1980’s fashion : 10 factors that influenced clothing of this period

1980’s was a period of consumerism, extravagance and lots of shopping. It was a time when young urban men and women were highly invested in fashion trends – there was a spirit of optimism and extravagance that boded well for the fashion industry.

A lot of factors influenced the fashion of the times – the important ones are as given below.

If you simply want to browse some images from that period you may do so in this pinterest board 

1980’s fashion influencers

Excess & Boldness

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Being loud, bold and expensive was the reigning sentiment all throughout the 80’s – shoulder pads and loose fit of jackets, blazers and blouses made them look big, really big; Over sized tops, enormous (covered) buttons on tops, blouses and jackets, chunky eye catching jewelry, thick gold, multi-chain belts, dresses made wholly from sequins fabric giving you the squinty eye from all that glitter, Gold artificial nails, shiny velvet suits, big animal prints on leggings, Huge Hair Slides, neon coloured tops, Knee high boots with everything, lots of ruffles and other details on blouses, Studded Leather Handcuff belts, Huge yellow earrings for men, Bright and boldly patterned Hawaiian shirts, big and wild permed hairstyles – everything was “bold and beautiful”. 

Television & Movies

Which brings us to “The Bold and the beautiful”, the famous American television soap opera which first aired in 1987. Cable television started a revolution and the stars started influencing the clothing choices of the people. The ever popular ‘Dynasty’ (starting from 1981) and another hit one ‘Dallas’, all had big influence on fashion of the times.

Joan Collins and Linda Evans in the soap opera Dynasty sported the shoulder padded blazers – the show stopper of that period. Big jewelry and expensive tailored clothing was another trend they brought on.

Valley Girl is a 1983 American romantic comedy film starring Nicholas Cage and Deborah Foreman and the look of the female actress of the movie complete with neon colours, short flared mini skirt with leggings and leg warmers became an instant hit and continued its run for a long time.

MTV was founded in the year 1981 and soon gained massive popularity among teens and young adults. The channels presented all the Music idols of the generation on the small screen and this lead to the youngsters following their fashion styles, almost ditto.

Dance clubs

Which makes us look at the influence of Music in the 80’s. Dance music was big in this decade as in the previous one and Michael Jackson’s Billy jean, Thriller and  songs by Boy George, Prince and Annie Lennox all set the dance floor on fire.

Many disco-influenced songs were hugely popular and MTV brought all the latest songs to the living room. Pop culture icons and fashion subculture with their base on music had a great influence on the clothing of this period.


Which brings us to even more influential celebrities of the times like Madonna, Princess Diana, Brooke Shields, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson.

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Madonna – the music icon who influenced the fashion of this period through her appearances in MTV shows. Everything about Madonna was copied by her millions of fans all over the world. Her signature navel baring outfits,  Laced crop tops with black bras, Buffalo skirt, mesh knit tank tops, black lace finger less gloves, 3/4 length black leggings, crinoline over capri pants, finger less gloves, messy hair all were hugely popular. She wore underwear as outwear like her low-cut bustier look, which created uproar as well as excitement. She can be said to be the celebrity who introduced the punk style of clothing and even had at one time stores selling Madonna licensed clothing and accessories.

A Green colored Jacket Madonna wore in the movie Desperately seeking Susan jacket with a metallic Pyramid and eye embroidery on the back became an instant hit.

Other celebrities like Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen also had their say in the fashion scene.

Fashion subcultures

Which leads us to the punk style which Madonna endorsed and other fashion subcultures of the period.

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Punk fashion style

Punk became a major trend during the 80s. This style is characterized by studded leather jackets, ripped jeans, band t-shirts, spikes and combat boots

Grunge fashion style

Grunge fashion style is a fashion that emerged in the mid 1980’s in  the United States against the excesses of the fashion in the decade. It is Non-fashion look characterized by ripped faded jeans, t shirts, flannel shirts casually tied over all this with boots, and baseball caps or beanies. The whole style is based on the convenience and frugality of combining different types of clothes and accessories to form a casual style of clothing with an edgy element.

Learn more about different fashion styles here. 

Hip Hop fashion

Hip Hop street wear fashion became very popular in the west in this decade. Everything was in bold and bright colors and patterns in this style. Elements like designer sneakers, kangol caps, head bands, thick gold rope chains, three or four finger rings, wrist accessories and parachute pants and Denim jackets ruled. 

Denim (Jeans and jean jackets)

Which brings the limelight on the staple of almost every man of the period – Jeans and a denim jacket. Everyone wore them everywhere. Bruce Springsteen popularized the Jean jackets. People in the 80’s wore them with Patches, pins, fringes and with everything.

Blue jeans had become a fashion staple by the start of the 1980’s  and it became the go to clothing suitable for  office, party, hiking and everything else. Acid wash Jeans was very trendy back then and so were high waisted styles.

Jeans was popular in all colors and varieties – The preferred style was skinny. Jeans in white, dark, light and other colors, Black jeans with colored panels on the back, acid-washed jeans, Jeans with flowers all over, jeans with pictures on cuffs, jeans with different colored pockets, glitter jeans, jeans with holes, Jeans with a yellow star embroidered on the pocket, jeans with all too many pockets, Jeans with white piping along the leg outer seam, jeans with different colored crotch part – you name them, people of 80’s have seen them all. Guess was a Very popular brand.


Which draws in another fabric that ruled the roost in this decade – Spandex aka Lycra aka Elastane, all same with different names.

Stretch pants in all its avatars was big during this period. Leggings, leotards, tights, sweatpants,  and tracksuits all made of the wonderful stretchy new fabric of the block, Lycra /spandex – this fabric was a crucial element in this decade’s dressing of a particular type.

The new material discovered in the 1970s became immensely popular among the common men and women in the 80’s, particularly with those who followed the mass workout videos popular then; till then it was only used by dancers and wrestlers. 

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Sports clothing

Which makes one investigate the influence of high interest in sports and athletics on the fashion consciousness of the period. The whole skin tight leotards with legwarmers and a bold hairband across the forehead is a signature sports look of the 1980’s popularized by Jane Fonda. Adidas Sports brand became hugely successful.

By 1970’s Adidas Sports brand had become hugely successful. Nike employed hugely successful sports stars as its ambassadors – In 1984 they signed Michael Jordan and started a very successful campaign which catapulted the brand as the most successful sporting company in the world. By the late 1980s Reebok overtook Nike.

Reference : qz.com

Power dressing

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Which brings to attention a clothing which is the opposite of the very informality of sports clothing – The tailored suits.

Power dressing refers to wearing tailored business clothing (read suit)to reflect power and success in the corporate scenario. This style of clothing emerged into prominence in the 1980’s. Women who started to take up high paying corporate jobs with more earning capacity than ever demanded a dressing style that depicted their new status. Power dressing was it. This meant jackets with large shoulder pads, soft blouses underneath, with straight skirts and perhaps black sheer tights and quality shoes and bags.

Popular television opera Dynasty modeled this style successfully in their female protagonists. Margaret Thatcher, the iron lady was another influence in power dressing styles.

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Fashion designers of the period

Which all leads us to the influence of the famous fashion designers on the fashion styles of the period.

In the 1980’s fashion shows gained immense popularity among the media and were even televised and watched by everyone from their living rooms.

The famous designers of the era were Donna Karen, who made professional work clothes that looked feminine at the same time and introduced 7 easy pieces to mix and match, Ralph Lauren introducing beautiful but affordable clothing and Christian Laacroix, who designed flounced skirts, Thierry Mugler who showcased the accentuated shoulders of the period, Azsedine Alalia, who designed clothes with new age fabrics like Lycra and Viscose, Norma Kamali who popularized workout clothes including legwarmers and leotards – a very popular look in the 1980’s.

Related posts : History of fashion ; Fashion in 1990’s.

DonnaKaran – Reference www.bloomberg.com

Reference : 1980s in Fashion Wikipedia


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