The 80s was not only a time of great film, TV, and music – it was also a time of great fashion. Still, though many 80s trends remain popular to this day, not every trend from the 1980s has stood the test of time. There are some particularly disastrous styles that have us wondering how we ever thought they looked good.
Here are some of the worst 80s fashion trends that we should leave behind for good.
30. Shoulder pads
Shoulder pads were huge in the 80s, with everyone from Princess Di to Grace Jones spotted sporting blazers with bulky shoulders. The ladies of TV’s Dallas and Dynasty made them a wardrobe essential for mothers everywhere, believing they cut an impressive silhouette and made them look like strong, independent and sophisticated women.
In the cold light of day, however, shoulder pads are 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. It’s fair to say that legwarmers haven’t stood the test of time.
28. The mullet
Often described as “business at the front, party at the back,” the mullet enjoyed huge popularity in the 1980s. Back in the 70s, rock stars like Paul McCartney to David Bowie tried out the haircut, and the decade that followed saw it spread like wildfire via such hot new celebrities as U2 frontman Bono and Full House actor John Stamos.
To the horror of some, mullets have made a comeback in recent years, with infamous ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic causing a 1,124% increase in Google searches for “how to cut a mullet” in 2020. While a rare few 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,’ so it was no surprise that sweatbands – a close relation of the legwarmer – became so popular at the time. As the name suggests, sweatbands were initially worn on the foreheads of athletes and gym-goers to soak up the sweat that would otherwise have dripped down into their eyes. (Doesn’t that sound glamourous and appealing?!)
After Olivia Newton-John wore one in her iconic Physical video, sweatbands soon became a popular fashion item, usually in a variety of neon colours. Looking back now, it seems silly to wear a sweatband when you’re not in the gym – although in fairness, is it any different than how some people today put on activewear when they’re not working out?
26. 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. Most of us would agree that’s probably for the best.
25. 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. Plus, why would you intentionally buy a jacket that was two sizes too big? Definitely a trend best left in the 80s. And don’t get us started on those pastel colour schemes.
24. Rah-rah skirts
Rah-rah skirts were another questionable 80s fashion trend. Essentially short, tiered, flouncy skirts that 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.
23. Neon everything
Neon clothing 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.
Looking back, neon clothes epitomise 80s garishness and are undoubtedly one of the worst trends to come out of the decade. It beggars belief that anyone wanted to walk around looking like a giant pack of highlighters.
22. Stirrup pants
Stirrup pants – aka pants with a small strap at the hem which went under the wearer’s heel – were a popular trend in the 80s. They were originally made in the early 1900s for female horse-riders, after women began to sit astride horses rather than riding sidesaddle.
By the 80s, stirrups started being worn by women as day-to-day wear as the trend for ‘athleisure’ looks took off. Somehow loose yet tight at the same time, these pants managed to cling in all the wrong places while remaining baggy on the calves. Not super flattering, then.
If one material had to represent 80s fashion, it would surely be spandex. Once again, the popularity of this material rose in tandem with the craze for athletic wear, popularised by the likes of Jane Fonda, Olivia Newton-John, Jennifer Beals in Flashdance and Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect.
But looking back now, wearing spandex outside of a gym seems tacky and downright 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. This hairstyle may have seemed like a good idea in principle – who wouldn’t want perfectly curled hair all the time? But in hindsight, perms required a lot of maintenance and often ended up making the wearer look like a poodle.
This one wasn’t limited to women, either; who can forget that horrific male trend of permed hair with a moustache? Digging out old photos of your dad sporting this look is probably the quickest way to get written out of their will.
19. Graphic prints
When you think of the most tacky trend to come out of the 80s, you might well think of graphic prints. Bright colours, geometric patterns and bold designs were hugely popular fashion styles at the time. Believe it or not, some considered this tasteful.
Still, picking out the ugliest and brightest shirt from a vintage shop makes for a quick and easy costume if you’re headed to an 80s fancy dress party.
18. 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, innocent touch to an outfit, and can instantly make a plain dress or top seem a lot more interesting. On the other hand, puff sleeves are exceedingly hard to pull off and ended up going out of style pretty quickly for a reason.
It’s hardly surprising that the trend didn’t stick around – why would you ever want to make your shoulders look broader on purpose? Then again, this was also the age of shoulder pads.
17. Shell suits
Shell suits were everywhere in the 80s, although we’re still not sure why. These nylon-based tracksuits took off when the trend for fluorescent colours was also gaining traction.
Baggy, lurid, and unflattering, it’s a wonder how shell suits were ever a popular fashion trend in the first place. But if you wanted to look cool and coordinated back in the 80s, a shell suit was your best bet. Hard to believe, we know.
16. Members Only jackets
In the 80s, if you wanted everyone to know just how cool you were, you’d wear a Members Only jacket. These jackets were so ubiquitous back then, 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. It’s just a plain jacket, at the end of the day. Thankfully, Members Only jackets are now well and truly a thing of the past.
15. Bright, chunky earrings
As we’ve established by now, 80s fashion 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. Hopefully, over-the-top and oversized earrings represent a trend that will never see the light of day again.
Fringing wasn’t only a 70s trend – it was an 80s trend, too. Notably, Mia Sara wore a fringed jacket in iconic 80s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It might have looked great on her, but it proved difficult to make fringing look so 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. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the fringing trend is set to come back any time in the near future.
13. Jean jackets covered in patches
Patches represent 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 those that required sewing. The only thing this trend achieved is making swathes of people look like they were in Girl Scout uniforms.
Although some people (particularly those of a more alternative persuasion) still have denim jackets emblazoned with patches and badges, it doesn’t seem like this trend is set to hit the mainstream again any time soon.
Of course sequins were a huge trend in a decade as bright, bold and generally OTT as the 1980s. Although sequins today 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 were blinding to look at and made their wearers look like walking disco balls. While sequins will always be an easy way to spice up a look, let’s hope we never take the trend to 1980s levels ever again.
11. Off the shoulder sweatshirts
Another questionable 80s fashion trend was oversized, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts. These were hugely popular back in the day, although quite possibly the only person in the world to successfully pull off the look was Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
These slouchy sweatshirts may well have been comfy, but they never looked quite right when on – and there was a very high risk of what we would now call a ‘wardrobe malfunction.’
10. Fanny packs
Back in the 80s, fanny packs (or bum bags in the UK) were little bags that you could strap around your hips or waist. Admittedly, they were pretty convenient, and you’d never be at risk of losing your keys or wallet with a fanny pack strapped to your body.
But although they were practical, fanny packs were pretty ugly, especially if you had one in a bright neon colour. Sadly it looks as though fanny packs might be making a comeback, with celebrities such as Gigi Hadid having recently been spotted wearing them.
9. Wide-brimmed hats
The 80s saw some classic 40s fashion come back into style, wide-brimmed hats included. These are admittedly great when it comes to keeping the sun out of your eyes and off your face, and they create a dramatic look.
Still, these huge hats making the wearer look pretty silly, as countless mums and aunties at 80s weddings can testify. Never mind staying in the 80s, this trend never should have survived the 40s!
8. Animal print
If you wanted your outfit to exude luxury and power in the 1980s, you’d probably reach for some animal print. It didn’t matter too much what animal it was: be it cheetah, snake, zebra, tiger, leopard and even giraffe, that Jane of the Jungle look was all the rage.
While animal print isn’t necessarily a bad trend in and of itself, it’s safe to say people took things too far in the 1980s. What was initially meant to convey affluence and sophistication soon came to scream ‘trailer trash.’
Windbreakers – aka colourful, nylon, ski-style jackets that were often slightly oversized – were super popular in the 80s. The worst thing about these jackets is that most of them weren’t even waterproof and offered very little protection against the elements.
Impractical, garish and not remotely stylish, it’s a wonder how windbreakers stayed in style for so long. Some say that these bright jackets are set to come back in style – but we sincerely hope they don’t.
6. Sweaters draped over shoulders
There’s a quick way to tell who’s the stock ‘preppy jerk’ character in any 80s teen movie. Nine times out of ten, it’ll be the guy with the sweater draped over his shoulders.
But this wasn’t a trend that was just confined to the silver screen – many people in the period imitated the look in real life. Unfortunately, due to the strong link with mean movie characters, the trend just made wearers look like a snobby high school bully.
5. Fingerless gloves
Music icon Madonna helped further many 80s fashion trends, including the craze for fingerless gloves. The trend rapidly took off after the singer wore a lace pair on the cover of her 1984 single Like a Virgin.
But looking back now, it’s hard to see why anyone wanted to wear a pair of gloves that didn’t even keep your fingers warm. Pointless and tacky, let’s hope fingerless gloves never make a comeback – even if Madonna still rocks the look.
4. The side ponytail
The 80s was full of bad hairstyles – as aforementioned, the perm and the mullet were both popular choices. But another popular style was the side ponytail – often backcombed and hairsprayed in place for extra volume. You’d also likely hold your side ponytail in place with an equally childish colourful scrunchie.
This look required a lot less effort and maintenance than a perm or a mullet, but it’s a wonder why anyone wanted to wear a hairstyle that made them look like a five-year-old child – unless, of course, you actually were a pre-teen at the time.
Another fashion trend that made grown adults look like pre-school children was the hair scrunchie. People wore scrunchies in all sorts of colours and would often match them with the rest of their outfit.
Ultimately, this was a pretty twee trend that should have never been seen on anyone over the age of 12. Scrunchies are apparently becoming popular among young women again – but this is really a look we should leave behind us.
2. Crimped hair
Crimped hair was another big hair trend back in the 1980s. The trend saw women style their hair into waves shaped like zig-zags. While the look certainly added volume to people’s hair, more often than not it ended up looking pretty frizzy and messy.
Plus, crimping hair required a lot of heat, which was not a good idea for keeping your hair hydrated and healthy in the long-term. The style has attempted to come back into fashion over the years, but thankfully it’s not taken off in the way it did back in the 80s.
1. Popped collars
A trend that was worn by all the edgy kids in 80s teen movies, popped collars were ubiquitous in the 80s. The popped collar was a preppy trend that was intended to make the wearer look effortlessly cool.
Many ‘cool’ guys in 80s films sported popped collars (see: Bender in The Breakfast Club). But in hindsight, the only person who could pull off a popped collar was probably Elvis – so the trend really shouldn’t have outlived him.