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1980s hip-hop was led by some of the coolest, most talented women of the decade. Frontrunners like Queen Latifah, Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, and Salt-n-Pepa brought hip-hop music and fashion to the world in style. 

Female hip-hop style in the 1980s was varied, featuring leather bustiers, neon tracksuits, chunky jewelry, and even a little normcore denim and sweaters.

We’ve found the best looks of the hip-hop subculture you can easily incorporate into your 2020 street styles. 

Leather jackets and bustiers  

Roxanne Shante, legendary rapper and member of the Juice Crew often had a high-glamour approach to fashion. For example, on the cover of her ‘Bad Sister’ album, she wore a low-cut black leather bustier and cropped black leather jacket, with gigantic gold doorknocker earrings.

We also love her all-leather black outfit featuring a textured black leather bomber jacket (classic 80s!) and a black, gold, and animal print Asymmetrical Kufi hat. 

How-to: 

  • Pair black boyfriend jeans with a velvet bustier and black leather jacket
  • Accessorize with oversized gold costume jewelry and a red lip
  • Look for a black leather shift dress and layer with tights, slouchy flat boots, and a black leather or denim jacket 

Bright tracksuits, bomber jackets, and spandex 

Californian rap group J.J Fad had a bright and fun approach to hip-hop fashion, with plenty of bold, clashing colors. They wore the 80s trend of sportswear fused with dancewear, with contrasting proportions. For example, skin-tight leggings with big, puffy bomber jackets or tracksuit jackets. 

We love the pic of JJ Fad in bright, jewel-toned spandex tights with baggy volleyball sweaters, oversized sunglasses, and gold jewels. They also wore killer matching pale pink satin outfits and gold matching jewelry like 1980s Pink Ladies. JJ Fad’s style exemplified the sporty, upbeat, and embellished sides of 80s hip-hop fashion. 

Another excellent reference point is kickass rapper MC Lyte’s video for her song ‘Paper Thin’ from 1988. She wore a bright green and blue sports tracksuit jacket worn over an eggshell tracksuit and white turtleneck. Check out the video, the song is as amazing as the fashion. 

However, the most iconic example of bomber jackets worn with tights has to be Salt-n-Pepa and those unforgettable red, white, black, and yellow outfits. Not an 80s kid? Think full spandex bodysuits layered with puffy bomber jackets, slouch boots, Kufi hats, and chunky gold jewelry. There it is. 

How-to: 

  • Look for bright pink shine-finish lycra or spandex high-waisted tights and pair with a matching-tone sports bra and an oversized tracksuit jacket for weekend walking or aerobics. Wear Air Force 1s or Reebok high-tops to polish it off right 
  • Pair tracksuit pants with a plain turtleneck, white sneakers, and gold hoops for casual weekend pottering and brunching 
  • Accessorise with oversized, white sunglasses and layered gold chains 

Big gold chains and door-knocker hoops 

If there’s one thread that runs through all of our hip-hop queen icons here, it’s big gold jewelry. Street style in the 1980s, for men and women, involved lots of oversized gold chain necklaces and doorknocker earrings. 

Late 80s rapper MC Lyte and Queen Latifah (as well as basically all hip-hop artists of the time) wore this trend, adding gilded glam to the sporty, streetwear, and leather-glam styling. 

The thick gold chain was also a trademark of Salt-n-Pepa, worn with everything from bomber jackets to acid-wash jeans and pastel polos. 

How-to: 

  • Find a pair of wide gold hoops and wear with smaller gold studs or sleepers for a layered effect, or add an asymmetrical effect by wearing one dangle chain earring or even a long feather in one ear 
  • Double-up on the bling with layered, fine gold chains around the neck, with chunky doorknocker earrings and red lips. Even better, wear them with an ultra-professional workwear outfit to break up the mid-week boredom 

Slouchy boots, Air Force 1s or Adidas lace-ups 

Footwear in the 1980s hip-hop scene consisted mostly of flat, slouchy boots, Air Force 1s, Nike Cortez, or classic Adidas lace-ups. Salt-n-Pepa most famously wore the slouchy boot, pulled over tight spandex, with a flat sole and in shades of chocolate, red, and orange. 

Lucky for us, the sneaker is the go-to shoe for many people, no matter the outfit, as comfortable sports-leisure is key in footwear and fashion in 2020. Chances are, you’ve already got a pair of white sneakers in your wardrobe, waiting to be styled in authentic 1980s hip-hop fashion. 

How-to: 

  • Pair high-waisted cropped jeans with white Adidas lace-ups, an oversized polo shirt, tucked in, and gold doorknocker earrings 
  • For work or smart-casual wear, try a midi merino wool wrap dress with layered gold necklaces, slouchy boots with a slight heel, and a leather bomber jacket 

Kufi hats and African prints 

Hip-hop artists like Queen Latifah and British rapper Monie Love had incredible style, known for their African prints and silhouettes. For example, they would pair Kufi hats or head wraps with bright African prints and fabrics. 

How-to: 

  • Look for brightly-colored, intricately patterned waistcoats, hats, or jackets and layer with plain shirts or turtlenecks with straight-leg blue jeans and white Nike sneakers 
  • Hunt for a printed long-sleeved jumpsuit with cuffed ankles, and wear with gold jewelry and classic Adidas 

Professional girl power-suit jackets and blazers with sex appeal

1980s hip-hop style often had a tone of the high-glam professional woman, with structured blazers and suit jackets with gold buttons. For example, on the cover of J.J Fad’s album ‘Not Just a Fad’, the ladies wore structured, double-breasted suit jackets with lace bras underneath, gold jewelry, and glossy pink lips. The look was elegant yet sexy, street yet studio. 

How-to: 

  • Look for a double-breasted blazer with structured shoulders, a nipped waist, and feature buttons (gold, pearl, or even gemstone)
  • Pair the blazer with a lace bustier underneath, and a pair of tight black jeans or leather pants 
  • Wear a structured blazer over a low v-neck tee and blue Mom jeans with heeled Chelsea boots 

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