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21 Iconic Retro Outfits for Female 80s Fashion

CEO Tinh Phung
With eye-straining leotards, power suits, blends of Punk and Preppy clothes, dramatic earrings, and acid-washed denim, the 80s fashion created more style icons than any previous decade. In the 80s, there were no dressing constraints:...

With eye-straining leotards, power suits, blends of Punk and Preppy clothes, dramatic earrings, and acid-washed denim, the 80s fashion created more style icons than any previous decade. In the 80s, there were no dressing constraints: oversized sunglasses with power suit jackets, miniskirts with fitness sneakers, thick socks, and thick belts. Time to relive the 21 most iconic 80s retro outfits and looks for women you can wear today.

1/21 Power Suits

80s Power Suits 1980s power suits were the perfect look to represent powerful businesswomen. Joan Collins (TV Star); Alexa Singer (Model - US Vogue October 1985); Rosie Vela (Supermodel).

The Power Suit or 'power dressing' for women was all the rage in the 80s. The trend was created by celebrities and movie stars playing influential, power-hungry career women. Grace Jones' sharply-tailored suits with broad padded shoulders inspired the 'girl power' and cross-dressing movement of the 1980s - an inspiration for artists such as Annie Lennox, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Solange, and Lorde. Also, as a sign that women were rising through the ranks, Britain was run by Margaret Thatcher, the country's first-ever female prime minister.

2/21 Oversized Shoulder Pads

Padded Shoulder Dresses in 80s fashion A more subtle vibe of power was conveyed via the '80s padded shoulder dresses. Joan Collins; Dolly Parton (1987); Brooke Shields; Princess Diana.

The shoulder pads were an influential trend in the 80s fashion that dress designers even adopted. Notable shoulder pads matched vaporous dresses with puffed sleeves to create unique geometric shapes and cuts.

3/21 Leg Warmers & Socks

80s fashion - eighties leg warmers and leggings, 1980s aerobic clothes Leg warmers conquered the 80s fashion, from cinema screens to books and VHS covers - Jamie Lee Curtis's iconic 80s aerobic clothes in Perfect (1985), Jane Fonda's workout books & videos (1986 & 1987).

The 80s fashion trends were influenced by the times' stars and celebrities, promoting fitness and aerobic exercises on TV. Olivia Newton-John and Jane Fonda's appearances (Flashdance in particular) turned legwarmers into every woman's fashion statement. Aerobic outfits, gym leggings, oversized sweaters, and even skinny jeans for women were all garments that required legwarmers as a finishing touch.

4/21 Leather Jackets (rolled-up sleeves)

80s Leather Jackets with Sleeves Rolled Up 80s leather jackets with rolled-up sleeves were popularized by music stars such as Micheal Jackson, Jon Bon Jovi, and Morten Harket.

Worn by music and movie stars such as Bon Jovi, Madonna, Cher, Tom Cruise (Top Gun), and Morten Harket, leather jackets were a must-have in the 80s. However, the 80s most popular leather jacket styles had large, padded shoulders and were worn with the sleeves rolled up, and Michael Jackson's Thriller look is the perfect example. Other popular 80s leather jacket styles were the double rider and cafe-racer jackets, with an option to customize them to your liking.

5/21 Preppy Attire

80s Preppy Fashion Style 80s preppy look, known as 'Yuppie Student,' was the look of affluent college students, displayed in many 80s movies such as Heathers (1988) and promoted by 80s American fashion brands such as Ralph Lauren, Bert Pulitzer, and Tommy Hilfiger.

The 80s was also the decade of designers focusing on creating comfortable preppy styles. Brands like Polo, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein launched college-styled jackets, trousers, and shirts in pastel colors with stripes. In the 80s, preppy-style shirts (seen in 'Light Academia') were worn as formal button-downs with chinos or smart casual polo shirts.

6/21 Slogan T-shirts

80s Statement Tees After the anti-war 70s movements, the slogan tees became activists' weapon of choice. Some of the most iconic fashion statement t-shirts of the 80s were 'CHOOSE LIFE' by George Michael & Andrew Ridgeley Due, Wham!, Katharine Hamnett's 'SAVE THE WORLD' oversized tee, 'WAR' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood band.

Statement tees, also called slogan t-shirts, are another 80s fashion-defining moment, beautifully exemplified by Katharine Hamnett's pieces. The designer's anti-nuclear-missiles T-shirt, worn while meeting then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984, is now part of 80s fashion history. The trend of slogans printed on t-shirts was adopted by Pepsi, Nike, Adidas, and Guess after realizing the advertising power of printed logos on T-shirts.

7/21 Mini Skirts (with thick belts)

Mini Skirts of the 80s fashion The 80s mini skirt trend was popular with celebrities worldwide: Italian singer Sabrina Salerno - the Argentinian comedy High Heels (Tacos Altos) in 1985; and American actress Victoria Principal in her favorite office look.

The 80s was the decade of mini skirts, skater skirts, and Rah-rah's made from denim and spandex (see Kylie Minogue's high-shine minidresses). Matched with go-go boots, mini skirts were first seen in 1960s fashion. But the mini-skirt & thick waist belt trend peaked in the mid-80s - sometimes matched with legwarmers and/or leggings or augmented with layers of net and lace, Madonna-style.

8/21 Polka Dot Dresses

80s Fashion Polka Dots patterns on dresses The 'polka dots' dress trend stormed the 80s runways thanks to Emanuel Ungaro's Summer-Spring collection in 1985 and Yves Saint Laurent's Summer-Spring 1986, and celebrities loved the look; see Princess Diana's royal tour of Japan in 1986 and polka dot dress at Ascot in 1988.

Popular in the 1940s fashion days and the early part of the 50s fashion days, the trend of dresses, skirts, and tops with polka dot prints resurfaced in the 80s with a vengeance. The French fashion house Emanuel Ungaro brought the pattern back on its SS 1985 ready-to-wear collection, fast adopted by royalty, pop stars, and cinema celebrities alike. Princess Diana loved sporting polka-dot skirts; the Strawberry Switchblade pop duo had them on big PVC belts, and Claudia Cardinale had them on her characteristic dresses with tie necklines.

9/21 Animal Prints

Animal Prints in the 80s fashion After reaching peak popularity in the 60s, 'Animal Prints' returned to the 80s fashion scene, popularized by 80s celebrities like Joan Collins and Bon Jovi and iconic fashion shows such as Yves Saint Laurent F/W 1982/83 runway.

Even in the 80s, wearing natural animal skin was encouraged. However, that didn't deter celebrities from wearing over-the-top animal prints on every imaginable outfit and style. From leggings to handbags, skirts, and sunglasses, bold prints of leopard, zebra, tiger, giraffe, and python were the rage.

10/21 Oversized Eyewear

Oversized Eyewear 80s Some of the most iconic 80s oversized glasses and sunglasses are Jane Fonda's famous red spectacles at the 'Genocide' Beverly Hills Premiere in 1983; Sammy Davis Jr.'s 80s oversized glasses, Cindy Crawford's oversized Cateye sunglasses for Laura Biagiotti magazine in 1987; Arnold Schwarzenegger's famous oversized sunglasses in the first 'Terminator' movie in 1985; Robert Redford's oversized glasses in 1981. Meg Ryan's geeky spectacles in 'When Harry Met Sally' in 1989, and Michael J. Fox's oversized aviator sunglasses in 'Back To The Future' in 1985.

Most fashionable sunglasses in the 1980s had giant frames and sported colored or mirror lenses. Some of the most popular 80s sunglasses frames were oversized Wayfarers and Aviators by Rayban. Yet, depending on your social circle, you could spot Gucci, Cartier, and Vuarnet in large frames.

11/21 Avantgarde Outfits

80s asymmetric silhouettes Asymmetric silhouettes were introduced to the catwalks by iconic fashion designers such as Pierre Cardin for the 1984 and 1987 Haute Couture Spring/Summer collections, Claude Montana for the Genny 1984 collection, and the Australian designer Katie Pye.

Thierry Mugler's spring 1983 ready-to-wear show is the best example of clothes in which one side is different. Molly Ringwald, a famous Hollywood actor of the 80s, best exemplified the advent of avant-garde looks with asymmetric cuts. Some key characteristics of avant-garde design include shoulder bodices, slanted hemlines, or necklines, often seen nowadays in Japanese streetwear.

12/21 Leotards and Bodysuits

80s Leotards & Bodysuits Leotards and bodysuits were the fitness fashion statements of the time, sported by the 80s Aerobic stars like Gilda Marx and Jane Fonda to the National Aerobic Championship Theme of 1988, and even 80s famous gymnasts like Nadia Comăneci.

After the influence of drugs and freedom of "flower power" of the 70s fashion wore off, the 80s started as a self-conscious decade. Jane Fonda took advantage of women's obsession with dance and exercise with fitness videos showcasing an extensive collection of brightly colored bodysuits. With the help of music divas like Cher, promoting and selling sportswear apparel in bold colors became an 80s thing. What we nowadays call athleisure once started as leotards and bodysuits, a functional form of fashion.

13/21 Double Denim

80s Double Denim Fashion 'Double Denim' was a big eighties look, particularly vintage Levis jackets; see Johny Depp's denim vest & torn jeans, Whitney Houston's oversized Levi's denim jacket with high waist mom jeans, or John Stamos' aviator Levi's denim jacket with rolled-up sleeves.

The 80s double denim style craze is the best example of celebrity power shaping and still shapes the current fashion trends. Levi's 501 jeans campaign involved top celebs of those times, such as Nick Kamen, who had a top 5 hit single in 1986, written and produced by Madonna and Stephen Bray. The trend of pairing double denim jackets with high-waisted jeans continued until the end of the 80s, thanks to Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King, and Percy Sledge boosting Levi's sales and vinyl records.

14/21 High-Top Trainers (with thick socks)

80s Thick Socks With High-Top Trainers Wearing thick socks with high-top trainers was part of the cool-casual outfits of the 80s. The look was trendy among 80s young hip-hop stars such as Salt-N-Pepa.

In a trend started by fitness celebrities that moved from gyms to 80s catwalks, thick socks, layered socks, and even socks with lace edging were an 80's fashion statement for the girls. Neon socks worn over another pair and matched with trainers were popular in various contexts, at the gym, meeting with friends, and even at the office. As the idea of wearing socks everywhere became popular, ankle socks worn with heels started to emerge, from movie clips on MTV to movies and the catwalks.

15/21 Colored Sheer Tights

80s Sheer Tights From nude to neon, sheer tights appeared in various colors in the 80s, designed to match different outfits, from casual wear to formal clothes, mini skirts to power dresses, and heels to high-top kicks.

In the 80s, wearing short skirts to show off your legs was very cool - see Debbie Harry's chic little black dresses accessorized with striking hosiery. Initially, sheer tights had neutral colors - like brown during the day and black in the evening for a more natural look. Influenced by the growing fitness craze, sheer colored tights became a thing in the mid-eighties, with many top fashion brands creating colored stockings. The colored sheer tights trend continued into the 90s fashion, worn at the office and dinner events.

16/21 Stirrup Pants and Leggings

Stirrup Pants & Leggings Designed for comfort and simplicity, 80s stirrup pants and leggings were some of the most loved 80s styles, worn as either the gym or casual outfit pants.

Stirrups are light metallic frames hanging on each side of a saddle, used to support mounting or riding. Stirrup pants borrow the concept by having a material strap at the end of the foot to hold the pants in place. Given their construct, stirrup pants were trendy in the 80s in sporting activities such as aerobics, ballet, and dancing, eventually permeating daily fashion looks. Towards the end of the eighties, women of all ages could be seen wearing leggings and stirrup pants matched with large t-shirts or comfortable oversized sweaters.

17/21 Lace Clothing (with religious accessories)

80s Lace gloves One of the most famous 'lace fashion' moments of the 80s was Madonna's iconic appearance on MTV in 1984, wearing a lace dress and lace gloves. Joan Collins contributed to the 80s lace fashion trend as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty (1983).

After Madonna launched her global hit "Like a Virgin" on MTV in 1984, lace dresses and gloves became an instant fashion statement throughout the 80s. The trend can be seen everywhere, even in movies, and one of the most popular characters in the style was Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, played by Joan Collins.

18/21 Harem Pants

80s Harem Pants fashion 'Harem Pants' became popular in the 80s thanks to MC Hammer, a look quickly adopted by many eighties Hollywood stars such as Demi Moore and Donna Summer.

Originally known as a harem skirt, Parisian designer Paul Poiret introduced these pants to Western fashion circles in 1910. Long, baggy, with a very low drop-crotch and fitted at the ankle, harem pants were also known as the MC Hammer pants. In psychedelic colors and dizzying patterns, harem pants are another look that makes 80s fashion unforgettable and unique.

19/21 High-cut Swimsuits

90s High-cut Swimsuits Showcased in the 1987 issue of Sports Illustrated and Christy Turlington's photoshoot by Gilles Bensimon for US Elle's 1987 June issue - high-cut swimsuits were the dominant swimwear of the 1980s, trendy among 80s celebrities like Sybil Danning.

Some of the most popular swimsuits of the 80s had a high-cut one-piece, like the babes on the original Baywatch series used to wear. The high cut was designed to elongate the legs while the waist tucked everything into a slimmer silhouette, whether there's a bit of weight on the hips or tummy.

20/21 Punk Outfits

80s Post-punk fashion 80s UK music culture shifted from punk to giving birth to the post-punk fashion era that included new stylistic movements such as Goth and Indie. The post-punk fashion trend of the 80s was led by unorthodox fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood.

Inspired by London's skinhead culture of the 60s, the 80s punk fashion style had a milder, more enigmatic look. The softer variations of post-punk 80s fashion were influenced by a blend of Skinhead culture with other cultures and musical trends, from Goth Rock to Glam Rock and Psychedelic Rock. Also, the Goth fashion style became very popular in the late 80s as the post-punk movement grew.

21/21 Acid Washed Denim

80s Acid Washed Jeans In the eighties, acid-washed jeans were the norm, from Renée Simonsen's vintage 80s Bonjour acid-wash mom jeans and denim jacket to 'Saved By The Bell' sitcom of the late 1980s.

Very popular in the 80s rock fashion, distressed, acid-wash jeans were everywhere in the mid to late 80s and early 90s. Invented by the Rifle Jeans company in Italy, washing denim with chlorine and using a pumice stone to distress the material. Loved by heavy metal and rock bands, 80s acid-washed jeans were matched with biker jackets or fringe jackets (cowboy/country music style leather jackets with lots of tassels). The acid-washed denim was so popular that even non-rock acts such as Bros and Salt N' Pepa jumped on it, triggering brands like Jordache, Guess, Wrangler, Levi's, and Gitano to create limited collections and collab pieces.

80s Fashion Trends - Key Takeaway

The eighties were a decade of fashion trends that people 'loved to hate,' as you saw in our gallery of iconic '80s outfits. Hair was teased and permed to the limits, voluminously styled, and sometimes crimped; make-up was bold with clashing colors, almost like face paint.

1980s fashion styles were also about flaunting money - wearing top designer brands, preppy style outfits, and loud logos to showcase one's wealth and status. Nevertheless, the 80s influence has shaped not only that decade's culture and fashion looks but also the styles we wear today. Many of the 80s fashion styles are back in 2023, such as power dressing, denim overalls, and leather jackets. The music television channels (MTV launched in 1981) and the first generation of personal computers (1st Apple Computer launched in 1984) significantly influenced the looks of 80s fashion. Music clips particularly influenced 80s fashion and American TV shows such as Dynasty and Dallas - think power suits, shoulder pads, and fine jewelry worn by Alexis and Krystle Carrington. Madonna, Joan Jett, and Cher's video clips inspired teenagers to wear biker leather jackets and ripped tights assorted with punk-styled bracelets, studs, spikes, and chains. Similarly, Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner's polished looks left marks on 80s women's fashion with asymmetric aesthetics, oversized blazers, and poof skirts. And let's not forget the influence that Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton-John's fitness clips had on teen girls, even wearing sheer tights and legwarmers everywhere, with anything.

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