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Welcome to the year 1981. The cinemas are filled with horror movies such as ‘The Howling’ and ‘The Evil Dead’. Harrison Ford is stealing hearts in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, and Princess Di is getting ready to walk down the (very long) aisle. Duran Duran is releasing their first album, set to take over pop culture and catapult the new wave look. 1981 was filled with fashion to explore, from preppy to punk, disco to demure.

These are our favorite fashion moments from 1981! 


Princess Diana’s Red Gown at the ‘For Your Eyes Only’ Premiere 

‘For your Eyes Only’ is a 1981 Roger Moore Bond film (in case you didn’t know), and the premiere was a right who’s who, including Lady Diana herself. This was a solid fashion moment, with Lady Diana in a bright red gown with spaghetti straps, sparkling polka dots, and a sweetheart neckline. The cinched waist flared into a princess-like bell skirt, worn with very ‘80s bronze metallic heels. Princess goes to prom. 

The original ‘Dynasty’ fashion 

The now-recreated show ‘Dynasty’ opened in 1981, starring the gaudy, glamorous gals Linda Evans and Joan Collins. Heather Locklear stars as Sammy Jo Carrington, with ultra-feathered hair and a toasty tan. 1981 over-the-top ‘Dynasty’ fashion included: 

  • Plenty of high-shine, metallic fabrics
  • Plunging necklines and halters
  • Fur, pearls, and diamonds
  • Sharp shoulders and frou-frou tulle sleeves
  • Bandeau tops, cinched waists and sweetheart necklines
  • Dropped waists, big, fluffy hair, and lashings of blush 

Jumpsuits and Draping at Halston 

Halston was a fashion designer who had the 70s and 80s in the palm of his hand, defined by liquid-like draping, halters, and plunging necklines. Halston perfected the art of soft draping and breezy silhouettes with the glitz of sequins and diamantes. At the 1981 Met Gala, model Marisa Berenson wore an envy-worthy Halston dress: 

  • All-over silver and white beads and fringes 
  • A waist-cinching white satin sash
  • Quintessential Halston deep V-neck and halter-style top
  • Body-skimming skirt with front split 
  • Big, bouncy curls 
  • A 1920s-style necklace and cute white clutch
  • Cocktail and cigarette (enjoy the former, don’t even go there with the latter)

Brooke Shields covered up in pale pink at the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards is, and was, the time to really pull out the sartorial stops. In 1981, a 15-year-old Brooke Shields turned up with Michael Jackson wearing a pale pink confection that covered her from finger to toe. This look is a great example of the very girly, frilly, doll-like side of 1980s women’s fashion. The look consisted of: 

  • A high neckline with ruffle trim 
  • Cinched waist and slightly blouson top
  • Puffed shoulders
  • Full-length tiered skirt 
  • A pale, marshmallow pink shade 

Diana Ross’ white halter on the CBS special 

In Diana Ross’ 1981 CBS special, the unforgettable songbird wore many stellar looks. There was bounteous white fur, a draped white sequin gown, jeans, a tee, and a white cowboy hat. However, our favorite was a Grecian-style white satin gown featuring: 

  • A column silhouette slightly pooling at the feet
  • Cinched waist with center gathering
  • A plunging halter neck 

Note: watch the special here for some serious fashion inspiration (we can only dream) and one of history’s best voices. 

Princess Diana’s extreme wedding gown 

Possibly the most iconic events of 1981 (and the 80s as a decade) was Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s marriage, (check out the spectacle here).

Diana emerges from the carriage absolutely dripping in cream silk taffeta, gigantic puffed sleeves, a fluffy veil, and a 25-foot train that went down in history. The wide V-neckline is trimmed with ruffles, while her head is adorned with the ornate Spencer tiara. 


1989: Nirvana Plaid and The Loveshack Video

1988: Bon Jovi and Joan Jett’s studded black leather…

1987: Jennifer’s Red Off-Shoulder Dress and Spandex Bodysuits…

1986: Preppy-Sport Style and Baggy Denim

1985: Madonna’s Floral Pants and Prince

Cindi Knight’s demure white lace at the 1981 Emmy Awards

Like Brooke Shields at the Academy Awards, Cindi Knight (actress and Andy Griffith’s wife) chose the demure trend at the 1981 Emmy awards. She looked a picture of feminine good-girl sweetness in: 

  • White chiffon blouse with sheer sleeves and cuffed wrists 
  • A high neckline trimmed with white lace and a round brooch
  • Lace-trim panels down the torso
  • Cinched waisted 

Rickie Lee Jones’s velvet, pearls, and fishnets on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ 

Rickie Lee Jones (rocker who sang ‘Chuck E.’s In Love’) graced the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine in 1981. Rickie’s look was a fusion of rocker-rough and 80s demure princess. This is similar to her vibe on the 1979 cover when she wore a white beret (she’s known for her berets), sweet white peep-toe heels, and a short, sheer flippy skirt. The 1981 cover featured a very attainable concoction consisting of: 

  • A black velvet dress with short, puffed shoulders
  • A square neckline with v-shaped notch
  • A string of pearls around the neck
  • Short lace gloves (a major 80s fashion foreshadow)
  • Windswept, untouched hair and minimal makeup 

Susan Sarandon’s sexy white suit and flower on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’

Let’s take a look at another 1981 ‘Rolling Stone’ cover, this time with Susan Sarandon. We love the simplicity, sexiness, and slight androgyny of this look. It’s a perfect example of how a woman can rock a suit as well as (if not way better) than any dude. Susan wears: 

  • A boxy white suit jacket with strong shoulders 
  • The suit is worn open with nothing underneath
  • Rolled-up sleeves
  • A single white flower pinned to the lapel
  • Softly smudged brown kohl on the eyes and 70s/80s-style red glossy lip 

Patti LuPone’s white confection at the Grammys after-party 

I came across a picture of musical theatre legend Patti LuPone at an after-party for the 1981 Grammy Awards (she sang ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ that night). She’s wearing the most stunning cocktail dress we would all go gaga for here in 2020. 

  • Statement collar and lapel of structured, layered white chiffon framing the face 
  • Low V-neckline
  • Tied at the waist with a white satin sash
  • Skimming over the body with a thigh split 
  • A simple up-do and shimmery, smoky eyes

About The Author

May is totally crazy about the 80s and everything the decade inspired! Having grown up in a household that was totally taken over by 80s music and fashion its only natural that May lives and breathes the 80s!

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