1980s Fashion History


For more information on this decade in fashion history, check out our list of books and reviews at Recommended Reading. Also please visit our Links page.

For bibliography referencing, the author of this page is April Ainsworth.


Women's Vintage Fashions of the 1980s    

Silhouette     The silhouette became boxy to the shoulder line with a generally slim silhouette to the waist and hip. Some skirt silhouettes were accentuated with mermaid hems or party style poufs, while pant silhouettes had extreme tapering to the pegged hems.

Common Designs in Vintage Clothing    

  • Short-sleeved blouson knit dresses with A-line or full skirts
  • Wool career suits in classic lines with slim hips and straight or A-line skirts
  • Textured cap-sleeved sweaters
  • Rustic and artisan style knits in dresses or separates
  • Dresses with asymmetric lines or handkerchief hems
  • Faux wrap dresses in lightweight synthetic jersey, sometimes with heat-set accordion pleating

Fabrics Available     Virtually every fabric we know today, including most of the faux leather options.  Women looked to natural fibers like wool and cotton again, though this time with the convenience of synthetic fiber like polyester or rayon mixed in for easier care. Blends of natural & synthetic fibers were now commonplace by this time.

Popular Colors and Prints     Designers continued to experiment with clashing colors as in the 1970s, though by this period they were in large block panels or stripes more often than swirling smaller-scale prints. Business wear remained conservative in color as preppies and yuppies ("young professionals") gained their own sense of fashion identity. Punk and New Wave movements took the color clash to the extreme, with acid-hued fluorescents seen in windbreakers, shoes and even purposefully paint-spattered denim.

Trims and Detailing     Bold prints and unusual textures were more common than elaborate trims, with cinch belts for accent in a 1950s-inspired look.

Hemlines Day and Night     Mini skirts re-appeared for the first time since the 1960s, but most clothing was street-length or near it with few extremes. The tradition of ankle-length for evening wear continued, although knee-length party dresses became more common than in the prior decade.

The Latest Fads

  • Punk styles with safety pins & shredded denim
  • 1930s, 40s and 50s-inspired looks
  • Skinny jeans & stonewashed denim
  • Acid & clashing colors
  • 'Material Girl' fishnet tops & tutu style skirts
  • Androgynous Boy George looks
  • Power suits at the end of the decade

Popular Designers

Innovations     Processing jeans for a distressed look became its own industry