You either love it or hate it, which is why ’80s clothing trends are probably the most controversial of all the eras.
First, many vintage sellers argue that the ’80s isn’t even “vintage” — because we are still only two decades away from its time, the era is best qualified as “retro” or “nostalgic” and the style value less.
Second, I’ve encountered many vintage lovers who strongly dislike the era, shuddering at the thought of ’80s clothing trends like stonewash denim, batwing sleeves and shoulder pads.
While the clothing styles of 1980s are a far cry from the feminine fashion of the 1950s and may not make your vintage lovers’ heart go pitter patter with delight, I believe that the ’80s is worth honoring because its trends were so avant garde in style, design and wear by the modern woman of her day.
<< CHECK ‘EM OUT! The best 1980s vintage clothing trends you love to remember, wear and (perhaps) chuckle at
Admittedly, even I cut out shoulder pads before wearing an ’80s garment — but I still like totally love ’80s fashion and have respect for what shoulder pads, along with 9 other rockin’ ’80s trends, represented for women’s fashion!
Do you love or loathe the ’80s?
Feel free to scroll through the post to see these totally trendy ’80s clothing styles, or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the text within the article!
Skirt Available from Hinesite Vintage
The 1980s did the 1940s and 1950s in all the right ways by playing up pin-up style with tropical prints (think “Hawaii Five-O”) and designs loved by the California girl with Rockabilly flair.
WORN TODAY: It’s easy to wear an ’80s piece with tropical print, whether you want to wear the print full-on with a matching top and short like Victory Vintage Boutique (left) or as a bottom paired with a solid colored top like Retro Minx (right).
Blazer Available from Hinesite Vintage
Showing skin in the ’80s got creative with well positioned cut-out holes/openings on a garment’s sleeve.
The cut-outs could be found anywhere from the shoulder to the chest area, but you’ll often see ’80s blazers (like above) or shirts (shown below) with missing material along the shoulder line.
WORN TODAY: The cut-out shoulder trend made a comeback in modern fashion, as contemporary fashion brands are now offering their own versions of the missing shoulder button-up.
I’ve seen DIY fashionistas thrift store shop ’80s oversize blouses for a steal, and then add a touch of modern femininity to them by removing the shoulder material themselves.
Peplum Dress – My Own!
Like the ’80s did the ’40s with pin-up tropical style, the ’80s did the ’40s with some pretty peplums, too!
The peplum is best described as a “skirt on a skirt,” creating a flare that varies in length and cut but usually begins around the natural waistline and falls shorter than the length of the dress’ actual skirt.
WORN TODAY: If you shop Forever 21, you may have noticed the fast fashion chain’s serious penchant for the peplum last spring.
The peplum is a great girlie touch on top of a skin-tight dress because it adds structure and volume, also helping slender, petite girls accentuate their waist line for a more curvy body look.
Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage
You don’t know her today, but Diane Freis was a highly coveted department store based designer brand from 1983 (when she released her dresses stateside after launching the brand first in Hong Kong) into the 1990s.
Once you know her design personality, it’s not too hard to recognize a Diane Freis dress. Like Pucci, her abstract floral prints are unmistakable and intended for girls of bold personalities.
Her dresses are usually mid-length (below the knee) and cut to skim the waist and flow loose and billowy everywhere else.
WORN TODAY: A Diane Freis dress isn’t quite office or day appropriate, but you can certainly channel this luxury ’80s brand (with inflation in consideration, her dresses average $1,000 each today) for evening rooftop affairs (like blogger Fashion Park Station above) or as a fresh dance frock at a forthcoming Fleetwood Mac reunion tour!
Stonewash Denim Jacket – My Own!
You can’t not think of stonewash denim when you think of the ’80s, and rightfully so because the trend of stonewash literally was invented by an Italian ’80s denimwear company after late ’70s punk rockers were spotted bleaching their jeans in rebellion of the fashion trends.
Head banger rock bands like Motley Crue and AC/DC popularized the wash to the mainstream during the early ’80s, and before you knew it every groupie girl was buying her own version of this stonewash-acid wash light denim look.
WORN TODAY: Roll your eyes if you will, but stonewash is stellar and definitely here to stay as a modern trend of 2012. I’ve been seeing the wash in contemporary stores, and many a vintage store in NYC is now carrying a small selection of stonewash denim jackets, skirts and high-waisted pants.
The stonewash skirt is a great choice for the girl who loves to layer in denim, as you can wear dark denim on top with a white tee and the stonewash below, as seen on Revival Vintage to the left.
Fashion blogger Natural Beings rolled the cuffs of her thrifted high-waisted stonewash jeans. She kept it low-key and contemporary chic with sneakers, leather belt and a striped tee.
Jumpsuit Available from Hinesite Vintage
The jumpsuit originated in trend from the 1940s and found its way back into the fashion consciousness in a good (or arguably bad!) way in the 1970s.
By the 1980s, the jumpsuit went super casual with the era’s love of all-things-denim, and designer denim brands like GUESS? were producing 100% denim jumpsuits with long sleeves, high necklines and tapered legs!
WORN TODAY: The denim jumpsuit of today is a personality piece that with colorful accessories – like fashion blogger Beckerman Bite Plate so brilliantly does with her red pairings – need not look like you’re wearing a trucker’s uniform or something pulled from your mom’s closet (although honestly, that’s OK too!)
I love how Miss Beckerman is wearing her pinstripe denim onesie with light grey heels and silver-white bangles on both arms. Down to her bold red lip, she’s consciously styled her ’80s garb for an appearance that doesn’t scream the era.
Sweater Available from Hinesite Vintage
Coogi brand sweaters were bright and bold knits that were very expensive and therefore a status symbol, especially amongst rappers of the ’90s (RIP Notorious BIG!).
The mixed knit color and pattern trend inspired the entire era’s trend of over-the-top patterned sweaters, also known as a “Cosby” sweaters because actor Bill Cosby wore them so often on “The Cosby Show” during the decade.
They look a bit like your Grandmother took a psychedelic trip and busted out her knitting needles for creative expression, but these sweaters retailed for hundreds of dollars in their day and are still considered the “cool girl-guy” sweater of today when styled with modern influences in mind.
WORN TODAY: When wearing a Coogi sweater one might as well dress with Coogi confidence, which is exactly what fashion blogger Teffopia is doing here mixing Coogi knits with leopard print pants and the ombre coloring of her hip length braided hair.
Since the sweaters are more masculine in cut, pairing one with fitted trousers and slipper shoes feels right in place of a jacket on a cool fall day.
Blazer Available from Hinesite Vintage
Ugh, shoulder pads! I totally understand — it’s quite alright if you are thinking that right now!
I for one cut the shoulder pads out of practically every ’80s garment I’ve ever owned. I just don’t have the frame for them plus the style isn’t always embraced by the times.
That’s not to say shoulder pads won’t come back (have you seen the September 2012 issue of Vogue? Lots of ’80s influences!) or that the power-padded blazer can’t be worn appropriately with today’s style in mind.
For the working girls of 1980s corporate America, the masculine styling of the padded oversize blazer was a confidence booster in an era when women were making greater leaps and bounds in their careers than ever before.
The style represented a shift in the expectations of females: They could be the CEOs and wear the pants with a blazer, just like the men in the office.
WORN TODAY: The ’80s blazer is a great compliment to the high-shorts trend. Wear a longer style (with or without the shoulder pads – up to you!) that hits right above the bottom hem of high-waisted shorts.
Pair with a solid colored button-up below and heels for a professional look that’s fashionably fierce, not sexy secretary.
BUY IT: ’80s Bold Red Power Blazer ($105) by Erstwhile Style on Etsy
Jacket Available from Hinesite Vintage
So much of ’80s styling was dressing in oversize “top” garments, and the batwing jacket and sweater trend is one of these oversize examples.
This particular type of sleeve is like wearing a free waist skirt — it doesn’t matter how big your arm is, it just fits! Spread your arms out like a bird and it looks like you could fly away with those wings, baby!
WORN TODAY: While the ’80s girl may have worn batwing jackets, tops and sweaters with skintight leggings and legwarmers below, the modern girl is better choosing a pretty patterned batwing garment (like these polka dots above) and pairing with a simple pencil skirt and stellar heels.
Since you’re covering so much of your upper body and creating the allusion of more volume than you actually have, showing off some skin below balances your silhouette and prevents you from looking like an oversized mess!
BUY IT: ’80s Cobalt Blue Batwing Jacket/Top ($72.54) by Honeymoon Muse on Etsy
Dress Available from Hinesite Vintage
The LBD was revolutionized in the ’80s toward “Old Hollywood” glam style.
The difference between the LBD of eras before and that of the ’80s is how the 1980s focused styling from the chest up and along the dress’s neckline.
Since the shoulder was officially an area of attention for the ’80s, sleeves were more prominent on black dresses as was a decorative neckline of more than just your average scoop line or sequin trim. The neck was where all attention centered — and it held a style stage all its own!
The rest of the dress was typically cut straight to the floor (Old Hollywood) or had a very prominent slit for leg exposure.
This was another example of how the ’80s did the ’40s, since Old Hollywood is a direct reference to the Golden Era of 1940s film and its many female celebrities who graced us with their glamorous fashion personas.
WORN TODAY: The ’80s LBD is the ultimate street stopper of dresses. You’re not so bold and bright that you feel like a circus freak, but heck yes people going to give you a double look as you enter the party!
I modeled an ’80s black dress from Olive’s Very Vintage last spring. The front slit was a delight, and such a different feel from the modern “side” slit used to draw direct attention the leg. But with this slit’s positioning, it’s key that a lady cross her legs when she sits!
The sequined shoulders are perfect for those party photos too, since most shots enter around the neckline and up. That’s why the ’80s dress is truly the ultimate socialite stunner (eat your heart out, Gossip Girl!)
MORE 1980s CLOTHING
1980s CLOTHING: ’80s Edwardian Blouse, ’80s Greek Key Blazer, ’80s Fishtail Skirt & ’80s Bustier
FASHION: My ’80s Dresses Shoot with Olive’s Very Vintage
PHOTOSHOOT: An ’80s Fashion Photoshoot Like No Other on Mirror80
HISTORY: Get Decade Crazy on Like Totally ’80s!
’80s FUN: My New Favorite Website All About ’80s Fashion Dress
’80s VINTAGE: How to Date 1980s Clothing When Shopping Thrift
TRENDS: Why ’80s Fashion Trends Are So Memorable by The Great ’80s