NYC Fashion Week Vintage Flashback: The Runway of the ’80s & ’90s

February 15th, 2011



supermodel iman on cover of vintage vogue and cosmopolitan magazines

Hello and happy Tuesday everyone … and to those who have been following the stylish drama of the past few days, happy day 6 of New York City Fashion Week 2011!!

I’ve been streaming the shows from the solitude of my Manhattan apartment, reflecting and blogging yesterday on how the trends of today were inspired by yesterday, and for today’s post, on the differences between the runway shows of the past and what we see today.

New York City Fashion Week was established in 1942 during WWII to provide an outlet for American journalists to stay connected to the world of fashion because they were unable to visit then German-occupied Paris for the Parisian shows.

The fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert organized the event to feature American designers, which up until that point, were neglected in promotion and appreciation by the fashion press — preference had previously been given to the French designs. It was thanks to “press week” that American designers were given a voice and platform to launch their designs, setting the stage for what has grown to encompass American fashion today.

I turned to YouTube to watch vintage footage from the runway shows of the ’80s and ’90s. The main differences I found were in the execution of “showing” the clothes themselves. Runway models of today, for example, are stoic/expressionless walking mannequins.

Speaking for the NYC shows only, you’ll notice that models only walk to the end of the runway and return back. As they are turning back from the top of the runway, another model emerges from behind the wall. At the end of a show, all models return at once in single file to give the audience a look at the “entire collection.”

Runway shows from 20 to 30 years ago had models twirling, spinning, smiling and at times … dancing! There was a lot more face time for models, as many of them posted against the back wall and then upon their turn, walked to the tip of a “T” runway that was actually elevated, instead of the grounded straight single-file runway we see today.

Because models stood on the stage for the duration of the show, the audience had more time to examine the outfits and to absorb the collection as a whole. Plus, models could walk closer to the either side of the audience and almost “flirt” with their moves. ¬†Watching the YouTubes videos, you’ll just notice how much more personal it all seemed.

These are some of the most noticeable differences — but more exist, including placement of photographers, music selection, models’ look & ethnic background and the shape and feel of the show itself.

Keep reading after the jump to watch a few clips of now vintage fashion shows, including ’80s flashbacks of supermodel Iman, designers Louis Feraud and Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior circa spring 1987 and a 1992 clip of Dolce & Gabbana. Even if you aren’t a fashion week follower, these clips are worth watching for a refreshing take on how fun & vibrant runway shows used to be … and with some coaxing, still CAN be today!

My style philosophy? Do what makes you feel good. While fashion week is more serious and less sensational than years past, technology has opened the floodgate for more “ordinary” fashionistas like you and I to participate and take our own inspiration from the shows without having to wait around for the latest fashion media to tell us what to think.

In the end, the best style is that of your own thought — and a few bright smiles at just how the clothes you wear can make you feel good and do great.

xx, SD


Pierre Balmain Fall 1986



Note how the photographers are literally in the audience — today photographers are nowhere to be seen in an audience of fashion elite, editors and insiders. Photographers are now placed at the top of the runway in a stage of their own. Technology has influenced this change — digital zoom works wonders!


Louis Feraud 1986



Note how the stage is a “T” shape.


Christian Dior haute couture spring/summer 1987 in Paris, France



Filmed in Paris, where couture design reigned and in style translation that means, “anything goes.”


Supermodel Iman on the Runway 1989



Watch how Iman struts and shakes her hips here.


Dolce & Gabanna 1992



Some of the models had cigarettes hanging out of their mouths — not sure if we would see that on the runway today!

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2 Comments

  1. Nancy Little says:

    Thanks for sharing the 80’s shows. I am loving some of those Louis Feraud clothes. We all know I’m an 80’s child! :)

    [Reply]

  2. Tilly says:

    I love your website, It’s helped me so much with my Essay on 1980’s Fashion. Thank’s so much for posting all this, its amazing what kinds of changes have been made.

    [Reply]

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