The 1980s was a decade that saw a major rise in underwear trends, especially thanks to stars like Madonna who showed us how to wear our underwear as outerwear.
When looking at old covers and centerfolds of ‘Cosmopolitan’, it’s clear that the eighties were a time of contrast when it comes to lingerie. There was an overriding tone of soft, feminine colors and textures, plenty of pastels, lace, and hazy photography. But there were also shades of edgier risque looks with fishnets, mesh, and leather peeping through.
Let’s cozy down and chat about the 14 best underwear trends of the 1980s! We’ll stick to women’s lingerie, for now, sorry guys, (it’s a little too early in the day for codpieces and glam-rock bondage).
- 1. Garter belts
- 2. Pastel colours
- 3. Satin and lace camisoles
- 4 .Ruffle-edged teddies
- 5. High-cut underwear
- 6. Fishnet stockings
- 7. Corsets (as underwear and outerwear)
- 8. Long satin nighties and silk chemises
- 9. Spandex bodysuits
- 10. Lace bodysuits
- 11. Calvin’s
- 12. Metallic fabrics
- 13. Demi-bras
- 14. Cone bras
1. Garter belts
Lace garter belts in pastel tones were popular in the 80s, worn with matching undies and bra sets. The look was both demure and sexy at the same time.
2020 style tip: if you’re interested in switching from regular tights to garter belts and stockings, get yourself to a proper lingerie store (after COVID!) and get fitted. The right-sized garter belt and the correct tights will be the difference between a practical, sexy transition to an ill-fitting nuisance.
2. Pastel colours
While clothing was often neon, patterned, and bold in hue, underwear in the 80s was often soft, creamy, and pastel-toned. Pale blue, peach, ivory, and pink reigned supreme in the lingerie catalogs. Think matching panties and bras, high-cut thong bodysuits, and delicate camisoles in hushed hues hiding under shoulder-padded power suits.
2020 style tip: get into the matching underwear life with pastel-colored undies and bras in natural fibers such as bamboo and cotton to protect your skin and the planet.
3. Satin and lace camisoles
Camisoles were huge in the eighties, often made from satin with pretty lace trim, in dreamy pastel shades. Camisole sets with satin panty shorts were popular, worn like a secret sweet outfit hiding under a boss-lady workwear get-up.
2020 style tip: thrift stores are great for sourcing cheap-yet-quality camisoles. Just soak them in vinegar and wash in a lingerie bag in the washing machine. Wear a camisole under work shirts and dresses for a silkier layer next to your skin.
4 .Ruffle-edged teddies
Girly, ruffly teddies were in style in the 80s, in satin and lace with thin straps and high-cut sides. Teddies are not to be mistaken for bodysuits, as they’re looser and are more like a cami-and-pantie 2-in-1 set than a form-fitting leotard.
2020 style tip: teddies are great for wearing under looser-cut clothing such as full skirts and sweaters. Plus, they’re excellent for the bedroom (wink emoji alert!).
5. High-cut underwear
In recent years, women have been reviving the high-cut underwear trend that swept the 80s (the Jenner-Kardashian clan show this constantly with their bikini pics). Underwear sat high on the hip, lengthening the leg (and calling for a very precise maintenance routine down there). You certainly didn’t see any of the low-slung cotton boy-legs or Brazilian bikinis we saw in the 2000s!
2020 style tip: underwear is all about comfort, so only wear this trend if it feels great for you. To make it ultra-comfy, pick cotton briefs with a high-cut side but a full back.
6. Fishnet stockings
Fishnet stockings made many appearances in the 1980s, especially thanks to starlets like Madonna and rock goddess Siouxsie Sioux. They were worn layered with ripped stone-washed jeans, ¾ leggings, layered tutu skirts, and corset dresses.
2020 style tip: fine fishnets (as opposed to large grids) add extra coverage, texture, and class for daywear (and when you haven’t shaved your legs).
7. Corsets (as underwear and outerwear)
Corsets and bustiers are synonymous with the 1800s and very early 1900s, but burst into fashion in the 20th century, but this time it was worn as outerwear in the 80s. Madonna and Cyndi Lauper showed the way, layering lace corsets with ruffled skirts, baggy jeans, and screeds of layered necklaces. This could be seen as a way of reclaiming the restrictive fashion women had to wear in previous centuries, but this time, they wore it their own way!
2020 style tip: look for a corset-style bodysuit with supportive cups and comfortable lining you can wear as a top with high-waisted jeans or a-line skirts. For underwear, modern seamless shapewear and tummy-controlling bodysuits are comfier and more effective than traditional corsets and bustiers.
8. Long satin nighties and silk chemises
Bring back the satin nightie! Silky, thin-strapped nighties with lace trim and a thigh-high split were popular in the 80s, as were shorter silk chemises. They were modeled with hazy lighting, fluffy hair, and come-hither looks. Cut forward to the 90s (and now today) when satin nighties and chemises are worn as outerwear, layered with tees and plaid shirts.
2020 style tip: find a natural silk fiber chemise or nightie for safe and comfy nightwear as a change from your undies and boyfriend’s t-shirt.
9. Spandex bodysuits
Arguably, spandex bodysuits aren’t really considered underwear, but we’re letting it pass. In the 80s, spandex and lycra bodysuits were worn with everything from neon leggings and leg warmers to Adidas tracksuit pants and ruffle skirts. Spandex bodysuits often had a thong-style back for aerobics purposes, or Bardot-style sleeves for going-out fashion.
2020 style tip: layering spandex bodysuits with track pants and sneakers is very Kim K 2019/2020. A bodysuit is perfect for when you need a smooth, bunch-free top to sit neatly under form-fitting bottoms.
10. Lace bodysuits
Bodysuits are figure-hugging, leotard-like one-piece items that were (and still are) worn as a 2-in-1 bra and underwear piece…with a shadow of sex appeal. Lace bodysuits were all the rage in the 80s, worn as both underwear and outerwear.
2020 style tip: lace bodysuits are wonderful for wearing under plunging or low-cut tops or dresses when you intend to reveal your underwear as a style feature. It’s important to find a bodysuit with a bra cup to fit perfectly and offer support. Plus, make sure the underwear section is lined with cotton for comfort and health.
We can’t talk about underwear in the 80s without talking about Calvin Klein, the king of sexy cotton undies. The Bruce Weber shoot in 1984 shows the sexy simplicity of Calvin’s, a far cry from the lacy, shiny lingerie also of the decade. The “Calvin” model was tanned, sporty, all-American, and with lithe bodies (see the controversially teenage Brooke Shields in the iconic 1980 shoot).
2020 style tip: a pair of high-waisted, full-coverage Calvin briefs are not only in fashion but they’re dang comfy and offer a little tummy support, too. Channel the 90s and wear lower-cut jeans, a crop, and let your Calvin’s elastic band peak over the jeans.
12. Metallic fabrics
The 80s certainly didn’t shy away from shiny, bold fabrics, even when it came to undergarments. Metallic panty and bra sets walked the runways, as did glitzy lurex bodysuits and leotards. While they looked fab, we think we’ll stick to our comfy cotton briefs for now!
2020 style tips: a metallic bra would look killer under overalls or a low-cut top for party-wear. Ladies, skip the metallic undies and stay with safe and natural fibers for your health and comfort.
The demi-bra (a half-cup structured bra) was a popular style, often with sheer lace inserts against silky satin.
2020 style tip: demi-bras are great for wearing with low-cut tops. Larger-chested ladies, forgo the demi-bra and opt for the full cup to make the most of ya gifts.
14. Cone bras
Cone bras may not have been worn by the average woman, but they were a defining moment of 1980s pop fashion thanks to Madonna (and Jean-Paul Gaultier). Madonna wore her iconic black cone bra bustier during the ‘Who’s that girl’ tour in the late 80s, and the pale pink satin Jean Paul Gaultier in 1990.
2020 style tip: hey, if you’re game enough to wear a cone bra (outside of Halloween) and you can find one…go for it!