Wearing a dress from the ’80s doesn’t mean you have to look like Molly Ringwald from Pretty and Pink or a glam-trash version of Madonna from the beginnings of her career.
The 1980s was an era of excessive energy and showstopping style that while at first glance may seem intimidating, has a time and place for the modern girls’ wardrobe of today. So when I began brainstorming looks for my personal retrospect of ’80s dresses I love, I wanted to showcase the vintage style that spoke to the decade’s trends but were 100 percent wearable for 2012, too.
In my search for the perfect ’80s dresses I discovered Very Olive’s Vintage, a women’s trendy vintage boutique stocked with a gorgeous vintage collection from the turn of the century through the ’90s.
Olive’s owner Jen welcomed me into her warm, cozy store to check her racks for great ’80s dresses to model on the streets of Carroll Gardens, the adorable Brooklyn neighborhood her shop has called home for 11 years.
<< CHECK ‘EM OUT! The best 1980s vintage clothing trends you love to remember, wear and (perhaps) chuckle at
After much deliberation, I chose 5 dresses from Olive’s that speak to wearable trends from the ’80s. Keep reading after the jump to see the dresses I chose to model, and to learn more about the style ethos of this like totally awesome era!
I was born in 1986, so I never had the chance to live ’80s fashion firsthand. Perhaps that’s why today, I find myself drawn to its exaggerated shapes, abstract prints, bold primary colors, shiny sequins and over-the-top glamour.
I’d love to know how you feel about the ’80s! Did you love the ’80s when you lived it, or are you re-living the styles today?
Puff Sleeved Primary Colored Dress
THE STYLE: A body conscious party frock with a mixed geometric and floral print. I could call it a dress, but calling it a “frock” sounds so much more fitting for the fun occasion you’d surely want to wear it for!
It fits a girls’ curves well thanks to divine tailoring similar to the style of a ’50s wiggle dress. I definitely “wiggled” a bit wearing it as I walked to our photoshoot location!
WHY I LOVE IT: I enjoy capturing my vibrant personality in the clothing I wear, so the bright colors grabbed my attention first. And then I spotted the sequin treatment along the exaggerated puff sleeves and I was hooked!
The design is a showstopping style without looking like a costume. Rather, it just looks you wanna have a good time without having to say a word — your dress says it all!
HOW IT FITS ’80s TRENDS: The exotic, ethnic-inspired hues of the ’70s were pushed aside for bold primary colors a la red, green and blue in the ’80s. It was like every dress you wore was somehow inspired by a Kindergarten art teacher’s dream closet!
Maybe the era’s love for primary colors is why street art found its way into ’80s fashion. This dresses’ floral design on geometric colorblock print reminds me of strokes made from a can of spray paint. This dress was probably influenced by Vivienne Westwood’s 1983 “Witches” collection, which adopted the graffiti art of Keith Haring into its designs.
Find your ideal style by searching for ’80s puff sleeve dress on Ebay.
Sequin Shoulder Black Dress
THE STYLE: It’s a LBD (long black dress) re-imagined for a decade of power dressing, power cocktail hour and the birth of the diva. The wife of a CEO would rock this black dress to the firm’s quarterly board meeting and no one would dare blink an eye.
WHY I LOVE IT: To me, this dress literally drips sex. It was so tight that I wasn’t sure if it was going to zip up the back. Thankfully it zipped to the top, but not before I had to take a deep breath and suck it all in. I felt like a millionaire’s wife wearing this stunner!
HOW IT FITS ’80s TRENDS: The formal dress re-emerged as a fashion staple in the ’80s, and women fought to make the party statement at the era’s popular black-tie events.
For the woman who demands you hear her roar, this fitted, body-conscious silhouette complete with a sexy front slit represents how the ’80s mixed masculine touches with old style Hollywood glamour and remarkably structured shapes.
The sleeves are a crystal-studded scallop design that speak to the era’s penchant for excess while making me appear broader, as if I were wearing the shoulders of a bull-fighting Matadaor.
Then there’s the sharp shape of the dress, which takes no prisoners with its tightly cut bust and waist (suck it in ladies!) that flares slightly into a straight skirt that reminds me of a split Greek column.
GET IT VINTAGE: This long black ’80s dress captures the glam of the era and conforms to your body with sultry drapes. And then there’s this version by a very ’80s Oscar De La Renta that I’m loving for its 3-D shoulder effects.
Find your ideal style by searching for ’80s black dresses on Ebay.
Polka Dot Ra-Ra Skirt Dress
THE STYLE: A white-on-navy “ra-ra” skirt style polka dot dress that was (and still is!) perfect for the lady who brunches and lunches with girlfriends, clients and any boy who has time to fall in between.
WHY I LOVE IT: This dress felt like I was wearing a modern piece circa 2012. Unless you look at the designer’s tag, it’s hard to tell that this piece is actually vintage.
I love the name of the dress’ skirt as much as I love the style itself, which reminds me of something a city chic lady would wear to her girlfriends-only Sunday brunch or a single lady’s date lunch. It’s sexy and sophisticated without “screaming” either.
HOW IT FITS ’80s TRENDS: Polka dots were one of the most popular patterns of the late ’80s after designer Caroline Herrera embraced them as an integral style element in her womenswear collections.
Remember Julia Roberts wearing a polka dot dress in the iconic polo match scene of Pretty Woman? Released in 1990, the movie’s styles represented the trends of the late ’80s — polka dots included.
The skirt style of the dress is called a “ra-ra,” a two-to-three tiered skirt that resembles a layered tutu. The ra-ra style became standard dress for the girl of 1986-1987 according to Emma Baxter-Wright, author of Vintage Fashion.
Find your ideal style by searching for ’80s polka dot dresses on Ebay.
Red & White Sequin Hibiscus Dress
THE STYLE: It’s the LRCD (Little Red Cocktail Dress) that’s studded with sequins, exudes stylish sass and fits the body like a glove.
It’s designed with a sequin decoration of red swirls and white hibiscus flowers which gives the dress a tropical edge, but without feeling like you should actually wear it in the islands.
WHY I LOVE IT: Its body conscious fit reminds me of ’80s designer Thierry Mugler’s influence combined with a little bit of 1977’s Saturday Night Fever.
I’m not sure how much actual booty shaking I could do in this sassy number (it was pretty tight!) but at least I’d turn heads wearing this number to the party!
’80s FASHION IMPACT: Wearing sequins dresses wasn’t a new idea for women in the ’80s, but wearing sequins to a cocktail party was.
Sequin dresses went from longer below-the-knee to maxi styles in the ’70s to mini and above-the-knee styles in the ’80s. Previously worn to capture the lights of a glittering disco ball on the floors of a ’70s discotheque, the style transcended new limits to become a trend for ’80s evening attire.
In other words, you didn’t have to shake your behind just to wear some sparkly shine — you could do so in a sophisticated, socially-acceptable fashion thanks to the era’s ethos of excess!
Find your ideal style by searching for ’80s red sequin dress on Ebay.
Abstract Shirtwaist Dress
THE STYLE: This is a ’80s-does-’50s shirtwaist dress with a button-up bodice and double pockets at the chest. It comes with convenient waist pockets and an excuse to smile loud and proud when wearing!
WHY I LOVE IT: I almost didn’t model this dress for the shoot. When I first saw it on the rack at Olive’s, I felt the print was too wacky for the modern girl and that you’d be turned off once you saw the dress on. So I was shocked when after putting it on, I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw — crazy print and all!
To give it a more modern fit, I rolled up the batwing sleeves so it wasn’t as oversized on top, which while a style element of the ’80s isn’t always a flattering look for today.
’80s FASHION IMPACT: According to the book Vintage Fashion, vivid prints were at the forefront of ’80s styles thanks to designers’ affections for them. I’ve interpreted this particular abstract pattern to be a mix of Art Nouveau’s swirls blended with the structured shapes of geometric prints.
Also worth noting is the tiny bit of fuschia pink appearing around the waist of the dress. Fuchsia became a trendy color during the ’80s. You can find entire garments (blazers, pants, dresses, you name it!) in a solid fuchsia color.
Technically called “magenta,” the color fuchsia was invented in the 1890s. A brighter, more electric version of the color was invented for computer design in the ’80s (source), which I believe may have impacted the growth of this color trend.
GET IT VINTAGE: If dresses had family, this ’80s abstract print shirtwaist dress would be my version’s cousin … minus the abundance of colors!
Find your ideal style by searching for ’80s shirtwaist dress on Ebay.
Thank you to Olive’s Very Vintage for loaning vintage clothing for creation of this article.
MORE FROM THE ’80s
Where to buy: 1980s Fashion
WAYS TO WEAR:’80s Edwardian Blouse, ’80s Greek Key Blazer, ’80s Fishtail Skirt & ’80s Bustier
SHOPPING: Buy the Best ’80s Dresses on Etsy
FUN HISTORY: Get Decade Crazy on Like Totally ’80s!
SOURCE: My Vintage Fashion Bible by Emma Baxter-Wright