Fashion in the 1980s was influenced by economic and lifestyle changes. By the mid-80s consumers were buying designer sportswear, casual clothing and home accessories. This time period epitomized the might of designers like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren as global brand-makers. Other designers, like Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaia, created a new shape for womenswear.
Calvin Klein was one of the most successful fashion designers of the 1980s. Klein launched his career in the late 60s, and by the early 1980s he was a global brand-maker. In 1982 his designs sold nearly $750 million worldwide. His sportswear ranged from high-end prices to more affordable lines. He then associated his name with household furniture and kitchenware. Klein designed for men and women, and his most popular clothing were jeans and underwear in this era. Klein used high-profile celebrities, like Brooke Shields, for his jeans advertising campaign, while Michael J. Fox popularized CK lilac briefs when he wore them in the film “Back to the Future.”
The “preppy” style of clothing evolved in the 1980s due in large part to designer Ralph Lauren. His clothing brand, Polo Ralph Lauren, was the top choice for conservative teens who wanted a classic style of clothing. They bought expensive polo shirts, chinos and jackets that conspicuously carried the designer’s name. The brand went global when Lauren became the first American designer with a European boutique, in 1981. By 1983 he had expanded his fashion business to incorporate home accessories, including pillows, bedding and throws.
French designer Christian Lacroix is known for creating a wave of new haute couture designs in the 1980s. At the end of the decade he left fashion house Patou and started his own label. Combining bold colors of magenta, orange, yellow, green and bright pink, Lacroix embellished his designs with big bows, intricate beading and prominent jewelry pieces. He found inspiration in the 1980s from artists who used modernistic colors. He also was influenced by opera and the theater, which further inspired many of his collections.
Thierry Mugler is one of a handful of designers to reinvent womenswear with a new silhouette. He shifted fashion in the 1980s away from the hippie movement of the 1970s by creating a more feminine silhouette with accentuated curves. This was a far cry from the free-flowing dresses of the “Me decade.” Mugler instead used sharp shoulders and rounded hips to create angular dresses. Although the designer believed his clothing was merely modern, he was labeled the “prophet of futurism” for his revolutionary take on fashion, using vibrant colors with a hint of a theatrical element in his creations.
Frenchman Azzendine Alaia is another designer who changed the woman’s silhouette. Nicknamed the King of Cling by fashion press in the 1980s, he experimented with fabrics that clung close to the body, and is believed to have invented the use of Lycra for different garments, such as the body suit, cycling shorts and stretch miniskirt. Alaia’s designs complemented the fitness craze that began in the 1980s thanks to the likes of Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton-John.
References and ResourcesPeople: "King of Clothes"; Shirley Clurman; January 1982
Men's Health: The Top 10 Most Iconic Underwear Moments in Pop Culture
Biography: Ralph Lauren Biography
Retro Wow: 80s Fashion
Fashion Model Directory: Christian Lacroix
Victoria and Albert Museum: Christian Lacroix
ResourcesFashion Model Directory: Thierry Mugler
KCI Digital Archives: Collections 1980s
Fashion Mission: Azzedine Alaïa
Fashion-Era: "1980s Fashion History and Lifestyle"; P. Weston Thomas; 2011
Flagship Stores in London: Ralph Lauren