During the 1980s fashion was all about excess. It was a decade of big hair, padded shoulders and bold colours and patterns. There was a heavy emphasis on expensive clothes and accessories as people became more materialistic and wanted to flaunt their wealth through their appearance. Having the right clothes meant spending extra money to buy designer labels and sports goods with a brand logo. In this guide to eighties fashion trends we look at the relationship between music and fashion, power dressing, dancewear and Royal style.
Music & Fashion Intertwine
Music and fashion have always had an incredibly close relationship. Musicians often create distinct stage looks for themselves to stand out against the crowd and this was especially true of the 1980s. Fans love to emulate the style of their favourite pop stars, rappers and rock bands and this in turn set many of the fashion trends seen during the decade. Designers worked with pop bands and the growth of the music video encouraged crossovers between fashion and music. Katharine Hamnett's oversized t-shirts with large block letter slogans were adopted by pop bands such as Wham!. George Michael wore his white ‘CHOOSE LIFE’ t-shirt in the music video for ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. The political messages emblazoned on these tops along with their pop star endorsement, made them a huge fashion trend. The New Romantic movement started as a fashion craze and became a genre of music as more musicians began to adopt this style of dressing. The flamboyant and eccentric clothing was heavily influenced by period costumes and much of the clothing was dandy and theatrical with glamorous frills and lavish materials such as satin, silk and velvet. The looks tended to be quite androgynous with the men wearing eyeliner and lipstick. Adam Ant’s iconic look was created by Vivienne Westwood who took inspiration from 16th century pirates and buccaneers.
Across the pond, Madonna was one of the biggest pop stars and delivered striking fashion moments to accompany her live performances and music videos. She is known for constantly setting new trends in both music and fashion, changing the way young girls dressed forever. Her mid-80s edgy-girly look was perfected in the film ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’. She wore a lacy black top under a black and gold embellished jacket, wildly accessorised with stacks of bracelets, lace gloves, a large hair bow and layers upon layers of necklaces. Jean Paul Gaultier was a huge Madonna fan in the eighties and designed her costumes for the Blonde Ambition tour including that iconic conical corset. This outfit helped to popularise the underwear as outerwear trend. Hip-hop music and culture were also extremely prevalent during the 1980s. Hip-hop fashion styles inspired by groups like Salt-N-Pepa became very popular. This look was characterised by baggy silhouettes and athletic details along with bold and bright colours and patterns. When it came to accessories, sneakers and snapback caps reigned supreme.
The aggressive politics of Margaret Thatcher helped establish the power suit in which all but the tallest women looked like boxes. Thatcher was very aware of her image and used clothing as a tool of power. She created a personal style that projected her political values. Her typical power suits consisted of a skirt suit with wide shoulders, a pussy-bow blouse and an Asprey handbag. The term Yuppie, an abbreviation of ‘young urban professional’, described upwardly mobile young businessmen and women armed with briefcase and filofax. Yuppies adopted Thatcher’s philosophy of power dressing as it enabled women to establish their authority in a professional and political environment traditionally dominated by men. Yuppie fashion was always matching and mostly upscale. They liked to show off their good taste. Men wore double-breasted suits with wide shoulders during the working week and at the weekend they wore a Barbour to give off the appearance of a more advantaged lifestyle.
Dynasty and Dallas became two of the most popular TV shows during the 1980s. Stars such as Joan Collins and Linda Evans wore incredibly over the top, almost camp outfits with lavish costume jewellery. The flamboyant costumes worn on these programmes sparked a demand for glitzy cocktail wear. These included silk suits, jewelled dresses with pinched in waists, batwing sleeves, flared peplums and ridiculously over padded shoulders.
Lady Diana Spencer’s engagement to the Prince of Wales established her as a fashion leader. She seamlessly embraced Royal etiquette while setting her own fashion rules. She chose David and Elizabeth Emanuel to design her wedding dress in 1982. During the mid to late 80s, Diana’s confidence and love of fashion grew so she began to make some bolder fashion choices. She favoured floaty, flowery dresses in demure prints, block colour suits with matching accessories and pill box hats. Princess Diana wore a chic, red and white polka dot outfit more than once during the mid eighties which had a strong 1950s style. Her sartorial influence is still seen in the fashion choices of today’s Royals such as Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.
The Clothes From Fame
Dancewear became a huge fashion trend in the 1980s thanks to movies like ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’. Matching the decade’s theme of excess, this workout style featured bold outfits for women. From high-rise leotards and headbands to neon-bright leggings and bike shorts, 80s workout fashion was loud and proud. Jane Fonda originally made waves during the 1960s with her Paco Rabanne designed outfits in ‘Barbarella’ but in the eighties she became the first major star to do an exercise video. She made leg-warmers and Lycra as important to the decade as power shoulders. Her aerobics videos were unbelievably popular and helped to bring dancewear into the mainstream.
A Retro Influence
A new breed of young designers emerged from art colleges such as St Martin’s School Of Art in London. They adopted a vibrant approach to fashion design which mirrored 1950s clothing trends. Polka dots, puff ball crinoline and ra-ra skirts all flourished briefly on the High Street. Whereas floral prints tended to be the most popular style in many other decades, polka dot patterns truly reigned supreme during the eighties. Polka dots came in just about every colour and were sometimes worn all at once by the most daring stars of the day.
Here at Revival, eighties fashion isn’t something that we specialise in but we do sometimes add 1980s vintage dresses to our shop. During the decade there was a 1940s and 1950s revival. Some of the office wear of the eighties echoed the shapes and silhouettes of earlier decades so we tend to look for 80s clothing that keeps the look of original 40s patterns. The above pieces are brilliant examples of dresses that follow this trend.