often decorated with geometric patterns. The jumpers also sometimes had contrasting shades. In the 80s, men paired their oversized jumpers with their joggers, chino pants, or a pair of high waist jeans. Men still wear baggy jumpers today, although mostly with chinos.

Hair in the 1980s

Men’s hair in the 80s was often influenced by celebrities such as Richard Dean Anderson, Johnny Depp and Jon Bon Jovi. Some styles were extremely slick like the men who worked in Wall Street, while others had long locks in ponytails. In fact, actors like Steven Seagull, played a fundamental role in the ponytail trend. Today, men still love growing their locks and sporting this look.

The Michael Jackson curly locks longer length look was also popularized in the 80s. In fact, some men would actually get their hair curly permed to adopt Jackson’s style. The mullet was also an extremely sort after haircut at most barber shops. This included hair that was short and spiky in the front and sides, with longer locks at the back.  

80s Fashion also included specific women’s hairstyles. The mullet was common with women in this era too. Women also wore the half ponytail, where they gathered the top layers of their hair in a ponytail with a scrunchie, and left the rest hanging loose. They also wore their hair in side-parted bobs. Remember that these bobs were less textured than the bobs of today.  Bobs back then were therefore thicker or fuller looking.

Women also loved putting their hair in a side ponytail. The punk rock style was also exceptionally popular during this era. Then there was the shaggy bob. It primarily consisted of a short bob, with shaggy curls. The front section of the hair was then styled in bangs  resembling spikes. Speaking of bangs, there were women who wore their hair in a straight bob, with curlier bangs. They did this, as it gave them a girlish look. 80s women’s hair trends also included looks like soft medium length curls, with a side path. This look had a romantic, feminine feel to it, and was often worn with pink eyeshadow and pink lipsticks.

Popstars like Sandra wore their locks in feather braids as well. This involved wearing long hair in long layers, with twisted braids for an exotic look. A tiny ponytail added to the top of the head added flair to this exotic look. The curly wet look was also in style in the 80s. This look resembled an afro curly kit. Crimped hair was also high on the 80s hairdo agenda. Here women crimped the length of their hair to achieve the look of tiny waves. They also complemented this look with huge feminine bows. Balayage highlights were also the craze in the 80s. This helped brighten a face, and added warmth and depth to layered hair.

80s Fashion
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Makeup in the 80s

Makeup formed an integral part of 80s fashion, as it complemented the outfits of that era, and also added a finishing touch to an 80’s outfit. Colors were bold in this era, especially with streetwear. Eyes could therefore be referred to as dramatic. Women also applied their foundation on heavier, and blush was heavier too and used for contouring. When contouring, blusher was applied in an angular fashion. It was also applied to cheek hollows to each temple. Blusher colors included bold reds, corals and varying degrees of bronze. Makeup artists in the 80s did not blend out any harsh edges when applying blush in the 80s. Nowadays makeup artists always strive for a more subtle look, by blending away any harsh lines. Eyeliner was super dramatic and applied heavier as well then, and the smoky eye look was ever so popular. The lipsticks of that era also came in bold orange, reds and neon pinks.

Beauty spots of marks, especially like Cindy Crawford’s mole were popular too. Artists like Madonna had beauty marks too. Women emulated this look by using black eyeliner to draw facial moles. They then made it appear a tad more natural, by going over it with a warm brown eye shadow.

Women in the 80s went for a natural look when it came to their eyebrows. This means that thicker brows like the ones Brooke Shields had were not plucked or toned down. In fact, eyebrow trends dictated that women should keep their natural looking eyebrows.

Men’s makeup also formed part of 80s fashion. Boy George influenced men in the 80s to wear thick eyeliner and lipstick or lip gloss. Some rock stars in the era wore eye shadows too, with thickly lined eyelids and nude or blush color lipstick. Male rock musicians often used makeup to create art on their faces like bat faces or geometric shapes around the eyes for some gothic appeal.

80s Fashion was not complete without jewelry. In fact, jewelry in this era was a form of personal expression. The earrings worn here were often dramatic and big. Women wore oversized hoops, pearl earrings, as well as gold disc earrings. They also wore clip-ons. Necklaces included beads, and many women wore gold-plated necklaces. Pearl necklaces were popular in the 80s too. In fact, it was worn in several styles, including lengthy ropes tied in knots at the ends.

Bracelets were the craze for both men and women in the 80s. Women wore neon plastic or jelly bangles. Charm bracelets and chunky bangles were also popular back then. Some of the jewelry icons of the 80s included Madonna, Princess Diana and Cyndi Lauper. Princess Diana often wore jewelry with large stones, and pearl necklaces and earrings. She was also known to wear more than one watch simultaneously.  Madonna was known for wearing big earrings, and Cyndi Lauper popularized bangles and colorful beads.


What clothes were popular in the 80’s?

Acid wash and stone wash denims were incredibly popular in the 80s for men and women alike. Men wore the dad jeans with high top sneakers and baggy jumpers. Stone wash denim jackets were also popular for men and women.

Leather jackets for both genders were popular too. 80s fashion for men was also not complete without the bomber jacket. Leggings, including animal print and neon ones was worn by women and men alike.

Fitness trends took the world by storm with movies like Fame and Flash Dance. This influenced men and women to wear legwarmers over their leggings or jeans. Women also wore jogging shorts over their leggings, while both men and women took to wearing headbands.

How can I look more 80s?

One way of doing this is by applying your makeup in a different way. For instance, you can use brightly colored eyeshadows, and apply contrasting shades. You can also apply your eyeliner on thicker, and avoid blurring out any harsh lines when applying your blusher.

Or wear high top sneakers with a high waist jeans and pair of aviator sunglasses. If you’re a man looking to recreate an 80s look, you can do so by wearing a tropical shirt with a shorts and loafers without socks.

What do you wear for 80’s day work?

Men usually wore pin stripe or power suits to work. For this look, wear a plain colored shirt, with a matching pin stripe waist coat, matching shoes and bag. Women also took to wearing power suits in the 80s. This was synonymous with huge shoulder pads and a cinched waist, which gave the look of what we now refer to as a peplum waist. You can also wear costume jewelry, and some heels or court shoes to compete this look.


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