top of page

A brief history of fashion: The 1980s

Ah, the 80s. Whenever my teenage niblings tease me about being “old” my response is always the same: “Yes, but if I wasn’t this age I wouldn’t have lived through the 80s, and I wouldn’t have missed that for anything.”

Yes, it was the decade of Reagan, Thatcher, materialism and consumerism, and the rise of the yuppie. There was the Cold War, a devastating famine in Africa that inspired the Live Aid concerts, and the AIDS crisis.

But the 80s were also hella FUN. And never more so than when it came to fashion.

Madonna showcasing about 10 different 80s trends. Pic:
Madonna goes all in: The pop queen was known to combine different 80s trends in just one fit. Pic:

After the hippie/disco/punk movements of the 70s, suddenly everyone was wearing neon colours, oversized blazers and Guess jeans. Not to mention lace, taffeta, harem pants (thank you, MC Hammer) and crazy bold makeup that made even teens look 45.

Here are just some of the popular trends from a bold, glamorous and flashy decade when hair was bigger, and shoulder pads even bigger:


The quintessential 80s jeans were high-waisted and acid washed. And teamed with an oversized (and matching) jacket for a bit of double denim drama.


T-shirts were either baggy or cropped, and just about every style of top was worn off one shoulder. Bright colours, geometric prints and the occasional bit of fishnet were all de rigueur, or you could channel Princess Di and wear a shirt with a big pussycat bow at the neck. The 80s fashion also bought us the statement tee, sporting slogans like: “Choose Life” or “Frankie Says Relax”.


A classic 80s silhouette was an oversized, loose fitting sweatshirt or T-shirt, preferably worn off one shoulder, maybe with a low-slung belt, but definitely with black leggings/stirrup pants. Madonna fan? Lace leggings were the go, worn with a miniskirt (and fingerless lace gloves).


The absolute best thing to wear with a pair of black leggings? A neon top. And socks. And jewellery. And headband. Seriously, neon was everywhere in the 80s.

Workout gear

It’s impossible to overstate how popular aerobics was in the 80s. And with the aerobics craze came workout fashion: brightly coloured leotards and tights, worn with off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, leg warmers, belts (yes, really) and permed hair sporting a headband, scrunchie or both.

1980s style icons coin the bold workout fashion
Who's who? All these women were MAJORLY famous in the 1980s? Bonus points to Millenials and Gen Z if you can name them. Pic:


A favourite fabric for workout gear was Spandex. It was tight, it was shiny, and it came in ALL the colours and patterns. But it wasn't just for working out. Thanks to hiphop artists, Spandex was also worn with things like eight-ball leather jackets, high tops, big gold chains and a Casio watch. Or, courtesy of glam metal bands like Van Halen, Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe, with lots of leather studded belts, big hair – and the occasional codpiece lol. Yep, pretty much everyone wore Spandex in the 80s.

The power suit

The 80s also brought us 'power dressing' and the iconic power suit for females: a straight, conservative skirt, boxy blazer and EPIC shoulder pads. They were worn with spiked heels in the office – and with sneakers on the commute to and from the office, à la Melanie Griffith in the movie Working Girl.

Cindy Crawford wearing a power suit with epic shoulder pads. Photo:
Cindy Crawford rocking a power suit. Photo:

There are so many different/brilliant/hilarious looks from this decade, but however different they are, they all scream '1980s'. It's a strong aesthetic that the fashion world has turned to again and again for inspiration (case in point: double denim is bang on trend again in 2023).

We're totally here for it. :)

Love the #AF team


See you on the runway!



bottom of page