The 1980s were filled with amazing music, great movies, and bold fashion trends. We look back on that decade in amazement because we have lived anything like it again. While our clothing items have changed quite a bit since that point, we still have a lot of respect for what was being designed in that decade.
Not to mention, the articles of clothing that were popular in the 1980s are still used today. We’re still sporting leggings, Converse sneakers have never gone away, and you’ll see quite a few scrunchies on the heads of teens and young women right now.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at men’s and women’s fashion in the 80s. Whether you want to learn more about this decade or you have a special 80s themed event to attend, you’ll know plenty about the 1980s when you’re done reading.
Let’s jump right in!
The 1980s incorporated high fashion items from top designers, while more affordable 80s ensembles made their way into homes all across the U.S. and the world.
We’re going to take a closer look at 1980s style and aesthetic, as well as the importance of this period of time in the fashion world. Later on, we’ll talk about makeup, hair, and much more.
80s Style and 80s aesthetic
Most of us know of style in the 1980s to focus on very bright colors, bold prints, big hair, colorful makeup, and accessories for days. If you were going to dress up in the 1980s, you had to go big. Fashion today is much different than it was back then. We’re much more subtle and subdued with what we choose to wear, even when we want to make a statement.
We’ve seen a few popular items from the 80s return since then, but it hasn’t developed much further than a scrunchie here and there or a great pair of leggings. Many fashion trends come and go only to return again, but we’re left wondering if 1980s style can ever make a full comeback.
Fashion was rich and stylish everywhere that you looked. Whether you were at work, school, or watching TV, shoulder pads, oversized t-shirts, and neon colors were everywhere. We still reference this time period today, whether we were alive for it or not.
History of men’s & women’s 80s fashion
While most of us are familiar with what fashion looked like in the 1980s, not everyone knows the actual history of where this style came from. Those distinct colors, patterns, and design elements were largely thanks to the Memphis design movement that was created in Milan, Italy. The Memphis Group was an Italian design and architecture group founded by Ettore Sottsass. Sottsass was well known for clean designs that focused on sharp lines and geometric shapes.
Everything the group was putting out at that time was asymmetrical, colorful, and fun. The trend took off despite the Memphis Group shutting down a few years in. The first half of the 80s was actually quite simple compared to fashion later on in that decade.
Women were demanding more power and authority in the 1980s, which led to the creation of the women’s power suit. These suits were sharply cut with very wide shoulders and shoulder pads. They were relatively basic in color, but they were designed to make women look more important and successful. The look was actually quite masculine, proving the point that women could perform in a high position just like men could.
Why was this period so important for fashion?
The fashion industry in the 1980s was very creative. Designers were forgetting about traditional and classic designs, only to come up with more futuristic and bold concepts. Conventional dresses went right out the window. There is so much that happened in the 80s, whether it be fashion, music, television, art, etc. This is a period of time that we all refer back to, even decades later.
You were truly able to be yourself in the 80s. Nobody apologized for tacky clothing, giant shoulder pads, or neon colors mixed with geometric prints. You could be as outgoing with your fashion choices as you wanted without having to be embarrassed. The bigger your hair was, the better. The goal in the 80s was to try and top what was currently being done. It was a special time that we’ll always look back on and take some fashion advice from.
Fashion in the 80s movies
There were some classic movies in the 70s, but they were rather dark and serious. The 80s brought some fun and fashion to the movie screen, with flicks that we still watch and love today.
You’ve been hiding under a rock if you’ve never seen Dirty Dancing. It’s one of the sexiest films of the 80s, with magnificent choreography and music. There are plenty of 80s fashion references as well. Jennifer Grey has that classic 80s perm that gave her high hair, while she wears classic blue denim and a high belly shirt for much of the movie. Swayze’s outfits were a bit more minimal, but he has that medium-length haircut that was so common during that decade.
Flashdance was released in 1983, and it featured leg warmers, red heels, perms, ripped t-shirts that hung off the shoulder, and much more. Let’s not forget Footloose featured Kevin Bacon. It came out in 1984 and showed some big hairstyles and fashion. Denim jeans and jackets, sneakers, longer permed hair, and lots of makeup brought this movie fame in the fashion world.
Hopefully, we’ve taken you back down memory lane with some of our favorite fashion facts from the 1980s. In upcoming chapters, we’re going to talk more about 80s fashion for both men and women, different types of fashion for different events, and so much more.
Introducing Men’s 80s fashion
In the 1980s, men’s fashion was stylish and unique. The trends that developed during this time period have popped back up over the years, thanks to how bold and trendy they were. A lot of clothing items never really lost their popularity. For example, graphic t-shirts and denim jackets are still hot.
Whether you’re looking to pop on an 80s inspired ensemble for the day or you’re dressing up for an 80s themed party, we’re going to talk more about the articles of clothing you should grab up and what you should stay away from. From miscellaneous items to amusing trends, let’s travel back to the 1980s to take a closer look at men’s fashion.
The Early 80s
The early 80s were somewhat conservative for that time frame because the 80s style was just starting to develop. Denim jeans from brands like Levi’s and Wrangler were the most popular casual pant option. Turtlenecks became more popular, as did velour shirts and crop t-shirts.
Men began to grow their hair out in the 80s, and you could see thick mustaches everywhere. Though, the facial hair trend started to die down a bit as the decade went on. Men were even accessorized with thick jewelry and ear piercings.
In the working world, men remained somewhat conservative for the office. Suits and business formal wear were still very neutral in color.
The Mid 80s
The preppy look came into play in the middle of the 80s with dad jeans that had a very straight and relaxed fit. Denim was popular in general, with jeans, denim shirts, and denim jackets making their way into the closets of many men during that decade. Polo shirts, V-neck sweaters, and pastel pants were common for work.
During the hot summer months of the mid-1980s, men could be found wearing very small shorts and tight tank tops/t-shirts.
The Late 80s
The late 80s were quite different than the first half of the decade in regard to fashion. Athletic wear became more popular so that you could spot Nike Air Jordan shoes on the streets, Starter jackets, matching sweatsuits, and much more. NFL-licensed clothing was all the rage. The fit of clothing was more fitted with an emphasis on comfort. Fabrics were designed to be very soft and casual. Definitely much more relaxed than the fashion trends of the 70s.
80s hairstyles for men
The 1980s was like no other decade when it comes to men’s hairstyles. The hair of the 80s was just as unique and bold as fashion was, with perms high top fades, mullets, Jheri curls, and Mohawks hitting the streets. There were a lot of different styles to choose from, depending on whether you wanted to keep your hair medium length to long or even shorten things up a bit. A lot of the hair trends of the 80s carried into the 90s. Some of the more elaborate ones were left behind.
Permed hair wasn’t just for women in the 80s. You probably won’t catch a man sitting in the salon getting a perm today, but they were very common for men. It was an easy style to maintain, as long permed hair could look good well past four to six months before needing to be treated again.
Hair got very big in the 80s thanks to an elaborate mullet style that boasted shorter hair in the front with big bushy hair towards the back. Hairspray was a big part of a man’s morning routine.
High Top Fade
African American culture featured the high-top fade. Celebrities rocked this style for many years. It was a very smooth look that had a professional feel to it but still carried over very well into the weekend. Shaved sides and high hair on the top turned heads in the 80s.
Longer hair could be slicked back for a more professional look. It was a very manly style that a lot of stars were wearing. We’re seeing a little bit of a comeback with this hairstyle these days, and I’m not sure it will ever fully leave us.
Short Buzz Cuts
A lot of men weren’t interested in maintaining big hair in the 80s, which is probably why buzz cuts were popular. The entire head was shaved down to about an inch, with no real need for maintenance or styling. You could even accomplish this look on your own from home with the right pair of trimmers.
As part of the rock and punk rock scene, Mohawks were worn by men for an edgy look. A lot of gel and hairspray were needed for this look, but it was rebellious and fun for that time period.
The Pretty Boy/Preppy Hairstyle
The preppy look called for its own hairstyle. The pretty boy cut was cleaner than the mullet, and it had a little more texture to it. It was another hair option that didn’t require much maintenance. A man could get up, work a little gel or hairspray into their hair and be ready to go for the day. The goal of this look was to be a little messy and comfortable looking.
While we joke about mullets, it was a classic haircut of the 80s. That business in the front and party in the back look was common for stars like Mel Gibson and Uncle Jesse on Full House. It was flattering for a lot of men, which is why a lot of people tried it out. It has come back a bit, especially as part of pandemic hair, but there’s something so edgy and classic about the 80s mullet that we’ll always love this fashion statement.
80s clothes for men
There were a lot of different fashion trends that took place in the 80s. Depending on what portion of the decade you’re looking at, styles changed quite a bit. From a more conservative look in the early 80s to much more unique trends later on, there were plenty of different outfit choices for work, weekends, and leisurewear. Let’s take a look at some specific articles of clothing that were commonly worn in the 1980s.
Men’s suits in the 1980s were very similar to how women were dressing for the working world. Women had decided during this decade that they wanted to be treated equally in the office. They began to wear power suits which consisted of broad shoulders with pads inside of them. The suits were much baggier than they are today, with wider legs in the pants and some extra material for the coat. This is what men were wearing as well.
It was common to see suits that were a variety of colors. Your basic black or navy suit was still around, but light grays and creams were also popular. Suspenders were a common accessory worn to work with a suit. Loafers and wingtip shoes were often seen as footwear in the 80s.
There was a large variety of shirts that were worn in the 80s. Men frequently wore short, cut-off, cropped t-shirts for casual wear. Usually, they were made of very soft and worn material with a graphic of some sort on it. This was paired with denim jeans or shorts.
For more professional attire, button-down shirts, turtlenecks, polos, and suit coats with shoulder pads were common. Men didn’t really wear fitted or tailored clothing in the 80s. Everything had more of a loose or casual feel to it.
As I mentioned, loose and baggy clothing was typical for men in the 80s. There were many different styles and colors of sweaters that were worn for both professional use and casual wear. Heavy material with big geometric shapes or bold colors was common. Cardigans were also popular, with a turtleneck or button-down oxford shirt underneath.
MC Hammer pants originated in the late 70s to early 80s. These parachute pants were cut in a very unique style that was fitted at the waist, ballooned out at the thigh, and eventually tapered down at the bottom. In addition to these pants, jeans were also popular (and denim in general). Acid-washed jeans were extremely popular, and a very casual pair of denim usually featured rips or tears. The high-waist style was still around as well.
It was common to see patches or other details added to jeans, whether that came as part of the design or they were added on later at home.
Tracksuits originally became popular in the 70s, but this fashion staple took a stylish turn in the 80s. Some of the colors and prints of this casual wear were pretty unique. It was common to see a tracksuit that was all one color, with just a few stripes on one leg or one arm. Paired with a headband, you were ready to go out in the 80s. Tracksuits were actually a clothing item that showed you were someone important.
Since athletic wear was popular in the 80s, a sneaker purchase was important. The Air Jordan came out in the 80s, and you had a pair if you were someone that knew anything about fashion. Eventually, there were many different styles and colors to choose from. The Nike Air Max was also popular, in addition to Reeboks and New Balance sneakers.
In comparison, sneakers in the 80s were conservative to some degree. A number of styles incorporated different colors and geometric shapes into their design, but it was also common to see a classic pair of white high-top sneakers from Nike or Reebok on the streets. Essentially, the basketball high-top sneaker was a casual shoe that was worn by most men, whether you were shooting hoops or not.
Neon was very popular for women’s fashion in the 80s, but men also incorporated it into their casual wear. Neon colors were very unique, bright, and colorful. It made perfect sense that they were being worked into men’s clothing items in the 80s like sneakers, tracksuits, t-shirts, and sweaters. Neon colors gave the impression that you knew something about fashion. You were trying to make a statement.
This was a short-lived trend to some degree. Once the 80s were over, neon got pushed to the back of the closet with many other 80s wear.
The fashion trends in the 1980s were very casual for the most part. In regard to jackets, most choices were also casual. You could pair denim jeans with a denim jacket or a leather jacket to look crisp and stylish. Bomber jackets were also very popular, as many male celebrities were wearing them. Windbreakers, tracksuit jackets, and cardigan sweaters were all worn as jackets.
Oversized t-shirts and graphic t-shirts were a staple in men’s closets in the 80s. Some of them had graphics from favorite bands, some had funny sayings on them, and neon colors and geometric shapes were everywhere. For men who were confident with their style and wanted to make a bold statement, you could sometimes see a man wear a cropped t-shirt that showed a bit of their mid-drift.
By now, you should be an expert on men’s fashion in the 1980s. We encourage you to keep reading to find out more about different types of fashion in the 80s, women’s fashion, party wear, and much more. Whether you were alive in the 1980s or not, you’re about to be an expert on fashion during that decade.
What isn’t there to love about 80s fashion? Women probably experienced this decade the best.There were so many different options for them to choose from for their daily attire. Let’s talk more about 80s women’s fashion in this chapter.
Exploring Women’s 80s fashion
The 1980s included all kinds of high fashion styles, but there were plenty of budget items to note. As a woman in the 80s, you could invest in an expensive power suit for your day at work, but your evenings could consist of simple spandex leggings paired with a cut-off t-shirt and leg warmers. Don’t forget about that side ponytail tied back with a colorful scrunchie. Angular shoulders, baggy clothing, and clingy dresses are just some of what we can appreciate from this decade when it comes to fashion. Let’s look deeper into what happened to fashion during different points in the 80s.
The Early 80s
The early part of the 80s was basically a transitional period. There were a lot of the same fashion trends that were popular in the 70s, such as neutral colors and geometric cuts. However, things started to get a bit more interested a few years in.
In the early 80s, you could spot a lot of velvet and velour. These softer materials were used for all kinds of outfits, including casual and dress wear. Dresses with boxy and poofy shoulders were favorites for fancy occasions. In regard to jeans and dress pants, a higher waistline was incorporated.
As we approached the middle of the 80s, celebrity style started to make a big impact on what women were wearing. Everyone wanted to look like Madonna or Cyndi Lauper. With crazy hair, bangle bracelets, hoop earrings, and leggings, the young crowd really embraced what the 80s was all about. The more unique and elaborate your outfit was, the better.
Middle-aged women and the older crowd weren’t necessarily as outgoing as the younger fashionistas were, but there were still some distinct style trends. Pants with stirrups provided a very smooth and streamlined pant option. You usually paired your tighter pants with a baggy sweater or sweatshirt. High-top sneakers and big chunky belts completed the perfect outfit in the mid-80s.
The late 80s
The late 80s were the peak of this decade in regard to fashion. Brands started to become more popular. If you wanted to stand out, you owned a pair of Nike sneakers or wore some sort of t-shirt with a brand name on it. MTV was becoming very popular during this time, as were a variety of fashion magazines that provided fashion advice and ideas. Women were basing their looks on what they saw in music videos and on commercials.
Women’s clothing got baggier at the end of the decade. Sweaters were bigger, the power suit had an oversized cut to it, and shoulder pads were used to make a woman look larger than she was.
80s hairstyles for women
Big hair was the epitome of fashionable in the 80s. There were different haircuts and styles that were worn, but the bigger, the better. Women teased their hair, used plenty of hair spray, and used accessories like scrunchies to create side up-dos and a unique style expression. Women often used a few different techniques in one hairstyle. You might have seen half of a woman’s hair pulled up and crimped, with the other half sporting braids.
You could wear it high, towards the back of your head, partially pulled up, to the side, crimped, teased, and everything in between. The ponytail was a staple hairstyle that was worn with a multitude of outfits. It was sporty, fun, and casual.
Perms were popular for both men and women in the 80s, but it was a staple for women that wanted to maintain that textured look without having the crimp or curl their hair on a daily basis. Perms have stayed around well past the 80s, but very tight rollers were the go-to item for the 80s variety.
If you wanted to keep your hair straight or just curled under at the ends, you had the option of wearing a big chunky headband to hold your hair back away from your face. It was typical to match your headband to your outfit in the 80s.
After getting your hair teased up and voluminous, it could be pulled back using a banana clip. This hair accessory was shaped like a banana, but it pulled apart into two sections. You essentially folded it over your hair, clipping it into place behind your head.
We all dread them now, but many women took the plunge and cut their hair in a style that included bangs. The hair covering the forehead look was quickly ditched after the 80s, but there are some brave souls that are still rocking them today.
Men weren’t the only ones sporting business in the front and party in the back. Women also had a version of the mullet that was popular through the 80s. The front portion was cut into bangs that were teased and sprayed, so they were really big. The back also had a lot of volume, creating some pretty big hair!
Clothing and fashion weren’t the only parts of the 80s that were exhilarating. Women’s makeup trends were just as elaborate. A neutral color palette definitely wasn’t the norm. Instead, women were using colorful hues on their eyes, lips, and everywhere in between. You could match your makeup to your look or go completely off the beaten path to create a unique look.
If you were fashionable in the 80s, you had eyeshadow in every color. Blues, purples, pinks, and greens could be layered on your lids to match your outfit or make a bold statement. You covered the entire lid and upper area of the eye. Natural isn’t what you were going for back then.
Pink Lips and Matching Lids
These days we see a lot more natural makeup. The entire face looks very neutral without a lot of bold additions. In the 80s, it was common for women to wear a bold pink lip with matching pink eyeshadow. The look could stand out even more thanks to a bold black liner above the lashes. The lower area of the eye was lined as well.
After putting on a full face of makeup, the lip was often kept very light and neutral in color. The goal was to actually match the lip as close to your skin tone as possible. A little bit of gloss completed the look.
Along with choosing bright colors for your makeup, you could also choose shades that had glitter or sparkle worked into them. In the summer months, bronze shades that gave the skin a glistening glow were ideal.
80s clothing for women
The 80s were a clothing and cultural phenomenon all in one. The style was unique, and people felt like they could truly express themselves without judgment. It’s something we could probably learn from today. Women were encouraged to come up with their own clothing combinations, using some of the items that we’re going to talk about below.
Women’s jeans in the 80s were very unique and distinctive. I’m sure you’ve seen them. A high waist that tapers down to the ankles in an acid-washed or bright blue color was common. Some of the more unique styles of jeans even had extra material worked into the top of the waist, which was then folded down over the top for a flap-like design. Denim in the 80s was worn both with and without belts. The belts were usually very thick and elaborate.
Overalls were also worn in the 80s as a different denim option. They were paired with a tight top or cropped shirt. Women often unhooked one of the straps and let it hang down. The cut of the overalls had a wide leg. They weren’t fitted at all. They came in the same shades that women’s jeans did.
The 80s jumpsuit was similar to today’s romper. With pointy shoulders and tapered legs, the jumpsuit was made in all shades of colors. You could choose a more conservative color and make it appropriate for work. It was also a casual clothing option that could be found in a variety of bold and neon colors. It was usually paired with a large belt or accessories like bangles or large hoop earrings.
Women’s sweaters in the 80s came in a number of styles, colors, and prints. Stripes, diamonds, bold colors, and different fits added to the variety of 80s fashion. To make the sweater look more casual, many could be worn off the shoulder. Bulky 80s sweaters were great with leggings, stirrup pants, and jeans.
The power suit was a fashion statement in the 80s, but it was also a concept that had to do with women’s success at that time. Women had been fighting for more equality in the workplace, and they decided to take their fashion sense to the next level in the 80s. Neon colors and tracksuits got left at home for the day. The power suit made its debut with shoulder pads included.
A variety of shirts were worn throughout the 80s, depending on the occasion or event. For more casual wear, women wore baggy t-shirts that sported the logo of their favorite band or even brand. Some women cut their t-shirts to be level with their waistband for a more cropped look. Baggy sweaters, sweatshirts that hung off the shoulder, and even button-down shirts were worn with a variety of other 80s clothing.
Women’s jackets were similar to what men wore in the 80s in that they were baggy and loose. They all had the bomber style that became popular in the 80s. Denim jackets were also common with a casual t-shirt, leggings, and legwarmers. For business use, work coats were long and sometimes belted. They usually matched the power suit that a woman was wearing.
Skirts in the 80s weren’t very fitted or tailored to the shape of a woman. For casual wear, a shorter pleated skirt was typical with some leggings underneath. Longer skirts were appropriate for work or more formal events. An elastic waistband dress with fabric that flowed straight down to the knee with a straight cut was usually paired with a simple blouse.
Women took a more casual approach to fashion in the 80s, but they definitely still wore dresses during that time period. Big, ruffled skirts that were cut high above the knee made the perfect party dress. Usually, you would see the same large shoulder look that was common with blazers and other shirts. A lot of lace and tulle were used, with a variety of colors being featured.
Shoe options in the 80s consisted of Nike and Reebok sneakers in all kinds of colors and styles. For a much more relaxed look, Converse All Starts and Keds were popular. A slip-on flat was often worn to work, and they came in all different colors. A low heel was also an option, usually made in patent leather or simple matte leather.
Now that you’re an expert on women’s fashion trends in the 80s, you’ll be all ready to choose the perfect outfit for your next 80s themed event. A lot of these style trends are being used today for everyday wear, just in a bit more subtle manner.
In the next couple of chapters, we’re going to discuss specific outfits that you can wear for an 80s outfit. A little research goes a long way towards perfecting this historical fashion look.
Chapter four of our 80s fashion guide is going to focus on the different types of 80s fashion that existed during one of the most notable style decades in history. We’ll go over some of the most notable trends, such as neon colors, grunge, hip hop, goth, punk, and more. Not everything looked the same during this time period.
We’ve talked a lot about some of the most common 80s fashion trends that we all remember. Acid-washed denim, mullets, shoulder pads, the women’s power suit, and tracksuits are just some of them. It’s doubtful that we’ll see a decade in fashion again like the 80s, but it’s nice to have plenty of knowledge as a source for our current designs and outfits.
Whether you’re a designer or someone that simply wants to put together a throwback outfit for a day, here are some of the most notable fashion types that were around in the 80s and into the 90s.
80s hip hop fashion
Hip-hop fashion was influenced by some of the most popular performers of that time. LL Cool J, Salt-N-Peppa, Queen Latifa, and Ice Cube were just some of the originators for the fashion trends that we’re about to talk about. In fact, we still see a lot of these 80s fashion styles going on today.
Denim was popular in the hip-hop sector. Women were wearing baby doll jeans, which had an elastic waistband and elastic around the ankles. They came in traditional colors, but it was also common to see lighter shades of pink and other pastels. Men wore skinnier jeans than were common in the 80s, often tapered down to the ankles.
Button-down shirts with bold prints like polka dots and geometric shapes were popular for men in hip hop. They usually wore them untucked with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, paired with denim, and worn with sneakers.
While the style of loafers that men wear today is a bit different than they looked in the 80s, it was very popular for men to wear loafers with no socks, tapered pants, and a button-down shirt.
In fact, loafers were a clothing item that showed you knew what you were doing in regard to fashion. If you were able to invest in high-quality clothing, then you were wearing a nice pair of loafers.
The Starter jacket was worn by all kinds of people, but it actually started out with the hip-hop crowd. It was worn casually to the mall, a concert, or even a party. You rocked your favorite sports team no matter where you were going or what you were doing.
Leather jackets were worn by all genres of people in the 80s, but hip-hop stars started to wear them in the middle of the decade. Run DMC was one of the first ones to do so. We still see this fashion trend in lots of people today.
Dookie chains exemplified your success status in the 80s as a hip-hop star or fan. This look was much more elaborate than a solid gold chain. It was actually designed to look like multiple chains twisted together to form one big rope necklace. They were simple compared to the diamonds that people wear today, but they were one of the more expensive accessories of the time.
Lastly, bucket hats were a hip-hop accessory in the 80s that was worn by celebrities like LL Cool J and Run DMC. They were functional and stylish, and they could be worn with many different outfits.
80s rock fashion
Rock style in the 80s was really very elaborate and different from band to band. Queen was one of the most colorful groups that were adventurous with their style, while other rock bands like Metallica and Guns N Roses were more conservative. Bon Jovi, AC/DC, and The Police were just some of the other popular groups of the 80s.
Trucker hats were a popular accessory that was worn by groups like Phish and the Grateful Dead. They were part of the rock scene in the early to mid-80s, while trucker hats actually expanded to the hip hop generation later on in the decade.
Fitted denim was extremely popular in rock in the 80s. Stars like Freddie Mercury were known for wearing a tight pair of denim jeans paired with something simple like a baggy t-shirt or tank top. All different shades were popular, especially lighter colors.
Leather was everywhere, and many 80s rock bands would match each other, all dressing in black leather from head to toe. It gave them an edge that looked very tough and stylish. Buckles, belts, and accessories completed the look.
Glam rock was a bit different in style. Artists like David Bowie and Elton John wore tight-fitting spandex outfits, big glasses, makeup, accessories, and all different colors of clothing.
80s black fashion
Fashion in the 80s was colorful, unique, and fun. Black fashion in the 80s followed those same guidelines. This style group was commonly wearing oversized clothing, acid-washed jeans, neon colors, tracksuits, Dookie chains, Adidas sneakers, and power suits.
Women wore overalls, paired with crop shirts and only one strap fastened. Men followed the hip-hop style trends, wearing tracksuits with coordinating sneakers and hats.
80s punk fashion
The style of 80s punk fashion and punk rock was quite different from what rockers were wearing, or anyone else for that matter. The trends were much more extreme at this time. A lot less of the bold colors and geometric patterns were worn by punks. Instead, they were wearing tight-fitting clothing that was rebellious and well thought out. The goal was to look tough and intimidating.
It was common to wear t-shirts and vests if you were into punk rock music. Some men wore their vests with sleeveless shirts, showing off tattoos or accessories. Shirts were tucked in to give a much more streamlined look.
Leather was often paired with plaid to give a very contrasting look. Plaid pants that were fitted and tapered usually had a bold color pattern, while a basic black leather jacket was common.
Doc Martens were boots that were originally created in the 70s for work use, but they actually became better well-known for their punk rock style. Even hip-hop artists were wearing them in the 80s, and they’re still worn today.
80s neon fashion
Neon colors were a big part of the 80s. They were worn by all generations of people that followed all kinds of style trends. Neon was popular in athletic wear, t-shirts, and even dresses and more formal wear. We don’t see a lot of neon colors today, but now and again, you’ll see something colorful and bright that reminds you of the 80s.
80s goth fashion
Goth fashion also incorporated leather, black clothing, and intimidating outfits. It was similar to the punk style in the 80s, but it was a bit darker.
Doc Martens were a popular shoe in the 80s for goth fashion as well as other styles. Usually, you had a classic black pair that you wore with everything. They were practical for skirts, pants, and jeans.
Big hair was an important part of the 80s goth. That’s actually quite different than what goths look like today. We’re used to seeing long black hair parted down the middle and worn straight. Goths in the 80s teased their hair bigger than anyone else, and it wasn’t uncommon to see their hair dyed a unique color like fire engine red.
Very dark eye makeup paired with big hoop earrings and bold accessories was a common sight.
80s summer fashion
Fashion during the summer months in the 80s was very casual. A fitted pair of basic blue tapered jeans were worn with a simple t-shirt that had stripes or shapes on it. Keds or other simple sneakers were typical for women, while men still rocked their Nikes or Adidas sneakers.
Tank tops and t-shirts off the shoulder gave a relaxed attitude, as did cut-off denim shorts and cropped denim jackets. Colors were a bit lighter in the summer months. Neon shades were traded in for pastels or more simple designs.
80s grunge fashion
We usually associate grunge fashion with the early 90s, but this was actually a music scene that came out in the middle of the 80s in the heart of Seattle. It didn’t start to really gain popularity until a number of years later.
Grunge fashion was created by groups like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. Worn plaid shirts, torn jeans, baggy t-shirts, and unkempt hair were typical. Thrift stores became a popular source for grunge fashion, or you took some of your friends or family members’ items to make your own outfits.
80s high school fashion
We’ve got a good look at what teens were wearing in the 80s, thanks to current TV shows like Stranger Things. Girls cut their hair a bit shorter but still teased it, so it was big. Rompers, baby doll pants with suspenders, high-top sneakers, and the perfect pair of sunglasses were ideal.
Boys were usually worn in a basic pair of jeans with a bold t-shirt or sweater. Some wore their hair in a mullet, while others kept a more cropped style.
80s Japanese fashion
Japanese fashion in the 80s was similar to what was going on in the U.S., but there were some notable differences. The overall style was more preppy than what we had going on. Short tennis-like skirts with a sweater thrown over the shoulders were a cute look, especially in different colors and styles. For a bolder look, plaid skirts were popular with high socks.
Hair was much simpler. They didn’t tease their hair quite so big in Japan at that time. Shorter mullet styles were common.
We’ve covered a lot of the different 80s fashion types that were popular during that time frame. Hopefully, you now understand that there was a lot more going on in fashion then. In upcoming chapters, we’re going to discuss some different 80s outfits for both men and women and what you can wear to an 80s themed party. We hope you’ll stick with us!
These are some of the most common and typical outfits that both men and women wore during that decade.
Typical 80s outfit ideas for men
Men’s fashion was just as elaborate and colorful in the 80s as women’s fashion was. There were plenty of bold colors, patterns, and styles to embrace. The type of outfit that you chose in the 80s really depended on where you were heading. In fact, there were some pretty drastically different clothing items that you could choose from, including tracksuits, denim, collared shirts, suits, and more. Let’s take a look at some outfit ideas from the 80s.
The Casual Look
If you were going to go out and spend some time with friends, attend a concert or hit up a bar, a casual look was pretty typical. For this outfit, you would have likely worn tight denim jeans or shorts if it was warm out. A baggy graphic t-shirt with your favorite band on the front was common, especially if it was cut a bit shorter than today’s style. A designer pair of Nike high-top basketball sneakers completed this casual look along with a messy mullet haircut.
Dressed Up Casual
A nicer pair of denim jeans that were lighter in color or acid-washed could be paired with a t-shirt and a bomber jacket for a more dressed-up look. A letterman’s jacket would have also looked perfect for this look. A simpler shoe may have been worn with this outfit to give a nicer appearance than basketball shoes would have.
The Baggy Sweater Look
Men had tons of options in the 80s when it came to sweaters. The classic men’s look at this time for both casual and professional wear included dress pants or jeans, paired with a sweater that had some sort of bold print on it. This could be stripes, geometric shapes, lots of colors, etc. Shoes included sneakers or loafers.
Athletic wear was a big part of the 80s. Whether you were heading to the gym or not, a tracksuit provided you with a sporty and comfortable look. They came in a variety of colors and styles, but you always made sure that your tracksuit matched perfectly. Nike and Adidas made some high-end ones that were worn if you knew what style was all about in the 80s.
Men weren’t the only ones that embraced the neon colors of the 80s, though they did sometimes keep it a bit subtler than women. Men paired neon t-shirts with cut-off denim shorts or jeans. A denim jacket could be worn on top for a denim-on-denim look. Even a bright pair of colored pants in a shade of yellow or green were stylish.
80s Professional Attire
If you had to be at work or at a special event, you were probably dressed in a single-breasted suit coat with a matching pair of pants. If you were a master of 80s style, it wasn’t uncommon to see patterns like plaids and pinstripes. Today’s suits are a lot more fitted. A men’s suit in the 80s usually had a baggier fit with shoulder pads.
Hip Hop Chic
Notable hip-hop stars in the 80s created a look that is synonymous with that time frame. It was a casual look that included jeans or sweatpants, a basic t-shirt, a trucker hat or bucket hat, basketball sneakers, and accessories in the way of a dookie chain.
Punk Rock Fashion
A classic rocker look was usually for the younger crowd, but it was a fun look that you could totally rock today. Men usually had long hair for this look, and it was kept messy without product for the most part. However, you would occasionally see a man tease his hair up as women did for the punk rock fashion look. Clothing included a tight pair of denim jeans in black or light blue, a leather jacket, a black t-shirt, and black leather boots. Doc Martens were popular in the 80s.
Typical 80s outfit ideas for women
Women had some elaborate outfit options in the 80s. If it was a trend at that time, women were embracing it. All of the colors known to man were worked into outfits. The brighter the color was, the better the outfit looked. Prints and different cuts of clothing were worn, plenty of shoe options existed, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of hair and accessories.
Inspiration came from all over. Women were basing their looks on celebrities, musicians, fashion that was revealed on the catwalk, and inspiration came from other women on the streets. Let’s take a look at some typical 80s fashion ideas for women.
Women didn’t wear a lot of tracksuits as men did. Their workout-themed attire usually included leggings, a fitted shirt, leg warmers, a headband, and big hair. The outfit was usually very color coordinated, incorporated neon colors for things like the leg warmers and headband.
Another more casual workout outfit would include a pair of athletic shorts with a baggy sweatshirt that was cut to hang off one shoulder. Pulling the hair into a high or side ponytail that was fashioned with a colorful scrunchie completed the look.
Prints and Neon Colors
We would never mix so many different bold prints with neon colors today, but the more, the merrier in the 80s. A neon-colored skirt could be worn with a floral printed blouse or jacket on top. A neon pair of heels or flats were the perfect accessory, along with large, teased hair.
High-Waisted Pants for a Work Look
The woman’s power suit was popular for business wear, but there was also the look of high-waisted trousers paired with a colorful blouse. Blouses were usually made with extra fabric, ruffles, or pleats. Shoulder pads were included in a lot of workwear. A low, squared heel was also worn.
The perfect blazer was also an 80s staple. Shoulders were very big at this time, and shoulder pads only made them bigger. The length was usually on the shorter side, making this look appear boxy.
The Members Only Jacket
The Members Only jacket was worn by both men and women for an expensive but casual look. They were usually worn with a pair of high-waisted denim jeans or shorts. You could even dress them up with a skirt if you wanted to. The perfect pair of sunglasses completed the look.
The Perfect Casual Look with Denim
You had plenty of denim jeans in your closet if you were a woman in the 80s. The cut usually had a very high waist, often with an elastic waistband. The legs tapered down to a more fitted look on the bottom. Colors varied, but light denim or an acid wash was popular. On top, women wore graphic t-shirts for a very casual look. Off-the-shoulder sweatshirts were common and crop t-shirts.
Dresses with Belts High on the Waist
For formal wear, dresses were usually on the shorter side, but they had a large skirt. Tulle was used a lot in the 80s. The polka dot print was very common and was used in all different colors. Wearing a belt high on the waist with a dress like this was common, paired with matching heels.
The Classic Denim Jacket
A casual look utilized a classic denim jacket from your closet. Most women had at least one, if not a couple of them. They would be worn with many different outfits, including high-waisted jeans and a graphic crop t-shirt or even a tank top underneath. Converse All-Star sneakers or Doc Martens gave this look an edgy feel.
Jumpsuits were commonly worn by celebrities and rock stars. If you were going out on the town with your girlfriends, you might have had one. They were fitted in the body area, but the pants usually flared out almost like a bell-bottom look. The top may have had a deep cut low on the chest.
The Preppy Look
For a preppy schoolgirl look, you could wear a plaid skirt with a polo or dress shirt, accessorized with high knee socks and a dress shoe. Knee socks worked with dress shorts and loafers, polos, and a sweater thrown over the shoulders.
Women often swapped their classic denim jeans for overalls. However, your overalls were usually only fastened on one side, you may have rolled up the ankles, and you were wearing a fun pair of sneakers on your feet. Worn under the overalls was a neon tank top, cropped shirt, or even a polo shirt.
We hope that we’ve helped you understand what outfits in the 80s looked like for both men and women. If you ever have to put together an outfit for an 80s-themed party or event, you’ll know exactly what to shop for.
If you would like to learn more about 80s fashion, we’re going to be discussing 80s party wear in more depth in the next chapter. Follow along for more information.
You can choose formal wear, casual clothing and so much more. If you weren’t alive during the 80s or it’s been too long to remember what your personal style looked like, we are going to talk about some different things both men and women can wear to an 80s themed event.
When you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly what you can throw together before the big day arrives.
What should a man wear to an 80s theme party?
Whether you’re the host of the party or you’ve simply been invited to an event, we’d like to talk about some of the most common men’s fashion trends that were around in the 80s. Some of these items may already be in your wardrobe, while others can be sourced online or even from a thrift store. Get creative with your outfit and allow yourself plenty of time to put something together before the party day arrives.
There were a lot of great hairstyles that were popular in the 80s. Your age really determined what you were going to sport. Younger men and boys grew their hair out into a mullet, which was usually styled in a tousled look. Rat tails were longer pieces of hair that were left uncut at the very base of your hairline in the back. Maybe you have time to grow your hair out a bit before the party, but it might not be an option for you. A wig or hair attachment is always an option.
It wasn’t unheard of to have short hair in the 80s, so don’t worry if the party is coming up soon and you need to come up with your style before then. Consider slicking your hair back or keeping it trim in a buzz cut.
You probably already have a pair of khaki pants in your closet, and they can work as a wardrobe staple from the 80s. The cut might be a little different now, but you can pair your pants with some really dated 80s wear to complete the look. If you can find a pair of khakis that look more like the 80s style, they will likely have a higher elastic waistband and potentially elastic at the ankles.
Most men already have a multitude of polo shirts in their closet, so grab the most colorful one that you have and build off that. You can pop the color or keep it down for a more preppy look. If you’re going for a preppy 80s style, throw a sweater over the back of your shoulders and pair those tops with khaki pants.
Leather vest (punk look)
The punk look from the 80s is a lot of fun. You may need to do a little more planning for this outfit, though. Light-colored denim or ripped jeans should be fitted. You can even distress something of your own if you think the fit will work. A graphic band t-shirt can be cut higher near your waistline and top the whole thing off with a sleeveless leather vest. If you have some pins, you can accessorize the vest.
Ripped jeans were popular for the punk and rock looks of the 80s, but they were commonly worn by a lot of men who were sporting different styles. Ripped jeans can be paired with everything from a graphic t-shirt to a sweater or tracksuit jacket.
While you might not be going to a Hawaiian-themed party, Hawaiian shirts were also popular in the 80s. The more colorful shirt you can find, the better you’ll look. Your shirt will look perfect with a pair of khakis, distressed denim, or even a pair of shorts.
Vans or converse
You probably don’t have the time or money to search for a pair of vintage high-top Nike sneakers that were popular in the 80s, but there may be something already in your closet that was popular back in the 80s. A classic pair of Converse All-Stars was an 80s staple, as were Vans sneakers. If you don’t already have them, they’re still being sold today. They’re not overly expensive, so you can invest in a pair and perhaps still wear them again.
Baggy pants on men weren’t generally all that popular in the 80s. Baggy shirts and sweaters were worn, but bottoms were designed to look much more fitted than they are now. You may need to go down a size or choose something from your closet that has a tapered leg.
Denim jackets were a staple item, just like bomber jackets or Starter jackets. Cut short at the waist, the most popular colors were light denim or acid-washed. You can pair a denim jacket with a polo, sweater, t-shirt, or tank.
Men’s accessories in the 80s included bucket hats, big gold dookie chains, and a great pair of sunglasses. Women were usually the ones to layer all kinds of accessories with their outfits in the 80s, but you can throw some other items into your outfit to complete the look.
Women’s fashion for an 80s theme party
On the day of the party, you want to turn heads with your outfit. However, heads will turn because people are so impressed with the 80s themed outfit that you put together. Women’s fashion in the 80s incorporated a lot of different looks, so you have a lot to choose from.
Some basic items like leggings or a denim jacket may be things that you already wear. Other unique items can be borrowed from a family member or friend, or you can even check out some local thrift stores for inspiration.
Women’s hair was big and bold in the 80s. If you have longer hair, you’ll have plenty to work with when you go to style it before you leave for the party. Beforehand, you can invest in some products and accessories that can help you create the perfect 80s look.
A can of hairspray is something that everyone in the 80s had on hand when they styled their hair. You’ll want to tease it really well with a comb and make sure you spray your entire head of hair to ensure that the volume sticks around for the whole party.
A crimper was another way to make your hair look more textured without having to tease it. Crimpers looked like the flat irons that we use today, but they actually had zig-zagged plates on the interior.
You would clamp pieces of your hair down between the plates for a few seconds. When one section was done, you continued on up that section of hair until the whole thing had the pattern stamped into it. It holds pretty well on its own, but you can spray it to hold it longer.
Banana clips were a method of pulling your hair back in the 80s. A little different than a ponytail, banana clips folded around your hair and clipped into place. You can also pull all of your hair to the side of your head and secure it with a scrunchie. They’re making a big comeback right now. So you should have no trouble finding one if you don’t already have a couple in your hair accessory collection.
Puffy sleeved dress
Women went for the look of having big shoulders in the 80s. We all know about the shoulder pads that were inserted into the majority of shirts at that time. If you can find a dress from the 80s, it will likely have padded shoulders and puffy sleeves. Some of the sleeves on 80s dresses got quite elaborate with how much excess fabric was on them.
A leather skirt can be used to create a very punk rock look from the 80s. Top it with a brightly colored neon shirt or tank. If you have an older crew neck sweatshirt laying around, cut the neck, so there is a much bigger opening present. You would wear the sweatshirt hanging off one shoulder for a casual look that would match quite well with a basic leather skirt.
Leggings from the 80s often had stirrups on them, which help your pants smoothly under your feet. However, leggings in general are still around right now. Grab a pair of basic black ones from your drawer and work your 80s outfit from there.
You can pair leggings with an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, a graphic t-shirt, or a sweater. Don’t forget to pop on a pair of leg warmers that you’ll pull up over the pants. With a pair of athletic sneakers on your feet, this is a really simple look to put together. Just make sure you’re adding enough color to the outfit to really make it look like it is from the 1980s.
The 80s incorporated more colors into makeup than you probably have in your palette right now but see what you can find at the store. Look for the brightest blues and greens that you can find. You want to color the entire lid and see if you can find matching eyeliner to use around your entire eye. You may still be able to find colored mascara at some stores these days, which will really help your makeup pop. A bright red or pink lip will look great as well.
Accessories were very necessary in the 80s when it came to women’s fashion. Lining your arms with bangle bracelets was popular, as well as big hoop earrings. A pair of retro sunglasses can be worn to the party or on top of your head. Pop on rings on every finger, use multiple hair accessories, and see how many different items you can add on to your outfit.
A denim vest can be found at a local thrift store, online, or you can maybe create one from an old denim jacket that you have but just don’t really love anymore. Cut the sleeves off, and leave the ends distressed. You can run it through the washing machine and dyer a few times to get some of those frayed edges to develop.
An oversized sweatshirt was a wardrobe staple of the 80s. You’ll match the decade perfectly if you cut the neck a bit, so the sweatshirt hangs off one of your shoulders. Otherwise, see if you can steal your partner’s sweatshirt if they have something that’s a few sizes bigger than what you normally wear. Try to find an item that has a graphic on the front. Something retro or band-themed is ideal if you want to look like you’ve walked right out of the 80s.
Puffy athletic pants
It might be hard to do but see if you can find a tracksuit or puffy athletic pants. You might have an older family member that’s hanging on to a pair, but your local thrift store might be the place to go. You can also find a lot of retro items on the internet for a steal. Matching tracksuit pieces were common in the 80s, so finding a matching jacket makes for a quick and easy 80s outfit. Pair it with a side ponytail for the perfect 80s look.
The type of outfit that you’re wearing to the party will determine the shoe options that you have. If you’re going for a more casual and athletic look, you’ll want to stick with a sneaker of some sort. A high top is trendy from the 80s, but you can wear something like Converse All-Stars or Vans if you already have them. Classic-looking Nikes or Adidas sneakers were also popular.
For a dressy outfit, ballet flats may work. It’s likely you already have a couple pairs of those. You could also borrow a pair of heels from your mom or aunt. The heels were usually a bit squared in the 80s, but a classic heel should work as well.
Now that we’ve discussed some 80s party wear, it’s time to start collecting your outfit items. The great thing about the 80s is that you could mix and match a lot of different things together to make your outfit. Don’t be afraid to get really creative with what you’re going to show up to the party in.
Now that we’ve covered all of the basic fashion trends of the 1980s, we hope that you know enough to make an educated decision regarding what you should wear to your next 80s event.
It’s actually quite easy to combine different clothing items to create the perfect look. Matching pieces were sometimes worn, but the typical look was throwing some different items together to create something very casual.
We encourage you to share this post with anyone you know that would like to learn more about fashion in the 80s. If you’ve put together the perfect throwback outfit, let us know what your look included in the comments below.