80s Fashion – Total Disaster or Genius Style?

by John Griffith

80s fashion is fondly remembered for introducing quite a few unusual clothing trends, complete with shrill hairstyles and countless neon accessories. However, there is more to the decade than perms and shoulder pads – it was the heyday of several unique subcultures, most notably the Preps, Jocks, and their polar opposites the Punks. In addition, if we delve deeper into 80s fashion archives, we will find Skinheads, Surfers, Miami Vice Stylers and many more. Add the various unique trends introduced by the celebrities of the day, and you have one colorful fashion hotchpotch on your hands. Curious? If so, keep scrolling to find out more about some of the biggest styles in 80s fashion.

80s Fashion – Carrot Pants Were a Must

80s fashion, african-american girl leaning on old door, with black curly hair and brown bag, white ribbed sweater with rolled-up sleeves, sunglasses with white plastic frames, pale lilac carrot pants

80s clothing represented a new, more dynamic way of life. In stark contrast to the earthy and pastel tones popular during the 70s, the 80s brought in an extravagant explosion of color. If you like to try an 80s-inspired look for yourself, take a look at the many photo ideas we have compiled. Why not plan a retro disco party? You can dress up as one of the decade’s most popular stars and prolific fashion icons – the Queen and King of Pop, a.k.a. Madonna and Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper or Billy Idol. Choosing a Madonna-inspired costume leaves a lot of room for creativity, just don’t forget the bright red lipstick! If you decide to go as Michael Jackson – make sure to remember his signature white glove which he always wore on stage.

Madonna – the Punk Rock Fashion Icon of the 80s

80s fashion, madonna with short messy blond hair, a lot of bangles bracelets and earring with big black cross, hair ornament with purple tassels

This video will give you some great ideas for your 80s-inspired party:

If we have to describe the 80s in one phrase, it would have to be “Lust for Life.” The clothes, shoes, hairstyles and accessories of the decade emphasize the desire to have fun and experiment, which was prominent among the younger generations at the time. Consequently, the most popular outfits were designed to be eye-catching and scandalous, and were made from comfortable, colorful and shiny materials such as nylon or spandex. Inevitably, this led to a string of unforgettable fashion disasters which still makes us smile. Words alone are not enough to describe the unbelievable styles of the 80s, so we have compiled a list of the 20 most memorable 80s fashion items. If you think we’ve missed anything or have any comments – feel free to get in touch with us on Facebook and let us know. We are looking forward to your questions and comments!

  • Iconic 80s Fashion Trends
  1. Huge Shoulder Pads
  2. Legwarmers
  3. Oversize blazers
  4. Silk blouses
  5. Sheer mesh tops
  6. Bodysuits
  7. Swimming suits with tropical print
  8. Nylon tracksuits
  9. Leggings
  10. Distressed/ripped jeans
  11. Carrot pants
  12. Ballet skirts/dance wear
  13. Mini skirts
  14. Off the shoulder dresses and tops
  15. XXL Sweatshirts
  16. Oversize fluffy knitwear
  17. Acid wash jeans
  18. Leather jackets
  19. Neon/bright colored windbreakers
  20. Denim jackets/vests

80s Fashion – the Definitive Video Guide

Those who didn’t own a ripped denim jacket, leggings, shoulder pads and at least one pair of carrot pants were considered tragically uncool. Everyone was striving to express themselves through their fashion choices and stand out from the crowd, so bigger, brighter and shinier was always better. For punks this meant rebelling against the norm with exaggerated hairstyles and aggressive looks. Preps and jocks, on the other hand, enjoyed openly displaying their wealth with luxurious fashion items and designer brands. However, the end goal was the same for all – to project a unique, stylish and cool persona to the world. What is the style you would choose?


80s fashion, punk girl in black and white photo, heavy make up and smoking a cigarette, studded denim jacket with animal print collar and black top, park and trees in the background

…or Preps?

80s fashion, young smiling brunette with big square earrings, sitting on a blue retro convertible car, wearing a checked blue skirt suit with oversize blazer, opaque blue tights blue shoes and blue gloves

However, 80s fashion was not all about the clothes. While they definitely helped to express the wearer’s individuality, it was essential to pair them up with the right hairstyles and accessories. If you are striving for an authentic 80s look, here are some ideas:

  • Shoes:
  1. Adidas Allround
  2. Reebok
  3. Cowboy boots
  4. Over the knee boots
  5. Sneakers without laces

Skates were also an essential 80s fashion item

close up of legs wearing retro white skates with red wheels, black and white stripped bellow the knee socks with red hearts, hand holding black retro stereo or boombox, blue background and pavement

  • Hairstyles
  1. Perms
  2. Feathered blonde hair
  3. Ponytails (for men as well as women)
  4. Mullets
  5. The high top fade

When I think of  80s hairstyles, it’s hard not to picture women getting a helmet perm at the hairdresser’s. This seemed to be the favorite pastime of Peggy Bundy from the sitcom “Married with Children.” The series itself is a hilarious example of 80s life, including fashion, hairstyles and popular culture.

80s fashion, married with children sitcom family photo, 80s nostalgia fashion big red hair, cropped trousers and animal print top, plaid shirt and grey pants, smiling family sitting on yellow couch

  • Accessories – the more colorful and bizarre – the better!
  1. tennis headbands
  2. shiny and colorful opaque tights
  3. Ray-Ban Sunglasses
  4. Rolex watches
  5. chunky gold chains
  6. heavy make up in bold colours
  7. fanny packs
  8. scrunchies
  9. fishing hats
  10. bright neon bangles and hoop earrings

Many a fashion disaster could have been avoided if the clothes, shoes and accessories of the 80s were color coded. However, this was against the style rules of the decade – the objective was to mix as many different colors as possible. Clothes in bright neon colors paired up with red nail polish and metallic accessories, for example, were a regular choice among young party goers. Even choosing a differently colored eye shadow for each eye was a commonplace look.

If you’d like to try making your own 80s outfit, here is a great tutorial to get you started:


  • Colors:
  1. Neon
  2. Animal prints
  3. Shiny and Metallic
  4. Bright solid colors
  5. Pastel colors

Back in the 80s, it was not uncommon to see all of these colors in one outfit, which is very hard to imagine today (unless it’s Halloween, perhaps).

Ready for workout! 

80s clothing, smiling brunette with curly hair, exercising in a neon blue bodysuit with animal print leggings, pink legwarmers mesh arm-warmers and sneakers, neon bangles necklace headband hoop earrings

  • Brands
  1. Vivienne Westwood
  2. Gucci
  3. Lacoste
  4. Esprit
  5. Adidas
  6. Reebok
  7. Fred Perry
  8. Polo Ralph Lauren
  9. Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier’s fame sky-rocketed in the 80s when Madonna wore one of his creations – a corset with cone-shaped bra – at a concert. Another designer who enjoyed immense popularity during the decade was Vivienne Westood, who avidly supported the 80s’ punk scene and is still a widely known alternative fashion icon. Elsewhere, brands such as Fred Perry, Levi’s jeans and Doc Martens were immensely popular with members of the skinhead movement.

The US television series “Miami Vice” also played an important role in shaping the 80s fashion scene, offering a more formal look, contrasting to the largely casual looks of the decade. The protagonists of the show wore Armani jackets paired up with T-shirts, Rolex watches and Ray-Ban glasses. As a result to their popularity, brands like Hugo Boss and Versace became more and more sought after.

The Miami Vice Style

80s clothing, Miami Vice tv show style, African-American man in suit with thin tie, grey blazer and black trousers with white shirt, Caucasian man in pink t shirt with white trousers, holding white blazer over his shoulder

80s clothing was largely a product of the younger generation’s need for self expression. While this has been the case with many other fashion decades, the 80s really broke the mold with their emphasis on solid, contrasting colors, unique hairstyles and neon accessories. Recently, 80s fashion and has been making a come back, as people of all ages fondly look back to this eccentric and fun period of history. One thing is certain – the 80s will remain a source of inspiration for designers and there will always be nostalgic 80s fans sporting carrot pants, acid wash jeans, scrunchies and other vintage items.

Shoulder pads’ popularity peaked in the 80s

80s clothing, women wearing 80s suits, brunette with hair bun in grey suit with over-sized blazer and shoulder pads, blonde with feathery hair and dress with blue puffy sleeves, woman in over-sized colorful blazer and skirt

Personally, we are relieved that scrunchies are no longer a popular fashion item

80s clothing, woman facing backwards with brown mid-length hair tied in ponytail, three bright neon scrunchies in blue pink and purple, jeans jacket and smudged background

80s clothing, close up of colorful scrunchy, with sunflowers rainbows and writing, on white background

80s fashion with a modern twist:

80s clothing, young woman with feathery died blonde hair, light blue short-sleeved tied shirt, black dress with flower embroidery, hands on hips and yellow curtains

80s fashion trends, smiling blonde woman with short hair, wearing light pastel blue body suit and legwarmers, shiny pink leggings belt and headband

The King of Pop himself

80s fashion trends, Michael Jackson holding microphone and singing, eyes closed one hand stretched out in fist, white shining zip-up shirt, black leather trousers

Grease’s story takes place in the 50s but Olivia Newton-John’s big permed hair and glamorous outfit became iconic for the 80s generation.

80s fashion trends, Grease, Olivia Newton-John, big curly blonde hair perm, black top and shiny black leggings, black leather jacket with red lining, wide belt and a cigarette

Can you guess the celebrity?

80s fashion trends, Sarah Jessica Parker, young blonde woman with curly hair tied in a messy ponytail, over-sized blazer and baggy jeans, white shoes and socks

80s fashion trends, young woman Sarah Jessica Parker with long curly blonde hair, pearl necklace and long pale pastel pink jacket, black mini dress with buttons

This is what Sex and the City would have looked like if it were filmed in the 80s…

80s fashion trends, Kim Cattrall with big bleached feathery hair perm, star studded denim gilet, choker and big purple earring with tassels, holding a peace sign

Elegant 80s outfits

throwback outfits, brunette woman wearing flowing knee-length white dress with silver belt, blonde short-haired woman wearing one shouldered white dress, another blonde short-haired woman wearing 80s shiny bodysuit

throwback outfits, two women with short brown and blonde hair standing next to each other, hands on hips and wearing 80s shiny silvery dresses with scarves and jewelry

Ross and Chandler rocking the Miami Vice style

throwback outfits, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer as Chandler and Ross from Friends, wearing white suit with red t-shirt and blue suit with yellow t-shirt, hands in pockets

80s business style for women

throwback outfits, smiling brunette woman in green 80s suit with white shirt, over-sized blazer and baggy pants, hand in pocket and hand on hip

The more colors the better!

throwback outfits, three smiling young women in bright clothes, red pants green and blue leggings, yellow and red striped cardigan, green jacket yellow socks and colorful balloons

Sunglasses have always been a popular fashion accessory

throwback outfits, sunglasses in many different shapes and styles, colorful plastic frames in red blue brown and animal print

throwback thursday outfits, three blonde women in retro bathing suits, in the same pose lying on sand, wearing sunglasses and shielding themselves from the sun

The 80s were probably the only decade when you could get away with this outfit

throwback thursday outfits, woman with blond top ponytail, wearing a wide-fitting dress with differently colored stripes and flower motives, over-sized ethno necklace, black and white background

throwback thursday outfits, over-sized white shirt with cropped sleeves and geometrical patters in green orange and red, with striped collar and blue scribbles, on white hanger and white background

throwback thursday outfits, young slender girl with mid-length wavy brown hair, black top and yellow checked trousers, hands in pockets and black platform shoes

throwback thursday outfits, girl with shoulder-length black hair and bangs, wearing a short tartan lime green mini skirt, white t-shirt and a white fluffy cardigan

Carrot pants are coming back in a big way. You can see many a teen sporting them in combination with cropped tops and vintage accessories.

throwback thursday outfits, light blue carrot jeans with rolled up legs and a black belt, pale yellow striped cropped shirt, white tennis shoes and round framed glasses

throwback thursday outfits, African-american woman wearing an over-sized tropical print blazer, black top and high-waisted light blue jean shorts, belt earrings and necklace, hands in pockets

what did people wear in the 80s, light blue jeans with rolled legs, cropped chunky knit striped turtleneck, green baseball cap and brow brogues, black mini backpack socks round glasses, phone alarm clock scarf camera bonsai plant

Awaken your inner rebel

what did people wear in the 80s, three women with 80s style blond hair and clothes, black leggings white boy top, jeans and leather jackets, white cropped leggings and midi skirt, all black outfit

what did people wear in the 80s, young punk girl with died blue hair and dark lipstick, wearing black cropped pants and band t-shirt, with dark green army boots, sitting cross-legged on bed holding phone

what did people wear in the 80s, blonde girl with ponytail choker and sunglasses, standing in field near trees, wearing over-sized white led zeppelin t-shirt and wide-fitting acid was denim shorts

Pink skates – the dream of every 80s’ girl 

what did people wear in the 80s, pair of pink retro lace-up roller skates, pink wheels and peach colored laces, white background

Shiny windbreakers in solid colors were a staple item for every fashion diva’s closet…

what did people wear in the 80s, woman with top knot and dark retro sunglasses, wearing a shiny windbreaker, track bottoms and black crop-top, barefoot on grey floor with pink background

…as were denim overalls which have been enjoying a surge in popularity this year.

blonde girl with messy hair black choker and dark round sunglasses, wearing blue overalls over black bra, leaning on a retro blue car

woman with messy blonde hair and black headband drinking from black mug, wearing a partly unbuttoned distressed and ripped denim overalls, striped top and hand in pocket

Clothes featuring animal prints have stood the test of time…

close up of a woman's torso, wearing white silky shirt and faux fur coat with animal print, pins and white sunglasses with orange frames, hand on red belt

Similarly to bomber trench coats

close up of woman's torso wearing rolled up jeans, yellow heels with wide straps, white lacy top and light blue over-sized bomber trench coat with fluffy sleeves, holding studded and tasseled clutch

Show your lust for life (and sense of humor) with this mix of clashing colors

woman wearing over-sized shirt with cropped rolled sleeves and differently colored stripes, paired with ripped and distressed denim shorts

close up of a denim jacket with many retro pins, Chanel NY bitten apple and zebra ornament, white background

Madonna is the undisputed fashion queen of the 80s

madonna with short dyed blond curly hair and red lipstick, hot pink neon jacket and jeans with stamps and patches, sheer blue top and white flower brooch

young madonna wearing heavy 80s make up, with short blonde hair and black hairband, wearing a sheer neon green lace top with black bra, black trousers a belt and various necklaces and bangles

80s madonna with messy punk hair, red lipstick and black headband, in black outfit and shiny jacket with animal print details, holding cigarette with gloved hand and hugging a friend, wearing similar outfit

This leather jacket and acid wash jeans combo is a classic look that always looks great 

blonde woman with shoulder-length hair and black cap, wearing light brown sweater and acid wash blue jeans, with black leather biker jacket, holding a small black backpack

Needless to say, other denim combinations have been far less successful…

acid wash jeans close up of back pockets, photo of girl with feathery chestnut hair, wearing acid-wash jeans white t-shirt and denim jacket with studs and tassels

close up of woman's lower half, wearing high-wasted acid wash jeans with button fold over detail, black sandals with many straps and black shiny top

80's hip hop fashion, African-American girl wearing black crop top, high wasted baggy jeans with rolled bottoms, sneakers a belt and glasses with red frames, curly long hair, and hands in pockets

80's hip hop fashion, young black girl with mid length curly hair, wearing jumper with colorful geometric patterns, gold chain and rolex watch, light blue jeans and red loafers

80's hip hop fashion, photos of madonna and two young girls, blonde messy short curly hair with read headband and lipstick, bangles bracelets and big earrings, permed hair in black and brown

thin plastic sparkling gel bracelets, neon pink blue and green, white black purple and clear, white background

You could get really creative and experimental with your hairstyle back in the 80s… as long as you used plenty of hair gel, that is

man with gelled up hair covering one of his eyes, wearing over-sized white blazer and red bandanna, top with black and white stripes, wooden planks in background

cyndi lauper with a messy punk hairstyle is neon yellow and orange, blue and pink glittering eye shadow, lots of necklaces with colorful beads, dark pink lipstick and shiny top

smiling woman with curly ginger hair and a top knot, navy blue coat over mustard yellow jumper, cropped blue and green tartan trousers, brown bag and owl socks

There was nothing cooler than carrying your boombox around

smiling man with gelled up wavy brown hair, aviator sunglasses and black leather jacket, carrying a retro stereo boombox, crowd in background

girl with mullet, blonde very short hair with longish bangs, black eye make up and red lipstick, wearing stone washed denim jacket and blue shirt

Punk meets office clerk in this original style combo

three images of women wearing variations of pin stripe suits and black ties, very short red and orange hair, hands in pockets and behind head

women's faces close up, messy short punk hair styles with black dye, black sheer mesh hair accessory, large earrings in white and black,

80's fashion for men, blonde boy with gelled up messy hair, wearing white t-shirt and red jacket with cropped sleeves, light blue acid wash jeans, messy yard in background

photo of three boys with skateboards, wearing pink green and blue t-shirts with prints, baggy jeans and colorful trousers, a photo of young brad pitt and a man with glasses holding a cat

image of woman with short tall curly hair and heavy make up, wearing a padded tailored jacket in pink black red and blue, next to a photo of a young man with silver and black mullet, red jacket and white mesh top

80s working out clothes were eye catching and fun

80's fashion for men, woman and men working out on beach, wearing neon colored yellow and pink bodysuits, pink cropped sport leggings and colorful headband, azure blue sea and sky in background

young woman with curly hair tied in side ponytail, wearing heavy make up and neon hoop earrings, with purple t-shirt and neon pink sports shorts, sheer pink mesh finger-less gloves, pink headphones and colorful bangles

 married with children sitcom, katey sagal as peggy bundy, big red permed hair with bangs, wearing animal print body suit with black leggings and belt, lifting weights in livingroom

smiling blonde woman in 80s working out clothes, with pastel baby blue sports body suit and legwarmers and pastel baby pink t-shirt, leaning on white bar, pink background and metal bar

Glam rockers of the 80s were a source of fashion inspiration for trendy kids

80's fashion for men, bon jovi glam rock band, five men with punk hairstyles and 80s clothing, shiny over-sized blazers with stripes and stars, tassels animal prints jewelry and sunglasses

young smiling African-american woman with red lipstick and blue eye shadow, wearing pink 80s embroidered top with mesh decoration, with jewelry and a golden tiara or prom queen crown

close up of blonde woman with 80s gelled up hi-top fade hair, red shirt and big round clip-on earring, red lipstick and heavy make up

close up of a blonde woman with gelled bangs and a top side ponytail with curly hair ends, elaborate bejeweled earring, red lipstick and black eye pencil

smiling woman with blonde mullet-type hairstyle and white headband, red brown and white plaid shirt, red lipstick and black eye pencil, propping chin on closed fist

The side ponytail was also an 80s favorite.

young blonde girl with big eyeglasses, feathered bangs and a long wavy side ponytail, wearing white jumper decorated with colorful ice creams and sprinkles

Ah, the mullet…Andre Agassi might have gotten away with it back in the day, but we really hope this infamous 80s hairstyle won’t be making a comeback anytime soon!

80's fashion for men, smiling andre agassi with blonde mullet, and blue navy and neon green tennis headband, stud earring and stubble, tennis racket partly visible in background

While misfits, punks and rebels had Madonna to look up to, the conservative, demure, and sophisticated ladies of the 80s had their own fashion icon – Diana, Princess of Wales.

two images of Diana princess of Wales, short 80s hair and blue eyes, blue top and light blue checkered blouse with white collar and pussy bow

Some of the combinations which were perfectly normal in the 80s will most likely make us raise our eyebrows today

close up of legs wearing hot neon pink legwarmers, over black platform high heels with open toes, light purple violet background

close up of arm with a neon pink arm-warmer, neon orange yellow and pink bangles, acid yellow background

close up of black leather fingerless gloves, with studded pow detail

black converse-type sneaker close up, white laces and white rubber soles, plain white background

Mullet and a pale pink shirt with scribbly geometric pattern – classic 80s style

80's fashion for men, man with pale pink shirt, scribbles or geometric print, light brown mullet, plain blue background

80's hip hop fashion, topless African-American man dancing, wearing shiny baggy parachute pants with wide black belt

John Griffith

John Griffith is a young, passionate journalist. Writing has been John’s hobby ever since he was a boy. He has worked in some of the UK’s most successful news portals over the course of his professional career but found his forever home at Archzine.