Each era has its distinctive fashion trends, and the 1980s are no exception. Television, films, musicians, athletes, and royalty would all set trends during this decade. Diana, Princess of Wales, popularized glamorous and romantic styles. Michael Jordan and Run-DMC would make athletic wear prized by non-athletes. Power dressing expressed a desire for influence in business settings. This exuberance would contrast with the more subtle styles of the 1990s.
The “preppy” look expressed affluence in a casual manner. Izod brand polo shirts, with their trademark alligator over the chest, made for an instantly recognizable signal of status. Khakis and loafers often completed the look, which was predominately of a pastel palette. Clothing brands were of great importance, and designers took pains to deter counterfeiting.
Athletic and dance wear became popular casual attire during this period. Dancers often wore baggy sweatshirts with one shoulder exposed and leg warmers during breaks. The film Flashdance made these popular among non-dancers. NBA players and hip hop artists made designer sneakers and track suits popular in urban settings, but these trends were mostly for men.
Other trends included tight jeans, leggings, and long socks designed to be worn crumpled around the ankles.
Women’s business fashion began to come into its own in the 1980s, as women were starting to climb the corporate ladder. The TV dramas Dynasty and Dallas made shoulder pads en vogue again, so blazers and dresses took on a boxy look. Bold colors in suiting and accessories were contrasted by soft, ruffled blouses. Low heels made being fashionable comfortable. The economic boom times made synthetic fabrics for business attire and formal wear unfashionable.
The romantic glamor of 1980s formal wear is epitomized by the gown David and Elizabeth Emmanuel designed for then Lady Diana Spencer to wear on her wedding day. With its puffed sleeves, lace, pearls, and embroidery, it set the trend for wedding gowns, although most brides chose close-fitting sleeves. Dresses for formal occasions featured batwing sleeves and ruching, which use more fabric than less extravagant styles. Asymmetrical hemlines in silky, floating fabrics made for a slightly ethereal look.
Trendsetters and Designers
Madonna’s 1980s look brought together elements of punk, romanticism, and dance wear together to make her a fashion and music icon. Joan Collins and Linda Evans from the television series Dynasty brought power dressing into American homes each week. Diana, Princess of Wales, made the meringue dress popular for a decade, and developed a look that walked the line between romantic glamor and power dressing. These women developed looks that captured the spirit of their times.
The romantic look of the time was developed by Vivienne Westwood and Christian Lacroix, with corseting, ruffles, and lace. The casual “preppy” look brought Ralph Lauren into the spotlight. Chantal Thomas created the lingerie as outerwear looks that Madonna used into the 1990s.
References and ResourcesHilary Magazine; Top 10 Fashion Trends of the 80s ; Samantha Read
Fashion-Era: 1980s Fashion History
The Costume Gallery: A Princess Tea Party; Penny E. Dunlap Ladnier
The People History; 1980s Fashion-The “Dress for Success” Decade