In the eighties, fashion was a smorgasbord of fun, saturated color, abundant accessories, and exaggerated silhouettes. It was also a time of powerful fashion statements for women in the workplace, and androgyny for both genders. The 80s was a decade that has influenced fashion ever since, with bursts of 80s style gracing the streets and runways today.
We have picked out the 23 most iconic outfits that defined the 80s and characterized wider trends throughout the decade. Settle in and get ready for some of the greatest fashion moments of the 20th century, in no particular order.
- Vivienne Westwood ‘Pirates’
We’re kicking off with one of the most iconic fashion designers of the 80s (and forever), Vivienne Westwood. The early 80s collection foreshadows New Romantic styles and the overall eclectic styling of the decade’s most creative fashion trends. The pirate-themed collection featured clashing colors and prints, flouncy blouses, multiple layers, contrasting textures, and accessories.
- Madonna’s white wedding dress
One of THE most defining outfits of the decade was Madonna’s white lace corset, lace fingerless gloves, layered necklaces and “boy toy” belt she wore at the 1984 VMA’s. The slightly rough-around-the-edges style with messy hair and a choppy handkerchief hemline juxtaposed the sweetness of lace, a trend that carried on throughout the 80s.
- Boy George’s New Romantic
The new wave bands and ‘New Romantic’ style was most famously worn by Boy George of the band Culture Club. The look consisted of theatrical makeup (more blush, please!), intricate accessory layering, ruffled shirts, costume jewelry, hats, bows, waistcoats, jackets, and colored hair.
- Jane Fonda and Heather Locklear’s Workout gear
Aerobics and the 1980s are inseparable, with Jane Fonda, Heather Locklear, and Olivia Newton-John whipping the world into shape with their workout videos and color-happy outfits. The original activewear trend consisted of thong-style high-cut lycra leotards, leggings, leg warmers, neon hues, headbands, and sometimes a tee tied at the waist. Let’s get physical…80s-style!
- Guess’s Bonjour Jeans Acid-Wash Denim
The 80s was all about jeans, jeans, jeans, especially acid-wash, denim-on-denim, and anything oversized and puffy. One of the most popular high-end jeans brands in the 80s (along with the wildly popular Jordache, Wrangler, Levi’s, and Calvin Klein) was Guess. The Guess Bonjour jeans ad showed a double-denim acid wash jeans and jacket combo worn over a black crop. 80s style to a tee.
- Joan Collins Shoulder Pads, Big Hats, and Matchy-Match
Joan Collins of Dynasty fame (and an all-round icon) had a decade-defining style that was delightfully over the top. Think dresses and skirt suits with extreme shoulder pads, gold lame, velvet, large lapels, matching gloves, sky-high hair, a cinched waist and dripping with matching costume jewelry. Add intense red blush, purple smokey eyes and pink shimmery lips and Joan would applaud.
- Grace Jones’s Shoulder-Padded Power Suits
You can’t get cooler than Grace Jones, the striking singer and model who’s costume choices ripple throughout fashion today. One of her most iconic looks involves a grey suit with sharp shoulders, black gloves, a cigarette, short hair, red lips, and draped blush so characteristic of 1980s makeup. This look sums up the powerful, boss-lady, take-no-crap attitude that emerged in the 80s, and long may it live.
- Whitney Houston and Diana Ross’s Sequin Dresses
There’s always room for sequins, and the 80s certainly made space. Costume-style sequined dresses were popular, with songstresses Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Dolly Parton favoring them for performances and red carpet jaunts. They were either slinky and slip-style, or with puffy shoulders, high necklines, and dropped-waists.
- Salt N’ Pepa’s matching get-ups with big chains, puffy jackets, and lycra
The gals who gave us ‘Push It’ served iconic 1890s urban fashion with slouch boots, red lycra bodysuits, puffy bomber jackets, oversized chain necklaces, red lips, and Kofi hats. They were so iconic, in fact, that Beyonce herself dressed as Salt n’ Pepa for Halloween in 2016.
- Cher at the 1986 Academy Awards
Cher is one of the most original, daring fashionistas ever, serving looks since the 60s. She wore a decade-defining look at the 1986 Academy Awards with a gigantic feather headpiece, beaded crop top, ultra low-cut beaded skirt, and satin shawl. The top and skirt shared the same triangular motif, while a glittering grid criss-crossed over the chest and neck. Iconic camp 80s showgirl-inspired fashion.
- Prince’s Purple Rain Tour Costumes
Prince was a megastar in the 80s (and beyond) with the epic ‘Purple Rain’ album and tour. During the tour, Prince rocked history-making outfits centered around rich purple hues. One of the most iconic looks was a metallic amethyst coat with silver studs, lace fingerless gloves, sparkly pants, and curly hair. Does it get more deliciously 80s than that?
- Kylie Minogue’s Sequin mini dress
Teen Australian pop star Kylie Minogue wore a sequined mini dress to a movie premier in 1989, with a super-short hemline, spaghetti straps, and sequined XO motif. The look characterized the Vegas-style glitz and glam of the decade, complete with big clip-on earrings.
- Joan Jett’s leather
Cool-girl Joan Jett (“Bad Reputation”? “Cherry Bomb?”) was the ultimate rocker of the 80s, with her shaggy black hairstyles, kohl-rimmed eyes, and excellent guitar skills. Her stage styles defined rock-chick fashion of the decade but did Cher, with tight leather pants, studded belts, animal print gloves, and layered jewelry.
- Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress
1981 saw the wedding of the decade, Princess Di and Prince Charles, watched by millions of people across the globe. Di’s wedding dress characterized the puffy, fluffy, over-the-top wedding (and prom) trend of the time, with huge puffed shoulders, ruffled sleeves, a meringue-like skirt, and impossibly long train.
- Princess Diana’s Pink Polka-Dot Dress
Another classic Lady Di moment, her pink dress with white polka-dots and matching pink hat. The dress had an 80s-centric cinched waist, puffed shoulders, and was worn with sheer tights popular at the time.
- MC Hammer’s Harem Pants
Hammer time! The MC Hammer ‘U can’t touch this’ video is still one of the most remembered pop culture moments of the decade, as much for the fashion as for the song itself. Who could forget those baggy, drop-crotch harem pants worn either without a top or with a yellow cropped jacket? Oddly enough, drop-crotch and harem pants came back with a vengeance in the 2010s and are still around today, although in soft cotton and modal fabrics as opposed to garish metallics.
- Ralph Lauren All-American Ivy League Style
The Ivy League-meets-equestrian style was big amongst high-society women in the 80s, characterized by Ralph Lauren’s campaigns featuring neutral tones, smart slacks, leather belts, blouses, and knit blazers. Of course, there was also the white polo shirt, shorts, and leather tennis shoe look for the “businessmen off-duty on the tennis court in the Hamptons”. Brooke Shields personified the preppy, all-American girl style in Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein threads.
- Miami Vice Pastel Suits
‘Miami Vice’ is synonymous with Sonny Crockett’s overdone tan, swishy hair, and of course, pastel suits and tees. Picture a white suit with wide shoulders worn open over a pink or eggshell-blue round-neck t-shirt. This look defined the “slick guy” look many dudes in the 80s strived for. Guys, it’s time for a pastel suit comeback.
- Tina Turner’s Mini Dress and Denim Jacket
Tina Turner with her multi-million dollar legs and big feathered hair was a 1970s and 1980s legend. Tina demonstrated how to wear the mini, with red leather, black leather, and spangly metallic dresses layered with fishnets and heels (and a microphone). Tina wore the ultimate 80s stage star outfit when she paired a black leather mini dress with a baggy denim jacket and big hair.
- Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’
MJ was an anchor of 80s fashion, music, fandom, and pop culture. One of his most memorable looks of the 80s was the red and black leather jacket from the iconic ‘Thriller’ music video. The jacket characterizes strong 80s trends of wide shoulders, bomber-style hemlines, and shiny leather. The album cover is also a little time capsule of 1980s male style, with a pale white suit, shoulder pads, and even a glimpse of animal print. (The ‘Miami Vice’ guys carried on the pale suit trend in a big way later in the decade).
- Debbie Harry’s Animal Print
Animal print was big in the decade, with zebra, tiger, and leopard-prints worn by glam-rockers, supermodels, actresses, and pop stars. Debbie Harry wore animal print in the most 80s way possible in 1989, with a scoop-neck ¾ sleeve skin-tight bodysuit and layered cross necklaces.
- United Colors of Benetton
The United Colors of Benetton (part of the Benetton Group) was known for its multi-racial campaigns and inclusivity. Promotional images show rich, block colors, matching tracksuits, beachy patterns, intricate knitwear, stripes, and a youthful-meets-preppy aesthetic.