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30 Most Iconic Fashion Trends of the '80s

Shoulder Pads

Shoulder Pads

Statement shoulders were huge in the '80s, so most people resorted to shoulder pads if they did not have particularly broad shoulders. This trend was wildly popular because it made people feel powerful, and we have to admit, the look is quite intimidating! Most importantly, they gave women confidence in the workplace as they ventured into high-ranking positions. 

Despite what some people might say about fashion, it's not all rainbows and ribbons. There are certainly times that fashion is strictly frivolous and fun, but '80s women knew that it could also determine their coworkers' perceptions of them. Therefore, women decided to appropriate men's fashion into their own wardrobes in order to be taken seriously in male-dominated workplaces. 

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Hoop Earrings

Hoop Earrings

Megastars like Madonna helped popularize the trend of oversized hoop earrings in the 80s, and pretty soon nearly every girl in America was wearing them. These earrings made quite the fashion statement, but we can imagine the earlobe pain that ensued! Not only was it groovy and fun, but it definitely drew attention to the face for added glam! While pop stars might have popularized the accessory for the general public, we all should know how this ongoing trend really got its start.

 

The first hoop earrings are dated back to about 2500 B.C. in Nubia AKA Sudan, Africa. The accessories are featured on old Persian carvings and Mesopotamian statues and point to the larger cultural importance of the pieces for ancient cultures. Fast-forward a few thousand years, gold hoops were common for women of color to wear around town in the '60s. Disco queens hopped on the bandwagon in the '70s, which helped popularize the accessory for everyone in the '80s and '90s music scene. 

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Scrunchies

Scrunchies

In the '80s, if you really wanted to make your hair pop, you simply put it up in a colorful scrunchie! Everyone knows that big hair is probably the most iconic '80s trend next to shoulder pads, and that idea applied to hair accessories as well. A scrunchie was an “it” item of the 80s, and the trend lived on for over a decade before fading away in the early 2000s (and some hoped forever). 

 

For some reason (we're looking at you Sex and the City), scrunchies were terribly despised in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Let's just say that wearing one to school wasn't the best way to fit in with the "cool" crowd. Another decade later, they're lining department store walls once more and every teenager adores them. Sure, the scrunchie isn't the height of sophistication, but that isn't the point. Scrunchies are all about being cute and ditching the pressure of professionalism, which is what makes them such a polarizing piece!

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Fanny Packs

Fanny Packs

Would you believe there was a time when wearing a fanny pack didn’t make you look like a tourist? It’s been a while, but in the 1980s, fanny packs were worn by even the most stylish of people because they were considered both functional and fashionable. And like the scrunchie, they exploded back onto the fashion scene in the late-2010s. Now you can find them lining the walls of Louis Vuitton and Gucci!

 

Luxury fashion brands aren't necessarily the baseline for what should be popular, but it's still significant that they've picked up on the granny-licious trend. There's still some hesitancy for those above the age of 19 to venture out into public wearing these bad boys without looking like you're trying too hard, but it all boils down to how confident you are. Don't look ashamed or you will be shamed!

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Airbrushed T-Shirts

Airbrushed T-Shirts

You’ve surely purchased an overpriced airbrushed t-shirt from a beachside shop in Florida, but you probably didn’t know this trend started many years before your 2000s family vacay. The '80s were filled with these keepsakes that likely only got worn once before being tossed to the back of the closet. Don't pretend like you actually wore these as anything besides a sleep shirt or "deep-cleaning-the-house" outfit. 

 

Even though most of us agree that these shirts epitomize tackiness, we all clamored around the air-brush booth so an artist could spritz our names onto a cheap cotton shirt.  Personalized items are immediately more valuable in our eyes than mass-produced items, which makes them much harder to dispose of after the vacation glow wears off. Good thing these shirts aren't making a comeback... Our wallets couldn't take it!

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Sweaters and Scarves

Sweaters and Scarves

If you thought 2000s prep school boys started the trend of tying the sleeves of a sweater around your neck to form a sort of scarf, you are wrong (well, sort of). Rather, the trend was started by preppy guys in the 80s and became a symbol for rich jerks everywhere!

 

Nowadays, J.Crew isn't doing so hot. It's a rough blow after whirlwind success in the '80s and '90s among khaki-obsessed men and well-dressed women! The brand itself might be down in the dumps, but the overall aesthetic is still chugging along, if not getting a second wind. As Millennials and Zoomers rush to the thrift store for sustainable pieces, they're met with dejected '80s sweaters ripe for repurposing. 

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Vans Shoes

Vans Shoes

What were the cool kids of the 80s wearing on their tootsies, you ask? Vans, of course! As skateboarding became more mainstream among rugged teens thanks to Tony Hawk, this style of sneaker found its way onto the feet of skaters and non-skaters alike. Not only were they effortlessly cool, but were also practical and available in a wide range of colors. 

 

Any youngin's out there might be thinking, "Wait, Vans was a skateboarding shoe?!" Every modern teenager — no matter how affiliated they are with the art of skateboarding — either owns a pair or desperately wants one. What was once just the aforementioned "effortlessly cool" shoe has transformed into a status symbol worn with all kinds of expensive streetwear. Kids nowadays, am I right? 

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MC Hammer Pants

MC Hammer Pants

Ah, harem pants—probably the most controversial of all the pant styles. Why does everything associated with '80s fashion have to be so polarizing? Musical artists, in particular, embraced this trend during the decade of dance, and they are probably most famously associated with iconic hip-hop star MC Hammer. 

 

These Middle East-inspired pants are so controversial because they paired hip-hop dancing with a sagging rise on an overall baggy style. Essentially, it was way too sensual for some folks. Despite this, MC Hammer was rarely seen without them from music videos to live concerts and interviews with the press. Nothing could come between Hammer and his pants. 

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Leotards

Leotards

If you’ve ever dressed up for “'80s Day” at work or school, you likely wore a colorful leotard as part of your outfit. Possibly to your surprise, leotards were mostly worn for dance-based exercises and not for everyday wear. Oh well! At least you took the prize for the in-office costume contest. 

 

 

First invented in 1886 by French acrobat Jules Léotard, they weren't used by anyone other than performers until the '70s and '80s. Thanks to the disco and aerobics craze, leotards got a makeover for the general public. Once they became available in a wide range of colors and could be personalized with gems and jewels to your heart's content, nobody in the group exercise class was caught without one.

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Leg Warmers

Leg Warmers

Speaking of group exercise outfits, leg warmers are probably next on your list of stereotypical '80s clothing you've worn for a costume. These cozy fashion accessories were primarily worn with leotards and colorful tights during workouts during this decade, but recently women have been wearing them with a variety of practical winter outfits to keep warm.

Needless to say, most modern fashionistas won't be caught dead wearing leg warmers if it's above freezing outside. After all, they're supposed to be worn by dancers to keep their leg muscles warm and to prevent cramping, not for aesthetic purposes, and it's clear why. They're usually unsightly and unflattering, shortening your frame and making your silhouette completely unbalanced. 

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Wayfarers

Wayfarers

Unlike the rest of these uniquely '80s pieces, Ray-Bans haven't really gone out of style since their initial rise to popularity. Sure, there was a dip in the late-'90s and early-'2000s, but they found their way back to people's faces soon enough. If you were anybody in the '80s, you wore a hot pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers wherever you went.

'80s style is coming back around (obviously), so there's no need to worry about them ever disappearing from the racks. At this point, Ray-Bans have become timeless pieces that work for pretty much any outfit. Like the white T-shirt, they're here to stay, so snagging your own pair could be the best fashion decision you've made in years. 

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Puffer Vests

Puffer Vests

Puffer vests became a hot trend after Marty McFly wore a red one in the classic '80s movie Back to the Future. Puffer vests have never truly gone out of style because they’re perfect for chilly days and layering up but are also an aesthetic and practical fashion statement for warmer days.

 

Surprise, surprise, the puffer vest is trendy once again. What do they say about fashion cycles? "What goes around comes around!" Nothing could be more accurate for the surge of teenagers embracing iconic '80s trends. Take a quick trip to the mall and you might think you've traveled back in time! Well, except for the smartphones everywhere... 

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Tracksuits

Tracksuits

Another popular '80s trend was the tracksuit. Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and countless other music groups paved the way for this trend during the decade, which ensured its quick rise to mainstream fashion. The obsession with aerobics and jazzercise definitely helped. Simply arrive at the gym in a tracksuit to warm up and then strip down to a colorful leotard, T-shirt, or swimsuit for the rest of the workout. 

Tracksuits have a volatile history in the fashion world, coming in and out of fashion out of thin air every few decades. The late 1980s swapped traditional cotton, terry cloth, and polyester suits for shell suits, but that trend didn't last long compared to more popular and seemingly luxurious '70s velour. 

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Acid Wash Jeans

Acid Wash Jeans

Acid wash jeans are one of the most controversial (of course) denim washes because no one can ever really decide if damaged-looking jeans are truly fashionable or not. Despite this, they became the epitome of style in the '80s once many of the biggest bands rocked this trend on a daily basis!

 

No one could say acid wash wasn't cool when revolving members of The Ramones were wearing all kinds of denim. Sure, it's weird that acid wash started out as a surfer trend in the '60s and somehow transitioned into rock 'n roll aesthetic, but if it works, it works! All it takes is a spray bottle, bleach, and rubber bands to achieve the look. What are you waiting for? 

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Neon Everything

Neon Everything

In the 1980s, you could expect everything to be neon-colored—from shoes to leggings to jackets. Even though this color palette isn’t typically flattering on a lot of skin tones, it remained popular for pretty much the entire decade. If the decade's motto was "the bigger, the better," then muted pastels and neutrals were not the favored choice. 

 

There was no possible way to have a proper night out at the skating rink if you weren't wearing neon that popped under the backlights and drew attention to your sick moves. Apparently neon was so popular because it symbolized positivity and hope after the dismal cold war and subdued '70s mood. 

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Big Hair

Big Hair

If you know nothing about the '80s, you should have this piece of knowledge under your belt: big hair was an '80s specialty. No other decade did it quite the same., Men and women alike found themselves spending exponentially more time planted in front of their vanities in the morning once this trend came to light. 

From mo-hawks to mullets and jheri curls, as long as you tried to achieve maximum volume, you were headed in the right direction. Because perming was a surefire way to add volume to your hair, parting your hair down the middle wasn't considered a flattering option. What do you do? Add more volume, of course! No need for a visible part if your hair reaches the ceiling!

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Spandex

Spandex

The aerobics craze wouldn't be complete without a healthy dose of spandex to hold everything in. What started out as a fabric used primarily by dancers for unlimited movement and comfort transformed into a worldwide phenomenon for exercise and streetwear. Like acid wash jeans, '80s rockers were notorious for sporting the stretchy fabric on stage during performances. 

Not only is Spandex super comfortable, but its durable elasticity hugged every curve without looking frumpy. What's better than looking good and feeling good simultaneously, especially while exercising? Pretty much nothing. If you think of anything, give us a ring because the '80s were really onto something with these fits.

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Ripped Knees

Ripped Knees

Millennials probably associate ripped jeans with the 2010s when it was nearly impossible to find an affordable pair of pants that weren't shredded. But that era was nothing but a meager corporate attempt to revive '80s fashion. That's right, the '80s did it better mainly because teenagers would rip their own jeans for a more authentic look. 

From Michael Jackson to Madonna, everyone was wearing ripped jeans and were a must-have to complete your wardrobe. They didn't have to be ripped from top to bottom as long as your knees were visible through frayed, gaping holes. If they weren't quite battered enough for your taste, deliberately pull on loose threads and toss them into the dryer for a tumble for that ultra-battered look. 

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Lace Shirts

Lace Shirts

We know that most of the trends we've focused on have been big, bold, and arguably beautiful, so we promise this one isn't so polarizing. If you're wanting to relive your glory days in a way that's more socially stylish than lazily throwing on leg warmers, look no further than shirts made of delicate lace. 

Once again, we have pop culture to thank for this trend, including Madonna'smusic videos and Desperately Seeking Susan. Lace blouses were pretty versatile and allowed women to be sophisticated at the workplace or fun at the club. Madonna-style tops and gloves were definitely more unprofessional than Edwardian-inspired ruffles, but both styles were enjoyed equally among fashionable ladies. 

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High-Waisted Pants

High-Waisted Pants

High-waisted pants are probably the best '80s fashion staple to be revived in the last decade. There's so much to love about this silhouette that we don't even know where to begin! From thin to thick, people of all sizes are able to enjoy the flattering silhouette of high-waisted pants. The pant's extra length creates the illusion of longer legs that can balance out any body type.

 

In denim, high-rise pants were mockingly referred to as "mom jeans" for years. Your mom proudly rocked those pants, saying, "They'll be back soon enough." And look what happened! Millennial thrift shoppers brought back the look by taking oversized pants from charity shops and altering them to achieve the flattering silhouette. 

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Mullet

Mullet

The ‘80s were chock-full of hard-hitting fashion styles but nothing is as hard-hitting as the mullet. At the time it wasn’t called the “mullet” but the “bi-level” cut. The term "mullet” wasn’t introduced to hairstyle vocabulary until the ‘90s when Billy Ray Cyrus dropped "Achy Breaky Heart." 

This look is so controversial because it tries to have its cake and eat it, too. Business in the front for work and party in the back for the evening is a good idea in theory, but in practice it just looks all wrong. Surprisingly enough, the mullet is coming back but in a more rockin’ shag variety that’s easier on the eyes.

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Side Ponytails

Side Ponytails

The side ponytail was the perfect way to get your hair out of your face while still garnering suitable attention. Tease the end of your ponytail and add mousse all around your face for maximum volume. But wearing a ponytail on the back of your head was way too basic for '80s it girls, so they went ahead and slapped it on the side of their heads.

Side ponytails were seen on women of all ages. Younger girls could sport it all the time while adult women got away with a side scrunchie for group jazzercise and going out to the club. Ponytails are the best way for showing off your trendy gold hoops and colorful makeup looks!

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Funky Sweatshirts

Funky Sweatshirts

Half of what made ‘80s fashion so popular was how accessible many of the trends were for the majority of people. That’s not to say that expensive brands like Chanel weren’t popular, but many people couldn’t afford such expensive luxury items. Therefore, DIY fashion like acid washing, shredded jeans, and cropped sweatshirts boomed.

Off-the-shoulder and cropped sweatshirts were a go-to for aerobics-obsessed women. They were the perfect cover-up for those sporting leotards if tracksuits weren't didn't quite fit into their aesthetic. The best thing about these pieces was how comfortable they were and how simple they were to DIY from old and thrifted clothes.

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Ruffles

Ruffles

Similar to the lace-top trend, ruffles were an Edwardian-inspired trend revitalized for the boldness of the '80s. Used to feel professional in the workplace and funky outside of it, there was no limit for how far you could go with ruffles, especially when it came to blouses, dresses, and jumpsuits.

Ruffles got their origin in 16th-century Spain and eventually bled into English fashion as an indicator of status and wealth for both genders. Victorian women popularized the style among the middle and lower classes as ruffles became more subtle, thus cheaper to add to existing clothing. Fast-forward to the '80s and ruffles no longer stood for the innocence and meekness of the '50s -- take one look at their wedding gowns and you'll see what we mean!

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Animal Print

Animal Print

Simply breathing the words "animal print" will either make people run away in hoards out of fear or people falling at your feet in gratitude. There's no in-between. This trend falls in and out of style so often that it's better to buy during the off-season and keep those pieces in your closet until the next time a fashion house decides it's acceptable again.

Animal prints were huge because wearing real animal furs and skins was a huge fashion faux-pas. Historically, the skins and furs of bears, rabbits, ferrets, et cetera, were used to make robes and line the clothes of kings as a sign of wealth and status. Thus, faux animal print was born so the ladies of the '80s could feel like royalty without the steep cost...

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Bally Sneakers

Bally Sneakers

If any sneaker lovers are out there wondering when the big shoe boom began, look no further than the 1980s. Sneakerhead culture found its footing in this decade as the top rappers featured the latest shoes in their viral music videos and basketball players popularized certain brands by sporting their shoes for dunking contests. 

According to Medium, the trend hinged on "being different," which is how the luxury fashion house Bally was able to make a mark with their sneakers. Once the rappers Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh dropped "La Di Da Di" in 1985 with the line "Fresh dressed liked a million bucks. / Threw on the Bally shoes and the fly green socks," the hip-hop community immediately jumped for the brand. 

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Members Only Jacket

Members Only Jacket

You can thank Netflix's hit show Stranger Things for scrounging up Members Only jackets from the rubble of the '80s. Members Only promoter Herb Goldsmith used celebrities to market his product -- including Frank Sinatra, Lou Piniella, and Johnny Carson -- which was successful in capturing the attention of consumers. 

Defined by narrow epaulets, a strap for a collar, and knitted trim, Members Only jackets took off in the '80s because they were made in a range of colors and were modestly affordable. The brand infamously shifted their advertising from celebrities reciting their tagline "when you put it on, something happens" to marketing through public service announcements aligning with hot-button issues. 

 

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Swatches

Swatches

Swatches are definitely still around online today if your mom hasn't already informed you, but they were one of the most iconic fashion accessories of the '80s. Swatches AKA "second watches" are simple plastic quartz watches marketed as "disposable" in order to keep up with the constantly changing cutting-edge trends. 

They were all the rage in the '80s because of the range of colors and styles available for coordinating with your favorite neon outfits. Plus, instead of marketing to a niche audience, Swatches were advertised to everyone. From black-tie balls to dance clubs, Swatches were appropriate for any setting, any day, any time. 

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Hard-core Punk

Hard-core Punk

Punk rock started as a music genre but quickly adopted its own fashion trends after the late '70s. Hard-core punk was a reaction to the hippie culture of the '70s and outwardly disputed anything related to commercialism and bandwagon music, including mainstream rock. As hardcore rock grew, underground music scenes such as grunge and thrash were born as well with their own perceptions of the world. 

As for the fashion, hard-core punk fans were seen in combat boots, crew-cut hair, army pants, band T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and anything related to leather jackets and ripped jeans. The more dedicated fans would invest in chains,m tattoos, hair dye, and hair gel for creating mohawks hardy enough for the mosh pit!

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Bold Eyeshadow

Bold Eyeshadow

No '80s outfit is complete without the outrageously bold eyeshadow to match! If makeup is supposed to be subdued and natural, well, the '80s ladies weren't interested. The brighter, the better! If there wasn't a trace of pink, purple, or blue shadow on your lids, you might as well see yourself out.

Like the neon trend, women reached for colorful eyeshadow and lipsticks as a reaction to the frugality and drabness of the Cold War era. It-girls like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were trendsetters in this regard, as their looks in music videos bolstered the cosmetics industry to produce a wide range of palettes. 

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