The 80s was not only a time of great film, TV, and music – it was also a time of great fashion. Many 80s trends still remain popular to this day, but not every trend from the 1980s has stood the test of time. There are some particularly embarrassing and disastrous styles that have us wondering how we ever thought they looked good. Here are 20 of the worst 80s fashion trends that we should leave behind for good.
20. Shoulder pads
Shoulder pads were huge in the 80s, with everyone from Princess Di to Grace Jones spotted sporting blazers with bulky shoulders.
The popular film Heathers helped further the trend among teens with its depiction of a girl gang all bedecked in jackets with shoulder pads.
Shoulder pads cut an impressive silhouette and were continually associated with strong, independent women – but in the cold light of day, they’re extremely hard to pull off and make most people look a bit frumpy. While some people think shoulder pads are set to make a comeback, we think this is a trend best left in the 80s.
While legwarmers have been around for decades, they saw a massive surge in popularity after the release of the films Fame and Flashdance.
Jane Fonda also helped further the trend thanks to her iconic aerobic workout videos.
Originally worn by dancers to keep their muscles from cramping, legwarmers became the latest fashion craze among teenage girls in the early 80s. They were often worn with leggings or jeans, and usually came in a bright neon colour. Looking back, it’s fair to say that legwarmers haven’t stood the test of time.
18. The mullet
A popular hairstyle in the 1980s, the mullet was essentially a haircut which saw people leave the front of their hair short while letting the back grow long.
Mullets were everywhere in the 80s, with everyone from Paul McCartney to David Bowie sporting the style.
Mullets – unfortunately – have made a comeback in recent years, with the infamous ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic causing a 1124% increase in Google searches for “how to cut a mullet” over lockdown in 2020. While some people can pull off a mullet, for most of us, it’s a hairstyle best left in the past.
The 80s was all about ‘athleisure,’ which is why it’s no surprise that sweatbands were so popular at the time.
Sweatbands were initially worn by athletes and gym-goers to help mop up forehead sweat, but they soon became a popular fashion item and were made available in a variety of neon colours.
Looking back now, it seems silly to wear a sweatband when you’re not in the gym. This is definitely a trend that should never make a comeback.
16. Acid-wash denim
The acid-wash denim trend has its roots in the early 80s. Punks and skinheads pioneered the look by splattering their denim jackets and jeans with bleach – and eventually, the trend went mainstream.
Soon everyone was washing their denim clothes with bleach or sanding them down with sandpaper to achieve the rugged ‘acid-wash’ look.
Acid-wash has tried to come back over the years, but thankfully it’s never fully taken off and reached the same levels of popularity that it had in the 80s. Acid-wash really isn’t the most flattering style, so this is probably for the best.
15. Oversized blazers
Oversized clothing was in everyone’s wardrobe back in the 80s. Oversized blazers were particularly in fashion, largely thanks to the relaxed tailoring found in popular TV show Miami Vice.
It proved difficult to emulate Sonny Crockett’s perpetually suave demeanour, however, and it turned out that not everyone could pull off big blazers.
While Don Johnson may have looked effortlessly cool, oversized blazers left most people looking swamped and frumpy. Definitely a trend best left in the 80s.
14. Rah-rah skirts
Rah-rah skirts were another questionable 80s fashion trend. Rah-rah skirts were essentially short, tiered, flouncy skirts which came in an assortment of colours.
The style was originally worn by cheerleaders before becoming a popular look among young women and teenage girls. Winona Ryder even wore one in her role as Veronica in Heathers.
Rah-rah skirts might be cute on anyone under the age of 10, but they’re exceptionally hard to pull off otherwise. They don’t cut the most flattering silhouette either.
13. Neon everything
Neon was all the rage back in the 80s, thanks to the popularity of workout videos and the colourful outfits worn on MTV music videos.
Anything went: bright pinks, yellows, oranges and greens were thrown together as if clashing was the aim.
Neon clothes epitomise 80s garishness and are undoubtedly one of the worst trends to come out of the decade. Let’s hope neon never makes a comeback.
12. Stirrup pants
Stirrup pants – aka pants with a small strap at the hem which went under the wearer’s heel – were another popular trend in the 80s.
Stirrup pants were originally made in the early 1900s for female horse-riders – after women began to sit astride horses rather than riding sidesaddle – but were worn by women as day-to-day wear in the 1980s as the trend for athleisure looks took off.
going to rebrand 80s stirrup pants with the slogan “everybody get foot loops” pic.twitter.com/8qam6gXyQC
— ⚫️ n🔞bo ✨wolong nuts stan account (@nobodymovepal) June 1, 2021
Somehow loose yet tight at the same time, these pants managed to cling in all the wrong places while remaining baggy on the calves.
If one material had to represent 80s fashion, it would surely be spandex. The popularity of spandex rose in tandem with the craze for athletic wear.
The trend grew following the frequent depictions of people wearing spandex in popular culture – be it in Flashdance or in the music video for Olivia Newton John’s single Physical.
But looking back now, wearing spandex outside of a gym seems tacky and odd. Why would anyone ever want to look like they were wearing a shiny morph suit?
It would be impossible to do a round up of the worst 80s style trends without mentioning perms.
Perms seemed like a good idea in principle – who wouldn’t want perfectly curled hair all the time?
But in hindsight, perms were still required a lot of maintenance and often ended up making you look like a poodle.
9. Graphic prints
When you think of the most tacky trend to come out of the 80s, you probably think of graphic prints.
Bright colours, geometric patterns, and bold designs were hugely popular fashion styles at the time.
Looking back, however, the craze for graphic prints was unnecessarily garish. Nobody needs to wear a shirt that loud.
8. Puff sleeves
Puff sleeves were all the rage back in the 1980s – especially after Princess Diana opted for a puff-sleeved wedding dress.
The style is sort of sweet – it adds a cute, childlike touch to an outfit, and can instantly make a plain dress seem a lot more interesting.
But on the other hand, puff sleeves are exceedingly hard to pull off, and why would you ever want to make your shoulders look broader on purpose?
7. Shell suits
Shell suits were everywhere in the 80s, although we’re not sure why – nylon tracksuits are a pretty bizarre trend.
Shell suits’ popularity took off in the mid-eighties when the trend for fluorescent colours was also gaining traction.
Who had a shell suit?…go on admit it… pic.twitter.com/PZ2MSO7rVw
— 80s Kidz (@80s_Kidz) July 14, 2017
Baggy, lurid, and unflattering, it’s a wonder how shell suits were ever a popular fashion trend in the first place.
6. Members Only jackets
In the 80s, if you wanted everyone to know just how cool you were, you’d wear a Members Only jacket.
Members Only jackets were the ubiquitous back in the 1980s. It was even seen as desirable to get matching ones with your friends.
Although Members Only jackets are pretty inoffensive, what is offensive is how expensive they were and just how much of a cult item they became. It’s just a plain jacket, at the end of the day.
5. Bright, chunky earrings
As aforementioned, the 80s was all about geometric prints and bold colours. This extended to accessories as well as clothes.
Chunky earrings in bright colours were a huge trend among young women back in the 1980s.
Bold earrings aren’t so bad on their own, but seeing them paired with bright clothes and bright makeup was serious overkill.
Fringing wasn’t only a 70s trend – it was an 80s trend too. Notably, Sloane Peterson wore one in iconic 80s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
While Sloane could pull off a fringed jacket, it proved difficult to replicate her effortlessly cool look in reality.
It’s almost impossible to wear fringing without looking like you’re at a fancy dress party and have come as a hippie cowboy.
Patches are one of the strangest fashion trends to ever hit the mainstream in the 80s.
People would take perfectly good denim jackets and cover them in patches – either iron-ons or by sewing.
The only thing this trend achieved is making swathes of people look like they were in Girl Scout uniforms.
Of course sequins were a huge trend in a decade as bright and bold as the 1980s.
And although sequins remain a great way of adding a touch of glitz to an outfit, in the 80s, people took things a little far.
Outfits covered in sequins made wearers look like walking disco balls and were blinding to look at.
1. Off the shoulder sweatshirts
Another questionable 80s fashion trend was oversized, off the shoulder sweatshirts. These were hugely popular back in the day.
These slouchy sweatshirts may well have been comfy, but they never looked quite right when on.
Quite possibly the only person in the world to pull off the ‘off the shoulder’ look was Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.