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We’re over the hump of the 80s and have landed in 1986. The Chernobyl explosion disaster rocked the world, the ‘Oprah’ show debuted, and ‘Hands Across America’ raised millions of dollars for those in need. 

It’s a big year for film, too, as Studio Ghibli releases their first movie (‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’), and John Hughes releases two timeless hits, ‘Pretty in Pink’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. 

There’s a lot to unpack in the world of fashion and pop culture in 1986, so here are our top picks! 


Eclectic grunge-pop style in ‘Pretty in Pink’

‘Pretty in Pink’ is the best John Hughes film starring Molly Ringwald (in our opinion!). Jon Cryer stars as Duckie and performs an iconic lip-sync to ‘Try a little tenderness’ that never, ever gets old. The fashion in this film is full of layering, creative textures, and features genres such as punk (Iona the record store owner), rich-guy preppy (Blane), and thrifted, eclectic new wave (Duckie and Andie). 

  • Layered blazers and waistcoats with multiple badges and brooches
  • Popped polo collars
  • Trilby hats with silk scarves
  • Lace shirts, floral pants, and knit cardigans with diamante brooches 
  • Old-fashioned demureness with cameo brooches fused with masculine oversized blazers and baggy shirts 
  • Punk, kohl-lined eyes
  • Patent leather layered over white cotton (Iona)

Cher’s black sequins, toned tum, and headdress at the Academy awards

Cher was known in the 70s and 80s for her outrageous red carpet outfits. Arguably, her most famous look was the Bob Mackie outfit she wore to the 1986 Academy Awards. This outfit characterized the high glamour of the 1980s, with piles of sequins (see Jane Fonda at the start of the clip!) and abundant accessories. Cher took it a few steps further with lots of bared skin and a headdress you wouldn’t want to be stuck behind:

  • Black sequin crop top made out of concentric diamond shapes
  • Corset-style grid across the chest
  • Low-cut sequin skirt 
  • Draped black cape/coat
  • Dangling earrings
  • Gigantic feather and sequin headdress  

Anjelica Huston’s one-shoulder green dress at the Academy awards 

Another noteworthy (but far less well-known) look at the Academy Awards was worn by Anjelica Huston (she won Best Supporting Actress). The statuesque Anjelica takes things down a more streamlined, elegant road: 

  • Emerald green gown in satin-finish, flowing fabric
  • One long sleeve, one cold shoulder
  • Gathered bust
  • Diamante brooch at the center of the chest 
  • Draping across the chest and down the solo sleeve 

Note: check out Marsha Mason’s 80s-on-point sequins and shoulder pads at the start of the clip! 

Baggy denim, fringed suede, and hoop earrings on the cover of ‘Seventeen’

Old ‘Seventeen’ magazine covers (since 1944!) are fascinating to pore over as they show us the state of teen fashion and pop culture at the time. Most covers in the 80s feature thin (and predominantly white) actresses, unsurprisingly! Jennifer Connelly starred on the cover of the August 1986 cover, in a very country-centric, “all-American” outfit:

  • Oversized denim jacket with a popped collar
  • Tan suede waistcoat with long fringes
  • White gold hoop earrings
  • Red cowboy hat 
  • Shiny, swept-back hair and fresh makeup 

Oprah’s berry-toned dress and shoulder-padded coat combo on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’

‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ opened on September 8, 1986, (can you imagine a world pre-Oprah?). The queen herself wore a very 1980s (obviously) ensemble fit for a presenter with smarts and style. Oprah wore:  

  • A berry-toned dress with a sharp popped collar
  • Patterned berry-toned jacket with wide shoulders
  • Oversized stud flower earrings 


1985: Madonna’s Floral Pants and Prince

1984: Bruce Springsteen and Ghostbusters

1983: Culture Club’s New Wave style and Annie Lennox

1982: Grace Jones and Jane Fonda’s Leg Warmers

1981: Dynasty Fashion and Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress

The Judd’s shoulder pads, animal print, hoops, and metallic shimmer at the Grammys

The Judds are a popular country music duo who have been around since 1983, consisting of mom and daughter Naomi and Wynona Judd (mom and sister of Ashley).  Their style was characterized by ultra-glam, fluffy hair, shoulder pads, metallics, ornate applique, and big earrings. They flexed their style at the1986 Grammys, big time: 

  • Ultra-wide shoulder pads on shine-finish jackets
  • Metallic animal print
  • Diamond chokers and mismatched, large gold earrings
  • Fluffy mullets
  • Cinched waists and flared hips
  • Extreme eyeshadow wings 

Nancy Reagan’s blue skirt suit and necktie in 1986

Nancy Reagan was the First Lady of the United States in 1986 (her husband was POTUS Ronald Reagan). Nancy was known for her “Just Say No” campaign when she spoke out against drug abuse in America live on TV. However, we’re looking to a lighter time when she attended the Nancy Reagan Drug Abuse Fund tennis tournament in a very smart, very 80s set: 

  • Cornflower blue skirt set
  • Collarless, round neckline
  • Self-fabric waist belt
  • Under-the-knee pencil skirt
  • Red necktie
  • Pale nude stockings

Elle MacPherson’s metallic one-piece on the cover of ‘Sports Illustrated’

In February 1986, supermodel Elle MacPherson appeared on the cover of ‘Sports Illustrated’, wowing the world with her perfect (according to beauty standards) physique. The swimsuit she wore was peak 1980s supermodel glam: 

  • Pale metallic blue
  • Cut very high at the hip
  • Cut extremely narrow at the bust (barely there)
  • Gathered and cinched at the waist 
  • Tan skin, blonde hair, white teeth 

Preppy-sport style on ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’

This Matthew Broderick teen hit was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s and a John Hughes classic. There’s some excellent fashion happening here, and a great example of the preppy, sporty corner of 80s fashion (on the opposite side from studded leather punk and extreme glitz) such as: 

  • Football jerseys worn with beige slacks
  • Smart grey slacks and black belts
  • Bermuda shorts with a shoulder-padded, fringed jackets
  • Animal print vests layered with sports-style leather jackets 
  • Dark sunglasses
  • White brogues 
  • White crew neck t-shirts layered with sweater vests 

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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