The Forgotten Fashion Trends of the 1980s that Defined a Generation

The 1980s were a time of bold style, vibrant colors, and dramatic silhouettes. This era brought forth a variety of trends, some of which have remained iconic, while others have faded into obscurity. The fashion world of the ’80s was characterized by its fearless approach to style and a penchant for experimentation, reflecting the cultural and social dynamism of the time. This era was all about extremes – from power dressing that exuded confidence and authority to the whimsical, playful styles inspired by the burgeoning pop and hip-hop cultures.

Some of these trends were ahead of their time, some were regional or subculture-specific, and others were fleeting fads that captured the spirit of the moment. Each trend we will discuss reflects a unique facet of the ’80s, showcasing the diversity and creativity of the era’s fashion landscape. In this blog post, we’ll take a nostalgic journey back to the 1980s, revisiting some of the forgotten fashion trends that defined the decade.

#1 Rah-Rah Skirtss

Rah-Rah Skirtss

Rah-rah skirts, a distinctive fashion trend of the 1980s, drew inspiration from cheerleading outfits. Characterized by their multi-layered, frilly design, these skirts embodied the era's penchant for bold and playful styles. Made typically from lightweight, flowy fabrics like cotton or polyester, they often featured bright, vibrant colors or eye-catching patterns. Rah-rah skirts were usually short, sitting above the knee, and had a somewhat flouncy appearance due to the layered tiers. This made them popular for dance and casual wear, symbolizing the energetic and youthful spirit of the decade. They were often paired with leggings, oversized tops, and chunky jewelry, encapsulating the eclectic and expressive fashion ethos of the 1980s.

#2 Legwarmers


Legwarmers in the 1980s transcended their original purpose, evolving from dancewear to a widespread fashion statement. Initially intended to keep dancers' muscles warm and prevent cramps, these knitted tubes quickly caught the public's imagination. They were typically made of wool or synthetic materials, providing both warmth and flexibility. The 1980s saw legwarmers being adopted by a broader audience, no longer confined to the dance studio. They became synonymous with aerobics and the fitness craze of the time, often paired with leotards, tights, or even casual denim for a more street-style look. Available in a plethora of colors, from neon hues to pastels, and often striped or patterned, legwarmers added a playful and edgy element to any outfit. This trend encapsulated the era's experimental and bold approach to fashion, where functionality met flamboyance.

#3 MC Hammer Pants

MC Hammer Pants

MC Hammer pants, also known as parachute pants, were a defining fashion trend of the 1980s, immortalized by the rapper MC Hammer. These pants were characterized by their unique, baggy design, featuring a low crotch and tapered ankles, creating a voluminous silhouette. They were often made from lightweight, billowing fabrics like parachute nylon, hence the name, which allowed for ease of movement and added to their distinctive appearance. The popularity of these pants was fueled by the rise of hip-hop culture and breakdancing, where mobility and comfort were key. MC Hammer pants typically came in a variety of bold colors and patterns, aligning with the vibrant and experimental fashion ethos of the 1980s. They were often paired with oversized shirts and flashy accessories, making them a staple in the wardrobes of those who embraced the more flamboyant and expressive aspects of the decade's fashion scene.

#4 Sweatbands


Sweatbands, a notable accessory of the 1980s, epitomized the decade's fusion of fashion and fitness culture. These bands, worn around the forehead or wrists, were primarily designed to absorb sweat during physical activities, aligning with the era's fitness craze and aerobics boom. Made from absorbent materials like terry cloth, they were both functional and fashionable, often seen in vibrant neon colors or featuring bold stripes and patterns. Sweatbands transcended their athletic origins, becoming a fashion statement in everyday wear. They complemented the 1980s' sporty-chic aesthetic, frequently paired with leotards, legwarmers, and high-cut aerobics gear. The popularity of sweatbands was bolstered by their visibility in pop culture, with celebrities and musicians donning them in music videos and public appearances, cementing their status as a quintessential 1980s accessory.

#5 Sweaters Tied Around The Neck

Sweaters Tied Around The Neck

In the 1980s, the trend of wearing sweaters tied around the neck became a hallmark of preppy and casual-chic fashion. This style involved draping a sweater over the shoulders and tying the sleeves loosely around the neck. The sweaters used were typically lightweight, often made from cotton, wool, or cashmere, and came in a range of colors and patterns, including classic argyles and bright, solid hues.

This trend was not just a fashion statement but also a practical way to carry an extra layer for cooler temperatures. It became synonymous with a polished, collegiate look, often seen in conjunction with polo shirts, chinos, and loafers. The look was popular among both men and women and was frequently featured in movies, television shows, and advertisements of the era. The sweater-around-the-neck style exemplified the 1980s' penchant for preppy, clean-cut aesthetics, representing a blend of leisure and luxury in everyday attire.

#6 Neon


The 1980s saw the rise of fluorescent or neon colors as a major fashion trend, symbolizing the era's bold and unapologetic approach to style. Neon hues were a stark departure from more subdued palettes, embodying the decade's love for all things bright and eye-catching. This trend was embraced in various forms of clothing and accessories, ranging from neon leggings and oversized sweatshirts to vibrant socks and hair accessories.

Wearing neon was about making a statement; the brighter, the better. Mixing different neon colors in a single outfit was not just accepted but encouraged, resulting in eclectic and highly noticeable ensembles. This trend was also reflected in the popularity of day-glo makeup and neon nail polish, completing the head-to-toe fluorescent look.

#7 Shoulder Pads

Shoulder Pads

Shoulder pads were a quintessential element of 1980s fashion, embraced by both men and women, and became emblematic of the power dressing trend of the era. These pads, inserted into the shoulders of clothing, created a distinctive silhouette characterized by broad, exaggerated shoulders, often likened to a "coat-hanger" style. This look was not confined to outerwear; shoulder pads were commonly found in blouses, dresses, and even sweaters, including those in neon colors, reflecting the decade's bold fashion choices.

The popularity of shoulder pads was partly influenced by the professional and empowered imagery they conveyed, aligning with the era's focus on assertiveness and corporate culture. They were often seen in pastel or brightly colored jackets, a staple in the power suits of the time. The trend extended beyond the boardroom, with shoulder pads becoming a standard feature in casual wear as well.

#8 Acid-Washed Jeans

Acid-Washed Jeans

Acid-washed jeans were a standout fashion trend of the 1980s, epitomizing the decade's love for distinctive denim styles. This technique involved washing denim with chlorine and pumice stones, creating a unique, marbled or snow-like pattern on the fabric with a distinctly faded, almost bleached look. The result was a softer, worn-in feel with a high-contrast, visually striking appearance.

Popular among various age groups and fashion circles, acid-washed jeans were not just limited to one particular cut or style. They were seen in a range of silhouettes, from skinny to baggy, and even in denim jackets, skirts, and overalls. The look often complemented the era's other fashion staples like oversized sweaters, neon colors, and leather jackets, contributing to the eclectic, experimental vibe of 1980s fashion.

#9 Spandex


Spandex, a highly elastic synthetic fabric, became a ubiquitous element of 1980s fashion, permeating various aspects of the decade's culture. Its ability to stretch and conform to the body's shape made it immensely popular for a wide range of clothing, from leggings and bodysuits to cycling shorts and swimwear.

In the music scene, rock stars like those from bands such as the Scorpions or Iron Maiden often donned spandex pants or jumpsuits as part of their on-stage persona, embodying the era's flamboyant and rebellious spirit. This trend was not just limited to the rock genre; spandex was a staple in the wardrobes of many musicians and performers, contributing to the theatrical and often over-the-top styles prevalent in the music industry at the time.

#10 The Side Ponytail

The Side Ponytail

The side ponytail emerged as a playful and quintessentially 1980s hairstyle, embraced for its simplicity and flair. This style involved pulling the hair to one side of the head and securing it with a hair tie, creating a ponytail that draped over the shoulder. It was a deviation from the more traditional, centered ponytail, reflecting the decade's penchant for quirky and unconventional fashion choices.

The versatility of the side ponytail made it popular among various age groups. It could be styled sleek and neat for a more polished look, or teased and tousled for a casual, carefree vibe. Often, scrunchies or brightly colored hair ties were used to secure the ponytail, adding a pop of color and texture to the hairstyle. This trend was further popularized by celebrities, television shows, and movies of the time, where the side ponytail was often seen as a symbol of youthful energy and playful femininity.

#11 The Fanny Pack

The Fanny Pack

The fanny pack, a small fabric pouch secured around the waist with a zipper and a buckle, became a highly practical and iconic accessory of the 1980s. Known for its convenience and hands-free design, the fanny pack was celebrated for its functionality, allowing wearers to carry essential items like keys, wallets, and, in true 1980s style, popular toys and gadgets like Pogs and Tamagotchis.

Despite its often-debated aesthetic appeal, the fanny pack was a staple in the everyday wardrobe of many during the 1980s. It came in a variety of colors, patterns, and materials, including neon shades and nylon fabrics, aligning with the decade's bold fashion sensibilities. The fanny pack was not just limited to casual wear; it was also a popular accessory at concerts, festivals, and sporting events, where its practicality was especially appreciated.

#12 The Mullet

The Mullet

The mullet, a distinctive hairstyle characterized by its short front and sides with a longer back, became a notorious fashion statement of the 1980s. Coined with the phrase "business in the front, party in the back," this hairstyle embodied the era's eclectic and bold approach to fashion.

Popular among men and women alike, the mullet was adopted by various subcultures and celebrities, from rock musicians to actors, contributing to its widespread appeal. The style allowed for creative variations, with some sporting spiked or teased hair at the front, while others opted for a more sleek and straight look. The longer hair at the back could be curly, wavy, or straight, depending on personal preference.

#13 The Perm

The Perm

The perm, short for "permanent wave," was a hugely popular hairstyle in the 1980s, renowned for its voluminous and curly look. This style involved chemically treating the hair to create lasting curls or waves, offering a dramatic transformation from straight to curly hair. The 1980s perm was characterized by tight, often springy curls, and was embraced by both men and women, reflecting the era's love for big, bold hairstyles.

This trend was fueled by celebrities and public figures who sported perms, making it a highly sought-after look. The perm became synonymous with the decade's fashion, often paired with other trends like bold makeup, large earrings, and shoulder pads, enhancing the overall dramatic effect.The process of getting a perm was a commitment, both in terms of time and hair care, as it required regular maintenance to keep the curls intact and the hair healthy. Despite this, the allure of the voluminous, curly look made perms a staple in hair salons across the world during the 1980s.

#14 Dancewear


The 1980s saw the crossover of dancewear into mainstream fashion, with items traditionally reserved for dancers becoming everyday wardrobe staples for many. This trend was heavily influenced by popular films of the era like "Flashdance" and "Dirty Dancing," which showcased the aesthetic appeal of dance-inspired clothing.

Neon legwarmers, a key element of this trend, were no longer just for keeping dancers' muscles warm; they became a fashion statement, often paired with skirts, shorts, and even over jeans. Tights and leotards, too, transcended their functional origins. Tights were worn in a variety of vibrant colors and patterns, adding a playful element to outfits, while leotards, which were typically form-fitting and made from stretchy materials like spandex, were popularized as tops that could be paired with skirts or layered under jackets.

This trend was a part of the larger aerobics and fitness craze of the 1980s, where the lines between sportswear, dancewear, and everyday fashion blurred. The popularity of aerobics, driven by home workout videos and gym culture, made dancewear synonymous with the era's focus on health, fitness, and bold self-expression.

#15 The Scrunchie

The Scrunchie

The scrunchie, a fabric-covered elastic hair tie, epitomized 1980s hair fashion. Far from being a mere practical item, it was a vibrant accessory that complemented the decade's flamboyant style. These hair ties came in a plethora of colors and fabrics, ranging from sparkling emerald green to soft lavender, often made from materials like cotton, velvet, and even silk.

What set scrunchies apart was their volume; the fabric pouf added a decorative flair to hairstyles, whether used to secure a ponytail, bun, or even worn around the wrist as a fashion statement. They were particularly favored by young girls and became synonymous with the youthful and playful aesthetic of the era.

#16 The Bucket Hat

The Bucket Hat

The bucket hat, particularly in its 1980s incarnation, was a distinctive fashion item, often regarded with a mix of fondness and bemusement in retrospect. This hat style, recognized by its wide, downward-sloping brim, was initially designed for practical purposes, offering protection from the sun and rain. However, in the 1980s, it evolved into a fashion statement.

The decade saw bucket hats made from a variety of materials, but velour versions, with their plush, soft texture, were particularly popular. These hats were often adorned with bold floral patterns, aligning with the era's love for loud, eye-catching prints. The combination of velour fabric and vibrant designs made these bucket hats stand out as a unique fashion choice.

#17 Tracksuits


Tracksuits in the 1980s emerged as a fashion phenomenon, transcending their athletic origins to become a staple in everyday casual wear. Originally designed as sportswear, these matching jacket and pants sets gained immense popularity, making their way into various aspects of daily life beyond the realm of sports and exercise.

The 1980s tracksuit was characterized by its comfortable fit and often bright, bold colors or patterns. Made from materials like polyester, velour, or nylon, these tracksuits were both lightweight and practical. The style typically included a zip-up jacket paired with elastic-waisted pants, often with stripes or contrasting panels as design accents.

#18 Stirrup Pants

Stirrup Pants

Stirrup pants, a notable fashion trend of the 1980s, were a precursor to the leggings that gained immense popularity later. These pants were characterized by a strap, or "stirrup," that extended from the hem of the pant leg and hooked under the foot. Made typically from stretchy materials, they provided a snug fit, similar to leggings but with the added foot strap.

The design of stirrup pants created a unique silhouette, where the pants tapered down to the ankle and continued under the foot, often leading to a somewhat triangular shape of the legs. This was a distinct departure from the looser pant styles of previous decades.

#19 Futuristic Sunglasses

Futuristic Sunglasses

Futuristic sunglasses in the 1980s were a vivid embodiment of the decade's penchant for bold and unconventional fashion. These sunglasses were characterized by their oversized frames, unusual shapes, and often vibrant colors, pushing the boundaries of traditional eyewear design.

The term "futuristic" captured the essence of these sunglasses, as they frequently featured designs that seemed ahead of their time, with geometric shapes, mirrored lenses, and avant-garde styles that could be likened to art pieces. Their exaggerated sizes and shapes made them more than just functional items to protect the eyes from the sun; they were statement accessories in their own right.

#20 Crimped Hair

Crimped Hair

Crimped hair, a hallmark hairstyle of the 1980s, was widely popular among young girls and women, characterized by its zigzag, wavy texture. This look was achieved using a special crimping iron, which pressed the hair into tight, corrugated waves, creating a voluminous and textured effect.

The trend of crimped hair reflected the 1980s' fascination with bold and dramatic styles. Unlike the sleek, smooth hairstyles of previous decades, crimped hair was all about making a statement with a big, slightly disheveled look. It was often seen in combination with other popular trends of the era, such as bright makeup, large earrings, and bold fashion choices, adding to the overall exuberant and playful aesthetic.

#21 Huge Earrings

Huge Earrings

Huge earrings were a defining accessory of the 1980s, epitomizing the decade's philosophy of "the bigger, the better" in fashion. Earrings during this period were not just an accessory but a bold fashion statement, often oversized and making a significant visual impact.

The popularity of large earrings was seen across genders, with both girls and guys embracing this trend. The designs varied widely, from massive hoop earrings that could extend nearly to the shoulders, to large, chunky dangles and geometric shapes. Materials ranged from metals to the then-trendy "chic" plastics, often in bright or neon colors to match the vibrant fashion of the era.

#22 Cotton Sweats

Cotton Sweats

Cotton sweats became a ubiquitous fashion trend in the 1980s, symbolizing the era's shift towards casual, comfortable clothing. The trend saw people donning sweatshirts and sweatpants as everyday wear, not just for athletic or loungewear purposes. This style was prevalent in schools, workplaces, and even social settings like bars, reflecting a broader cultural movement towards more relaxed dress codes.

The popularity of cotton sweats in the 1980s was partly driven by the rise of brands like Au Coton, which specialized in soft, cotton-based clothing. These garments were favored for their comfort and ease of wear, often available in a range of colors and styles, including oversized fits that were in vogue at the time.

#23 Popped Collars

Popped Collars

Popped collars were a definitive fashion statement in the 1980s, particularly associated with the preppy style. This trend involved flipping up the collar of a polo shirt or jacket, creating a look that was both casual and deliberately styled. It was a simple yet effective way to add an edge to an outfit, embodying a blend of nonchalance and sophistication.

The popularity of the popped collar was not just about the physical style; it was also about the attitude and confidence it conveyed. It was often paired with other preppy staples like sweaters tied around the neck, chinos, and loafers, contributing to a polished, collegiate look. Medium-length hair, neatly styled, was a common accompaniment to this trend, completing the quintessential preppy ensemble.

#24 Plastic Charm Necklaces

Plastic Charm Necklaces

Plastic charm necklaces were a playful and trendy accessory in the 1980s, capturing the decade's love for colorful and whimsical fashion elements. These necklaces, along with matching bracelets, featured a variety of plastic charms that jingled distinctively with movement, making them both a visual and auditory statement.

The charms came in an array of shapes and designs, from popular symbols and objects to cartoon characters and everyday items. They were often bright and colorful, appealing to the youthful and vibrant fashion sense of the time. Collecting, trading, and wearing these plastic charms became a popular activity, with each charm often holding sentimental value or representing personal interests.

#25 Hypercolor


Hypercolor clothing, notably the T-shirts, was a fleeting but memorable trend of the 1980s, known for its innovative color-changing technology. These garments, developed by the brand Generra, contained a special thermochromic pigment that reacted to changes in temperature. This meant that the fabric would change color in response to heat, such as sunlight or body warmth.

The allure of Hypercolor T-shirts lay in their interactive nature. At first glance, they appeared like regular T-shirts, but upon exposure to heat - like a handprint or body heat - they would transform into different colors, creating a dynamic and playful effect. This novelty made them incredibly popular, particularly among younger demographics.

#26 The Headband

The Headband

The headband was a ubiquitous fashion accessory in the 1980s, worn by a diverse range of people from rock stars to teenage girls. Its widespread appeal lay in its simplicity and functionality, as well as its ability to complement the era's bold hair trends.

In the 1980s, hairstyles were often large and voluminous, thanks to popular styles like perms and crimped hair. The headband served a practical purpose in managing these big hairdos, keeping hair out of the face while adding an extra element of style. Headbands came in various forms: some were simple and sleek, made from materials like plastic or metal, while others were more elaborate, featuring bright colors, patterns, or even embellishments like bows and sequins.

#27 The Mini Miniskirt

The Mini Miniskirt

The mini miniskirt of the 1980s took the concept of the miniskirt to new heights, often being extremely short in length. This trend was a bold statement in the fashion landscape of the decade, reflecting the era's penchant for daring and provocative styles. It was a symbol of youthful rebellion and fashion-forward thinking.

Made from a variety of materials, including denim, vinyl, and cotton, these skirts came in an array of styles and designs. They were often brightly colored or patterned, aligning with the decade's love for vibrant and eye-catching fashion. The mini miniskirt was frequently paired with other popular 1980s trends, such as oversized, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, creating a juxtaposition of oversized tops with ultra-short bottoms.

#28 Men’s Pastel Suits

Men’s Pastel Suits

The trend of men's pastel suits in the 1980s was significantly influenced by the popular TV show "Miami Vice." The show's fashion, particularly the distinctive style of its characters, played a key role in popularizing this look. Men's suits in pastel shades like pink, baby blue, and light green became a fashion statement, breaking away from the traditional dark and neutral colors typically associated with men's formalwear.

These pastel suits were often characterized by their oversized jackets with pronounced shoulders, reflecting the era's trend of power dressing. The jackets were paired with baggy pants, creating a relaxed yet stylish silhouette. This was a departure from the more fitted and structured suits of previous decades, aligning with the 1980s' broader trend towards more casual and comfortable clothing.

#29 Faux Leather Bomber Jacket

Faux Leather Bomber Jacket

The faux leather bomber jacket of the 1980s was a distinct fashion item, encapsulating several of the era's style trends. This jacket style, while often considered a fashion faux-pas in retrospect, was immensely popular during the decade.

These bomber jackets typically featured synthetic leather, aligning with the 1980s' experimentation with different materials. The jackets often included various embellishments, such as bold appliqués or patches, adding a unique and personalized touch. The design was characterized by oversized sleeves and a cut that was typically above the waist, creating a distinctive silhouette that differed from the traditional, more fitted bomber jacket style.

#30 Geometric Prints

Geometric Prints

The 1980s fashion scene was renowned for its bold experimentation with geometric prints, a trend that exemplified the decade's fearless approach to style. This era was marked by a departure from convention, embracing an eclectic mix of colors, shapes, and patterns in clothing.

Geometric prints in the 1980s often featured a combination of sharp angles, lines, and shapes, creating visually striking patterns. These prints were not subtle; they were designed to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, with vibrant colors and high-contrast combinations. The use of such bold patterns was a reflection of the decade's overall ethos of self-expression and individuality in fashion.

#31 Mom Jeans

Mom Jeans

Mom jeans emerged as a popular fashion trend in the 1980s, marking a significant shift in denim styles. Originally associated with a more mature, practical look worn by mothers, these jeans gained widespread popularity among younger women during the decade.

Characterized by their high waist and tapered legs, mom jeans created a distinctive silhouette. This style often accentuated the hips and buttocks, creating a fuller figure compared to the tighter, low-rise jeans of previous fashion trends. The high waistline was typically paired with a tucked-in shirt or a belt, emphasizing the waist and contributing to the overall structured look.

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Written by Kimberly Adams

Kimberly Adams is passionate about classic movies, actors, and actresses. She offers a fresh perspective on timeless films and the stars who made them unforgettable. Her work is an ode to the glamour and artistry of a bygone era, and a tribute to the enduring appeal of classic cinema.

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