Ideas for Glamorous 80's Prom Dresses

By Nancy Hayden

From leggings and ankle booties to long tunics and off-the-shoulder tops, the 80s are back in a big way in the world of fashion. Many of the more memorable styles from the outrageous 80s have gotten modern-day updates and are hip again as trendy retro looks. Formal occasions are no exception, and many girls choosing dresses for prom are opting for the bright colors and bold styles of 80s prom dresses.

Embrace retro glamor at Prom in an '80s style dress.

Fabrics and Styles

Bright and shiny fabrics were all the rage in the 80s. Taffeta was a glamorous fabric for prom dresses and helped ruffles and puffy shoulder pads to stand out. For a true 80s style prom dress, look for taffeta, satin or metallic lame. Designers mixed silver or gold lame with black velvet to create sparkly and dramatic formal wear. For prom, girls often wore dresses in bold colors or patterns such as polka dots. Styles ranged from gowns with wide shoulders and loose-fitting drop waists to strapless dresses with fitted bodices.


Some girls opted for full-length dresses, but the 80s were also the era of the short formal dress. Trendy styles included knee-length or mid-calf dresses. While the full-length dresses often flowed to the floor in a simple A-line cut, the shorter dresses played up more of the whimsical design fads of the day. Dresses with shorter lengths above the knee often fell in tiers of material below the waist, like a wedding cake. Knee-length prom dresses were often more snug at the waist and knees and were cut wider at the hips and even wider still at the shoulders.


Designers seemingly placed ruffles, bows and frills wherever there was an inch of space on an 80s prom dress. When designing glamorous formal wear, many dressmakers took their cue from trends on television shows such as "Dynasty," where the millionaire women wore huge shoulder pads and plenty of ruffles. Designers created dresses with huge bows on the backside or on the side at the hip of a drop-waist dress. Strapless or one strap gowns had ruffles made of taffeta or tulle running down the front on a diagonal or layers of frilly ruffles on the skirt.


No 80s prom dress would look authentic without proper shoes, jewelry and hair accessories to complete the ensemble. For a glamorous look that is true to the time period, top off the dress by wearing 2- or 3-inch pumps with pointed toes. Find costume jewelry in a vintage or accessory store and wear large hoop or dangling earrings and a pile of silver or gold thin bangle bracelets. Or wear elbow-length, fingerless gloves in lace or satin. Match them with a lace or satin headband that ties in a bow.