There are two ways to view the fashion choices that people in the West made during the 1980s. You could deem them as something to be left in the past; the crazy, over the top faux pas of a richer and less responsible society. Or you could see them as something to be admired: colourful, artistic expressions of individuality that should be remembered with a great deal of fondness.
Whatever your opinion on the matter, the title of this post has already revealed which side of the 80s fashion fence we’ve fallen on, and on a site that celebrates the 1980s in all its amazing glory, that probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. So without further ado, below are 20 fashions that absolutely prove, once and for all, that the 1980s was definitely the greatest decade there has ever been.
20. Cropped sweatshirts
If you look at today’s fashion, you would be forgiven for thinking that crop tops and cropped jumpers are a fashion trend reserved for women only.
However, the 80s were a very different time, where everyone was unified in thinking that crop tops were awesome, no matter the gender.
Sportwear and athleisure were a huge trend throughout the decade, and that led to the popularisation of several different styles.
One was cropped shirts and jumpers that were originally supposed to be worn in the gym, but soon became a staple loungewear piece.
Everyone from Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street to Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was seen rocking the cropped look, and the crop seemed to get higher and higher as the decade progressed.
It seems unlikely that we’ll see a cropped revival for men in 2020, but you never know. We have our fingers crossed.
19. Side ponytails
There’s no doubt about it – the ponytail is a timeless hairstyle. It’s practical, easy to master, works on short or long hair, and is so common that it’s hardly even regarded as a style.
Over the years, though, the kind of ponytail in fashion has varied massively, from the low ponytail tied with a ribbon to the cheerleading-style high pony.
The 80s took the preppiness of the high pony to a new and rebellious place, simply by shifting it onto the side of the head.
Side ponies may look a little silly now, but for a few years they were the height of chic, especially since stars like Madonna were wearing them.
High ponytails were best paired with crimped or backcombed hair, as well as some kind of wispy fringe to soften the look.
Extra points could be gained if you were cool enough to put pink or purple streaks in your hair, especially if your parents were chilled out enough to let you.
18. Frilly shirts
Pirate shirts, with their huge floaty sleeves and puffy shoulders, weren’t a universal trend in the 80s.
However, they were the height of fashion in some circles and for certain occasions, especially if you were going to prom or performing in a New Romantic band.
Many musicians in the early 80s adopted a style and persona that was somewhere between a pirate and a highwayman.
This style included lots of inspiration drawn from bygone eras, including flowing pirate shirts, gold filigree and riding boots.
The 80s contained a lot of loud fashion, but glittery dress shirts, puffed sleeves and highwayman attire might be too costumey to ever make a reappearance.
Still, even if it looks a little bit over the top now, it was definitely fun to sweep around feeling like you’d just stepped off a pirate ship… or a horse.
There have been a lot of fad hairstyles over the years, from the ducktail preferred by greasers in the 1940s, to the beehive in the 1960s.
In more recent memory, the so-called Rachel haircut had people scrambling to replicate Jennifer Aniston’s Friends style, even if the actor herself was not a fan.
With that said, it’s difficult to remember a fad hairstyle as polarising as the mullet, since nowadays it’s almost impossible to remember it being cool.
Still, several celebrities rocked the ‘business in the front, party in the back’ cut in the 80s, even if the only person to successfully make it look cool was David Bowie (and even that was back in the 70s).
The popular consensus still seems to be that the mullet is more of a joke than a haircut to be seriously considered, but that may be changing.
Miley Cyrus made headlines just this year for stepping out with a slick mullet cut, so perhaps this unexpected cut will once again become a favourite.
If there’s one fashion piece that encapsulates the entirety of 80s fashion, then it’s Lycra.
This stretchy, shiny material came in every colour of the rainbow, and was used to make leotards, cycling shorts and full bodysuits.
Though these weren’t usually worn casually as streetwear, it was not uncommon to see someone on their way to or from a workout class, decked out in Lycra from head (or neck, preferably) to toe.
The truly stylish would even layer different colours of tights and shorts under and over their leotard, in order to truly amp up the brightness.
From a modern perspective, working out in a skintight full-body suit sounds like a nightmare, or at the very least something you would only do while training for the space program.
Lycra can definitely help you work up a sweat though, and it lowers the risk of a wardrobe malfunction while you attempt a high kick.
15. Fingerless gloves
If you’ve ever been to an 80s-themed costume party, chances are you’ve worn a pair of fishnet fingerless gloves at least once.
Bonus point if they were neon green and pink, you mismatched the pairs so you were wearing one of each colour, and you bought them from a Claire’s.
For a small and relatively simple accessory, it’s amazing how much of an impact fingerless gloves managed to have in the 80s.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that artists like Madonna and Boy George always seemed to be sporting them, no matter the occasion.
Even in the rare instance where they weren’t fingerless, delicate lace gloves were the perfect thing to complete any ensemble.
Plus, if you don a pair of fingerless gloves, you can look stylish and retro without it impeding your ability to use your phone screen!
14. Gym socks
Gym socks are another simple accessory that got elevated due to the popularity of workout culture in the 80s.
Though they began as a convenient thing to throw on before going out jogging, they soon became a daily must.
Hanging around the house in a cosy oversized sweater and leggings? Tuck them into your gym socks.
Dressing up to go to a movie premiere in a slinky black dress and Mary Jane shoes? Make sure you wear your gym socks!
The socks became such a trend that even Princess Diana became famous for wearing jumpers, cycling shorts and chunky white gym socks tucked into her sneakers.
Even Meg Ryan and Courteney Cox were caught sporting gym socks at fancy events, and even once or twice on the red carpet!
A blazer is the kind of all-purpose accessory that can be dressed up or dressed down at will, making it equally appropriate for a job interview or a night on the town, depending on how you style it.
Given the blazer’s versatility, it’s no wonder it’s so beloved, though if you think this jacket is trendy now you should take a look at how trendy it was in the 80s.
Oversized blazers were the go-to accessory to throw on before leaving the house, pretty much irrespective of what you were wearing underneath.
Blazers over t-shirts, blazers over sweaters, blazers over dresses – all of it was fair game! So were clashing colours, patterns or fabrics.
Of course, some people chose to go all out with a matching set, but more common was the blazer draped casually over a totally unrelated outfit.
It’s a style choice worth trying out for yourself; just don’t get disappointed if you don’t immediately turn into Molly Ringwald from Pretty in Pink.
12. Chunky jewellery
Most people are aware of the saying ‘less is more’, but throughout the 80s the commonly accepted wisdom tended to be the exact opposite.
When it came to make-up, hair and styling, the saying that more often applied in the decade was definitely ‘more is more’.
Nowhere is this more clear than in 80s jewellery, which often involved several different pieces on top of each other.
Whether it was chains or beads, the ideal look was one where you couldn’t tell how the different pieces separated or connected, with lots of shiny or dangly elements such as crosses to catch the light.
Of course, there were also celebrities who took a more regal approach, but even they tended towards chunky jewellery, opting for large jewels in thick casings rather than delicate chains.
The overall effect might seem a little dated now, but it’s undoubtedly a proven way to make an impact; that’s why they were called statement pieces.
We’ve already acknowledged the fact that side ponytails became a huge trend in the 80s, but there’s actually more to the trend than you might think.
When it comes to high ponytails and side ponytails, a large part of the appeal was that you could adorn them with scrunchies!
Scrunchies came in all colours and sizes, and were an easy way to make your already huge hair even bigger.
If you’d already crimped, backcombed and filled your hair with hairspray, then adding a scrunchie would give you even more volume.
Out of all the 80s fashions on this list, the scrunchie is the only one that has definitely already come back into fashion in a big way.
Still, today’s scrunchies tend to be made of velvet and generally come in much more muted colours, rather than the neon prints favoured in the 80s.
10. Leg warmers
When you’re right in the middle of your pulse-pounding aerobics session, how many times have you been concerned by the temperature of your ankles?
None? Well tough, because Flashdance-style leg warmers were a fashion essential in the 80s, worn at every available keep-fit opportunity, and we think it’s time to bring them back.
Many dancers had been wearing leg warmers for years, as they were a convenient way to keep the muscles in the calves and ankles warmed up and flexible.
Ballet dancers, in particular, had for a long time used them to protect the muscles they relied on to dance, but the 80s finally brought them into the mainstream.
Even though most of the people attending Jane Fonda’s exercise classes were not taking them seriously enough to require leg warmers, the item soon became a quick and colourful way to take your Lycra to the next level.
Layering them up and swapping out the colours gave you even more style points, especially if you had a pair to match every leotard you owned.
9. Colour-changing t-shirts
Many a time have we stood staring at our bedroom wardrobe wondering whether we should wear the red or the blue t-shirt, despite thia being a problem that was completely solved nearly 40 years ago.
T-shirts that changed colour were an 80s essential, enough to make you the most fashionable human-shaped chameleon on the street.
These colour changing t-shirts are mostly viewed as a gimmick for children now, but there was a time when many adults chose to wear them completely seriously.
This was true even though they ended up acting as a perfect map for anywhere you’d been touched, which no doubt led to some awkward teenage moments, or at least a lot of jokes about them.
Recently there was a short-lived fad revolving around colour-changing miniskirts, but people decided pretty quickly that they just weren’t very practical.
So maybe we’re heading into a future with zero colour-changing clothing options, and these beloved t-shirts will simply become a relic of the past.
8. Moon boots
When Neil Armstrong declared “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” little did he know that he was actually referring to the impact he would have on 80s fashion.
No fashion-conscious 80s kid would have been seen dead stepping out in cold weather without their soft, warm, comfortable, furry moon boots.
Moon boots are still surprisingly available for purchase, with several designs close to the original retro pairs being sold.
However, they just don’t look quite as boxy or as inelegant as they did back in the day, so they don’t really capture the feeling of the originals.
Still, if you need to keep your feet warm for a ski trip, or just for a trip to the supermarket in the middle of winter, then wearing a pair of these would definitely make a statement.
Moon boots also have the added bonus of giving you a few extra inches of height, which makes them a very fun option for people who wish they were taller.
7. Shoulder pads
Giving the impression of power and confidence, shoulder pads may be considered by some to look completely ridiculous, but no strong 80s woman would have dared to leave them out of their best power outfit.
Featured in classic TV shows such as Dynasty, shoulder pads needed to be tested with spirit levels to ensure maximum horizontal-ness.
Though they began as a subtle way to achieve the desired boxy silhouette, they became more and more exaggerated and stylised as time went on.
Eventually, they underwent the transformation into high fashion, where they were able to become even more abstract and geometric.
While shoulder pads are still a mainstay in costumes for music videos and stage performance, it’s hard to imagine them making a comeback as a practical everyday fashion.
With that said, almost everything seems to come back into favour eventually, so maybe one day it will be trendy to ensure your shoulders are too wide to fit through your bedroom door.
6. Shell suits
They were later revealed to be a dangerous fire hazard, but there was a time when shell suits were the must-have 80s fashion outfit.
We don’t know about you, but where we grew up it started off being acceptable to wear both the top and the bottom of the suit, only for removal of the top half to quickly become the accepted norm.
Shell suits were quickly replaced in the 90s and early 2000s with tracksuits, which tended to drop the geometric patterns for a block colour.
Not only that but for a while hot pink velvet tracksuits were all the rage, which is actually daring enough to fit right in with the majority of 80s fashion.
Nowadays, shell suit jackets are definitely back in fashion, with teenagers and young adults buying retro and vintage prints to throw over their outfits.
However, the shell suit bottoms have yet to make a comeback, so maybe keep an eye out for them in 2025?
5. Animal print
In a time when people were starting to become aware of the treatment of the animals we share our planet with, animal print outfits became an extremely popular alternative to real fur or leather.
Worn by many an 80s music star, especially if they were part of a heavy rock band, animal print outfits are something we would love to see make a return in 2020.
Of course, some would argue that animal print never truly went out of style, and it’s true that leopard print has continued to stick around.
However, the way modern fashion approaches leopard print tends to be pretty restrained, the opposite of the all-out layering and clashing that was popular in the 80s.
Not only that, but while leopard print has managed to stick around, other animal prints have not had quite so much longevity.
Giraffe print, tiger print and even fabrics mimicking snow leopards were all hugely popular at one time, but have since faded away into zoological obscurity.
4. Heavy make-up
You often hear make-up being referred to as something that should be applied lightly, but during the 1980s such talk would have immediately been dismissed and perhaps even laughed at.
When it came to makeup in the 8os it was the heavier the better, with music acts such as Adam Ant and Boy George providing the template for us all to follow.
Eyeshadow was expected to reach right up to your eyebrows, while blush was to be applied all the way from the cheekbones up to the temples.
Obviously, using only one colour was not at all appropriate, as several colours had to be used to create huge gradients.
Some artists, like Annie Lennox and David Bowie, seemed to completely divorce their make-up application from beauty, opting instead to create artistic and conceptual looks.
In recent years, intricate eye make-up and bold colour gradients have all returned, but they tend to be executed with more precision now than they were in the 80s.
Made famous by the likes of Madonna, bodysuits were a nod back to the days of corsets, but these were given a brand new hip and trendy twist in the 80s.
Unlike corsets, bodysuits were often worn alongside absolutely nothing else, providing a rather significant shock to rather more conservative relatives.
Surprisingly for the 80s, bodysuits tended to stay in typical lingerie colours, such as white, ivory or blush pink.
This departure from the bright colour palette of most 80s fashion might have been to signal that the bodysuits were essentially underwear, in order to make them seem even more subversive and risque.
We’re still a fair way off from corsets becoming typical outerwear for daily use, unless you’re a very committed goth or you like to wear your cosplay while grocery shopping.
Still, it represents one more area where we have to thank Madonna for pushing the fashion envelope into the future.
2. Stirrup pants
To prevent our leggings from riding unhelpfully up our ankles, a genius came up with the idea of designing them so they could be attached to the bottom of our feet.
Thus our ability to perform keep-fit exercises without compromising the quality of our outfit was born, and we’ve quite simply never looked back.
As the above advert shows, these pants could be worn with a bare foot, over a sock, or even over the shoe itself, if you didn’t mind it getting grubby.
The legging versions also fed straight back into the athleisure trend, as what better way than to cover your stirrups than with more leg warmers?
These pants have been visible at fashion weeks around the world for the past few years, so maybe they’ll become mainstream again.
However, looking at them tucked into a shoe with a bare foot, it just seems like they’d make it kind of uncomfortable to walk.
1. Hawaiian shirts
If we were forced to name just one thing that the 80s did better than any other decade, then it simply has to be the wild, colourful, over the top shirts that it produced.
Recalling the days of such classic TV shows as Magnum, PI, Hawaiian shirts were an 80s staple, and boy would we love to see them make a return.
You may be saying to yourself that of course Hawaiin shirts never went out of style, but you wouldn’t be entirely right.
While they might still be a common sight at holiday resorts, or at cheesy fancy dress parties, Hawaiian shirts have become less and less appropriate to wear on a daily basis.
Still, with shows and films like Stranger Things and Wonder Woman 1984 re-popularising 80s fashion, who knows?