Most Iconic Fashion Trends of the 80s, from Party Costumes to 80s Jeans
The 80s fashion decade holds such a unique place in the world of fashion, trends, and styles.
In a world of no fashion influencers and no social media, 80s fashion drew inspiration from music and TV shows, creating more style idols than in any previous fashion decade.
‘Big,’ ‘bright,’ and ‘loud’ describe the 80s fashion decade, with eye-straining colors and patterns, power suits, shoulder pads, dramatic earrings, and acid wash jeans.
Most Popular 80s Fashion Trends
At the same time, the eighties was a decade when many fashion trends that people love to hate were created – as you’ll see in our gallery of iconic ’80s outfits.
Hair was teased and permed to the limits, voluminously styled, and sometimes crimped; make-up was bold with clashing colors, almost like face paint.
1980s fashion styles were also about flaunting money – wearing designer outfits, preppy brands, and loud logos to showcase one’s wealth and status.
Nevertheless, the 80s influence has shaped not only the culture and fashion looks of that decade but also the styles we wear nowadays, in 2022.
In this article, I’ll take you back down memory lane to experience once again the most beautiful moments of the 80s fashion and styles.
Without further ado, these are the 21 most representative and inspiring 80s fashion pics, images, and moments ever.
Power suits and power dressing was all the rage in the 80s, as a trend created by celebrities and movie stars playing influential, power-hungry career women.
Grace Jones’ sharply-tailored suits with broad padded shoulders inspired the ‘girl power’ and cross-dressing movement of the 1980s – and an inspiration for artists such as Annie Lennox, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Solange, and Lorde.
Also, as a sign women were rising through the ranks, Britain was run by Margaret Thatcher, the country’s first-ever female Prime Minister.
Padded Shoulder Dress
The shoulder pads were such an influential trend in the 80s fashion that they even started to be adopted by dress designers.
Notable shoulder pads were matched with vaporous dresses with puffed sleeves to create unique geometric shapes and cuts.
The 80s fashion styles were influenced by those times stars and celebrities, promoting fitness and aerobic exercises on TV.
Olivia Newton-John and Jane Fonda’s appearances (Flashdance in particular) turned legwarmers into every woman’s fashion statement.
Aerobic outfits, leggings, oversized sweaters, and even skinny jeans for women were all garments that required legwarmers as a finishing touch.
Leather Jackets Sleeves Rolled Up
Worn by music and movie stars such as Bon Jovi, Madonna, Cher, Tom Cruise (Top Gun), and Morten Harket, leather jackets were a must-have in the 80s.
However, the most popular leather jacket styles had large, padded shoulders and were worn with the sleeves rolled up, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller look is the perfect example.
80s Preppy Fashion
The 80s was also the decade of designers focusing on comfortable and stylish preppy styles.
Brands like Polo, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein launched college-styled jackets, trousers, and shirts in pastel colors with stripes.
Seen as a key 80s trend, preppy shirts (also seen in ‘Light Academia‘) were worn as either a formal button-down or a casual t-shirt.
Statement Tees & Slogan T-shirts
Statement tees, also called slogan t-shirts, are another 80s fashion-defining moment, beautifully exemplified by Katharine Hamnett’s pieces.
The designer’s anti-nuclear-missiles T-shirt, worn while meeting then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984, is now part of 80s fashion history.
The trend of logans printed on t-shirts was quickly adopted by Pepsi, Nike, Adidas, and Guess after realizing the advertising power of their own logos printed on T’s.
The 80s is also the decade of mini skirts, skater skirts, and Rah-rah’s.
Mini skirts were first seen in the 1960s, often matched with go-go boots.
But the mini-skirt trends peaked in the 80s, worn with legwarmers and/or leggings.
Popular materials were denim and spandex (see Kylie Minogue’s high-shine minidresses) or augmented with layers of net and lace, Madonna-style.
Inspired by 1940s – 50s fashion, polka dot dresses, skirts, and tops resurfaced in the 80s with a vengeance.
The style was brought back by the French fashion house Emanuel Ungaro on its SS 1985 ready-to-wear collection, fast adopted by royalty, pop stars, and cinema celebrities alike.
Princess Diana loved sporting polka dots skirts; the Strawberry Switchblade pop duo had them on big PVC belts and Claudia Cardinale on her characteristic dresses with tie necklines.
Even in the 80s wearing natural animal skin was drawn upon.
However, that didn’t deter celebrities from wearing over-the-top animal prints on every imaginable outfit and style.
From leggings to handbags, skirts, and sunglasses, bold prints of leopard, zebra, tiger, giraffe, and python were the rage.
Most fashionable sunglasses in the 1980s had giant frames and sported colored or mirror lenses.
Some of the most popular 80s sunglasses frames were oversized Wayfarers and Aviators by Rayban.
Yet, depending on your social circle, you could also spot Gucci, Cartier, and Vuarnet in large frames.
Thierry Mugler’s spring 1983 ready-to-wear show is the best example of clothes in which one side is not the same as the other.
The asymmetric style was best exemplified by Molly Ringwald, a famous Hollywood actor of the 80s.
Some key characteristics of asymmetrical style and design feature a one-shoulder bodice, slanted hemlines, or necklines, often seen nowadays in the streetwear pieces of Japanese fashion.
Leotards & Bodysuits
After the 70s drugs and freedom “flower power” decade wore off, 80s started as a self-conscious decade.
Jane Fonda took advantage of women’s obsession with dance and exercise with fitness videos showcasing an extensive collection of bright colors bodysuits.
With the help of music divas like Cher, the promotion and selling of sportswear apparel in bold colors became an 80s thing.
What nowadays we call athleisure once started as leotards and bodysuits, a functional form of fashion.
The 80s double denim style craze is the best example of how celebrity power shaped and still shapes the current fashion trends.
Levi’s 501 jeans campaign involved top celebs of those times, such as Nick Kamen, who had 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 continue until the end of the 80s, thanks to Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King, and Percy Sledge boosting Levi’s sales and vinyl records.
Thick Socks With High-Top Trainers
In a trend started by fitness celebrities that moved from gyms to 80s catwalks, thick socks, layered socks, and even socks with lace edging were an 80’s fashion statement for the girls.
Neon socks paired over the other and worn with trainers were popular in various contexts, at the gym, meeting with friends, and even at the office.
And as the idea of wearing socks everywhere became popular, ankle socks worn with heels started to emerge, from movie clips on MTV to movies and the catwalks.
In the 80s, wearing short skirts to show off your legs was very cool – see Debbie Harry’s chic little black dresses accessorized with striking hosiery.
Initially, sheer tights had neutral colors – for a more natural look – like brown during the day and black in the evening
Influenced by the growing fitness craze, sheer colored tights became a thing in the mid-eighties, with many fashion brands creating colored stockings.
The colored sheer tights trend continued into the 90s fashion, worn at the office and even at dinner events.
Stirrup Pants & Leggings
Stirrups are light metallic frames hanging on each side of a saddle, used to support mounting or riding.
Stirrup pants borrow the concept by having a strap of material at the end of the foot to hold the pants in place.
Given their construct, stirrup pants were trendy in the 80s in sporting activities such as aerobics, ballet, and dancing, eventually permeating into daily fashion looks.
Towards the end of the eighties, women of all ages could be seen wearing leggings and stirrup pants matched with large t-shirts or comfortable oversized sweaters.
Decorative Lace Dresses & Accessories
After Madonna launched her global hit “Like a Virgin” on MTV in 1984, lace dresses and lace gloves became an instant fashion statement throughout the 80s.
The trend can be seen everywhere, even in movies, and one of the most popular characters spring the style was Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, played by Joan Collins.
Originally known as a harem skirt, these pants were introduced to western fashion circles in 1910 by the Parisian designer Paul Poiret.
Long, baggy, with a very low drop-crotch and fitted at the ankle, harem pants were also known as the MC Hammer pants.
In psychedelic colors and dizzying patterns, harem pants are another look that makes the 80s fashion so unforgettable and unique.
Some of the most popular swimsuits of the 80s had a high-cut one-piece, like the babes on the original Baywatch series used to wear.
The high cut was designed to elongate the legs while the waist tucked everything into a slimmer silhouette, whether there’s a bit of weight on the hips or tummy.
80s Post-punk Fashion
Inspired by London’s skinhead culture that took the 60s fashion by storm, the 80s punk style version had a milder, more enigmatic look.
The softer variations of post-punk 80s fashion were influenced by a blend of skinhead culture with other cultures and musical trends, from goth rock to glam and psychedelic rock.
Acid Washed Jeans
Distressed, acid wash jeans were popular from the mid to late 80s and early 90s.
Invented by the Rifle Jeans company in Italy, washing denim with chlorine and using a pumice stone to distress the material.
The style was usually worn with biker jackets or fringe jackets (cowboy/country music style leather jackets with lots of tassels) and by heavy metal and rock bands.
Although, many non-rock acts (such as Bros and Salt N’ Pepa) and brands like Jordache, Guess, Wrangler, Levi, and Gitano also jumped on the trend.
80s Fashion FAQs
What kind of clothes were popular in the 80s?
The most popular clothes for women in the 80s included power suits, legwarmers, dresses with padded shoulders, and spandex and Lycra tights.
For men, some of the most popular clothes in the 80s were polo shirts, Oxford shirts, and turtlenecks.
Both genders wore linen, velour, corduroy suits, high-waisted, acid wash, ripped jeans, and leather jackets.
What should I wear to an 80s party?
What you should wear at an 80s theme party depends on the style you want to recreate.
In the 80s, there were several fashion styles, but some of the most popular were power office, street casual, punk, and athletic, each with its own accessories.
Some of the most popular 80s accessories are: scrunchies, leg warmers, fingerless gloves, plastic bangles, large earrings in neon shades, mesh accents, and pearl necklaces.
How do you dress 80s fashion?
Dressing 80s fashion style is simple, as long as you combine some of the most representative clothes of that decade with the relevant accessories to the style you choose.
For example, if you want to recreate a stylish 80s punk look, you’ll need a leather jacket, acid wash ripped jeans, a loud logo t-shirt, and a pair of black leather boots.
Then, finish the look with punk accessories, such as metallic bracelets, studs, spikes, and chains.
The music television channels (MTV launched in 1981) and the first generation of personal computers (1st Apple Computer launched in 1984) significantly influenced the looks of 80s fashion.
Music clips particularly influenced 80s fashion and American TV shows such as Dynasty and Dallas – think power suits and shoulder pads and fine jewelry worn by Alexis and Krystle Carrington.
Madonna, Joan Jett, and Cher’s video clips inspired teenagers to wear biker leather jackets, ripped tights, assorted with punk-styled bracelets, studs, spikes, and chains.
Similarly, Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner’s polished looks left their marks on 80s women’s fashion with asymmetric aesthetics, oversized blazers, and poof skirts.
And let’s not forget the influence that Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton-John’s fitness clips had on teen girls, even wearing sheer tights and legwarmers everywhere, with anything.
Now it’s your turn…
Which one of these 80s fashion trends is your favorite and why?
Are there any other 80s fashion trends missing from this list?
Comments below, please!