Popular Clothing Of The 1980'S

An overview of the popular styles and trends in fashion for both men and women in the 1980s.

Clothes and fashion took a splashy turn in the 1980's. Attitudes were changing, and the clothes were changing with them. Gone were the polyester bell bottoms and flowing cotton tunics of the late 60's and 70's. The 80's was a time of excess, things were big and loud, even the colors. Neon colors became very popular - pink and turquoise and fluorescent yellow, acid green and electric blue. Bold patterns like repeated circles, triangles, or vertical lines and squiggles were popular, in contrasting colors. Some of the shapes echoed past times - the art deco of the 1920's was a particular influence on the designers of the 1980's - but the colors and the patterns were all new.

The shapes of clothing in the 1980's were fully original. A popular silhouette for a woman was a baggy top over a tight bottom, whether it was tight tapered jeans or a tight miniskirt with leggings, always brightly colored. Items with lots of stretch, made of spandex or Lycra fabric were popular. There was even a store that sold things called "Units" - these versatile items could be used a number of ways, as a skirt, a tube top, a belt, or even a head wrap, and came in all the bright colors anyone could want. It was common to see an oversized sweat shirt paired with a tank top and miniskirt. A sweatshirt coming off one shoulder was a hugely popular look inspired by 1983 movie "Flashdance" and imitated by women everywhere. These outfits were often finished with shoes such as ballet flats, an extremely popular style in the 80's and a throwback to the similar style of shoe in the 60's.

Other prevalent styles for women were eclectic like Molly Ringwald in the 1986 movie "Pretty and Pink" - gypsy chic with flowing skirts, embroidered vests, ropes of beads, and hats with flowers in them. Another popular look was the late eighties hair rocker - tight jeans, black or red, shirt with the sleeves torn off - this worked for men or women. Big hair was a must for both sexes, and the ladies would also sport tight jeans or Lycra pants, high heels or high heeled ankle boots and a chain belt. Accessories were a big part of any look. Hats were popular, as were terrycloth headbands and wristbands. Scrunchies or fake flowers adorned the ponytail. Men and women both wore many different styles of crazy sunglasses. Black Ray-Bans like the ones worn by teen heartthrob Tom Cruise were popular among men.


The approach to fashion among the Preppy set was a bit different. The Izod alligator was king of this group. The look was sporty and crisp, like tennis and polo shirts, khaki pants and skirts, sweater sets, pleated skirts and knee socks. Prints like seersucker and madras were popular for men's suits. These looks usually guaranteed entrance into the country club of your choice in the 1980s.

That brings us to the working world. The business suit is one of the most constant articles of clothing in fashion history - since the 1800s men have worn one style of suit or another. Power players in the 80s favored a triangular profile - wide shoulders with tapered pants, skinny ties and slicked back hair. This profile was also popular for women in the business world. Shoulder pads went into everything from ladies' power suits to wedding dresses. The shape of the business suit of the eighties echoed somewhat the shape of the women's skirt suit from the 40's.

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