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May 15, 2010

Eighties hate-ies: Revisiting Fashion's Despised Decade

Folks over thirty-five, I have news for you:  THIS is what young people think of when they think of Eighties fashion.

And this:

And this!  ("Eighties" theme parties -- do you believe it?)

Well I was there, and that is NOT the Eighties I remember.

This is the Eighties!  (courtesy of Vogue)

To be Eighties style you need at LEAST three of the following (not one of which is a crucifix, a bustier, or anything pink):

1) BIG shoulders -- BIG!

2) Jewel tones

3) A V-shaped silhouette

4) Angular architectural shapes

5) sculpted, moussed hair (bonus points for double processing)

6) heavy, frosted eye and lip makeup

7) oversized everything

8) wide belts

9) gathered sleeves, yokes, skirts, handbags, shoes!

10) big clunky jewelry

Beloved middle-aged contemporaries of mine, please add whatever you think I've missed.

What is it about Eighties style that makes it so despised?  It's interesting how many people think Eighties style is all about Madonna, Madonna, Madonna.   She helped to create one (very) popular look.

Let's not forget about these fashion icons:

Again, I ask you:  WHAT was (is?) so embarrassing about Eighties fashion?  Is it the scale of it all: the big shoulders, big accessories, big hair?  Is it the Reagan-era pretension of big jewelry, gathered cap sleeves, and prissy shoes and bags?  Is it something else entirely?

I mean, the decade WAS preceded by the dust-ruffle midi skirt and followed by grunge -- was it really THAT bad?

So, readers-over-thirty-five and anyone else who has an opinion on the matter (ok, I guess that's everybody), let's get to it:  What makes the Eighties the Hate-ties?  Please be specific.  Who's more guilty of unpardonable fashion violations: Molly Ringwald or Linda Evans? Cyndy Lauper or the cast of "The Facts of Life?"

I believe it is may be time to redeem the Eighties.  Based on yesterday's comments, I know there are a few closet Eighties aficionados out there, mainly Aussies.

Will you help me, can you help me, mates?


  1. "I know there are a few closet Eighties aficionados out there, mainly Aussies"

    Geez mate don't stereotype me!

    As a teenager growing up then (I'm 38 now) my memories of the 80's were bands like The Cure & Fun Boy Three. I never really "got" the Dynasty total excess thing. Then again, I did love the theatricality of the 80's - and perhaps that's why it's becoming popular again.

  2. Well, obviously when you sample the opinion of people my age (child of the 80's) and younger (like in the photos you showed)....they reference the only familiar thing from the 80's. Madonna.

    While she is not the only style icon of the 80's, no person going to an 80's themed party or dressing for Halloween will reference the pages of Vogue. One girl thought out of the box and wore a puff sleeve prom dress. I give her credit for not following the norm.

    You do have a point about color. It seems like current revivalists tend to use the neon colors of the 90's but cuts and styles of the 80's.

    Similarly if in the future we were to hold a 2010 themed party, I'm sure plenty of people will show up looking like Lady Gaga rather than the 2010 business professional look or anything from current day Vogues.

    My personal hatred for the 80's isn't so much the scale or volume of the clothing. I hate that the silhouettes are not flattering to the body. I'm perplexed as a designer myself, how designers of the 80's could sketch this stuff out and positively say to themselves "yeah this makes the body look rad (because that's what they'd say in the 80's)."

    While I get that big shoulders and big hair is about status, I personally don't care what your status is or how much you spent on it if you look ridiculous.

  3. I was a teenager in the 80's and I didn't wear any of that stuff. I didn't like big shoulders or big hair. I wore Doc Martens with dresses from the thrift shop or tube dresses. In my opinion, the most interesting fashion of the 80's came from the Japanese designers. It was then that Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des garçons opened their huge loft like stores (very innovative at the time). I couldn't afford their clothes, but I did admire them!

  4. In the 80's, the 60's and 70's were ugly. Isn't that fashion?

  5. I was in my teens and twenties n the eighties and I wore evrything from post-punk Bauhaus (the band) styles (including all those diagonal-zipped leather jackets and fringed boots that are in now (why are they sneering if they are wearing it again now?) There was also the whole Laura Ashley florals thing going on (that's in again), and the jeans and denim jacket (in again as "double denim") and the very "ladylike" Lady Di stuff (see modern "retro" fashions for the same feel if not exactly the same styles). We also wore leggings and ultra-short mini skirts. Then there were the New Romantics with all their velvet and flounces (in again). There was also the army fatigues and Out of Africa khaki look (in again), The shoulder pads were great for giving we normal, short, slightly built people more of a "model" outline. A lot of fashion then was about role-play and FUN!

    Perhaps they are sneering because they don't want to admit there is nothing original at all about what is on the catwalks or the street right now?

    Looking at the pictures of the retro parties, I have to say that the thing that strikes me most is that we were a) a lot slimmer and fitter-looking than they are now, and b) a lot more stylish (nobody had heard of a "muffin-top", and if they had one they didn't display their flab to the world (which is not to say all celebs were skinny, either).


  6. I openly and proudly hold up my hand as being the Aussie who loved the 80's gear :-D. I have big hair and shoulders naturally but I loved those shoulder pads and hairstyles which could never seemed as though they could be ever be too big.

    We didn't see 'status' in them (although I can see where that comes from)but it was the fashion at the time so we wore it. I also wore the New Romantics gear, the leggings and giant T's and the Army pants (which my Dad taught me how to put that sharp crease in).

    It *was* all fun. We were fun. We were young, bullet-proof and on top of the world. And maybe that's why I love it so much. It's not just the fashion (ie how it suited my figure and made me look) but it's also tied to a period in my life that was, in retrospect, mind-blowingly fabulous and carefree.

    I wouldn't wear it now of course but I have very fond memories and am happy to be perceived as a bit daggy :-).

  7. I am a bit younger than your stated cut-off, but I was alive for the entirety of the 80's and I have memories of most of it (memories of Jellies and crimped hair and one-sided ponytails and women wearing blouses with giant floppy bows at the neck). I thought I didn't like fashion. It's taken me this long to realize maybe I just didn't like most of what passed for fashion then. (Or maybe I'm just really picky and don't like most of what passes for fashion ever. Not that I actually manage to wear what I like most of the time, anyway.)

    For me, it's just that most of it, the giant abstract shapes, the eye-popping color combos and huge-scale prints, it all totally overwhelms the person wearing it. I mean, look at Brooke Shields (do I have that right??) in that dress!!! *Anyone* could be wearing that and you'd hardly be able to tell the difference!

    It's like the designers only thought of the actual people who would wear their clothes as hangers (and their faces as blank backdrops) for their egotistical masterpieces.

    (I do appreciate Cathy's more subdued color scheme, btw.) :)

  8. The main problem with the 80s was that it was when everyone stopped having fun. That said, I'd much rather wear Issey Miyake than anyone else. And I find Jennifer Beale much sexier than Madonna (aged better, too)..

  9. I for one love eighties clothing, but since I wasn't born until the nineties, my opinion doesn't really count since I didn't live through it...

    And Moonlighting is the best eighties show- I love Cybill Shepard's clothing.

  10. I loved the 80's because I spent most of my time in the gym (worked there) and the fashions there were fun. The vibrant colors, the hightop white shoes, the belts, the leotards and tights, the thong leotard, wish I still looked good in one. Women would do their hair and makeup, even nail polish, to come to the gym. Jane Fonda to the max.

  11. Don't knock 80s fashion world, I happen to like it. Bring back poof sleeved prom dresses! Bring back perms!

  12. It's funny there was big hair in the 60's too, but for me, I liked that big hair, but the big hair of the 80's is troubling. I detest it and when looking back at pictures I feel embarrassed. I used to make my bangs high in what we called a "double claw". Ouch!! Living through it, it did not seem as bad as it does when I look back. I don't think the world of fashion has been the same since. The 90's and 2000's don't seem to have a fashion sense, or maybe I am missing something. 40's, 50's, 60's 70's and 80's are recognizable, but nothing specific for me since. Just an observation, I'm sure there are many things that define these later years but maybe I am too old to realize them.

  13. It occurred to me that the Eighties explain at least part of my fascination with not wanting clothes to touch me, as my daughter so lovingly puts it. Big was IN. At the time (college) I was 5'1" weighed 110 lbs. Big probably wasn't my best look. But then again I recently saw an old episode of "Matlock" and Linda Purl did look really cute in her straight skirt and unstructured blazer with shoulder pads!

  14. I'll be 40 in 2 weeks so I am eligible for this one! I think the 80s were the corporately sanctioned version of the 40s - totally ersatz in every way and pretending so hard at being original.

    However, there were some original elements - the ones that persist. The whole bright colour and eclectic pairing thing was real and now it's back.

  15. I was in my 30's in the 80's (oops). The people that it seems you think "don't get it" actually captured mostly the casual side, while you captured mostly the more formal aspects.

  16. I started college in 1979 and that's just about when I really started getting into sewing. Vogue had SO MANY fabulous designer patterns in the 80s and I still have mine: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Versace, Geoffrey Beane, Issey Miyake, YSL, Anne Klein and my favorite: Perry Ellis (he was still alive then). You could even buy Esprit patterns. I had a very small waist and those were IN. I made such wonderful clothes and still love looking at all those patterns. Some of them I would totally make now -- the wide-legged, high-waisted palazzo pants, the drop-shouldered camp shirts, all in beautiful colors. Vogue Patterns really was fashion-forward back then and had WAY more designers doing patterns than they do now. >sigh<

  17. I was a teenager during the 80s, in a small town in middle America. The 80s I remember doesn't look anything like the 80s party pics (well, except the red prom dress but mine was blue). Now the 4th magazine shot, with the girl in jeans and a jacket, that's what I remember. And of course Dynasty & Princess Di. At my school we only dressed like Cyndi Lauper or Madonna for pep rallies. Of course, in those days fashion got to small towns about 10 years later than it got to the cities.

  18. Ohhh the eighties rocked, I love the eighties (I'm 42), neon pink, massive hair, funky nylons with slouchy socks and pumps. Sigh. My 16 year old daughter just had a 'tight and bright' dance and I sewed her a hot pink little dress- fit like epidermis, mind you she paired it with neon blue tights which is something I never saw back then.

    My mothers biggest complaint about my clothing choices was they were to big and baggy. I think that is the biggest problem to much fabric, when the eighties are re-styled they seem to take out a lot of the fabric.

  19. There was something fun about 80s fashion that I didn't appreciate at the time. I still fondly remember a pair of jeans with a button fly and a yoke that folded over at the top of said fly to form little collar-like triangles. They may have been tapered and lightly stonewashed.

    I lived in a larger city, but like Anonymous, I mainly remember 80s fashion being like the girl in the white jeans jacket--not so extreme as Madonna or Dynasty.

  20. Worst speller ever, forgive me.

    I was a nineties child, but I have my own fashion crimes to answer for like a little black bookbag.

    Anyway, after I watched Pretty in Pink I asked my older co-worker if the dress she made for her prom was really fashionable? To me it looked like a hot mess. I would have totally been a Madonna wanna-be. I don't think I would have fit in with the dynasty crowd. Maybe I would have been own retro thing back then! lol

  21. Ahhhhh, I still love the eighties... Chaka Khan with her big hair, big earrings, lace, sequins, and leather, Pat Benatar with her striped top and leather pants, Janet Jackson with her "Control" jacket and her "Rhythm Nation" military jacket, Brooke Shields in her Calvin Klein jeans, Victoria Principal in a plaid western shirt and jeans, Cher in her iconic "If I Could Turn Back Time" video leather attire and her memorable Oscar outfit when receving her award for "Moonstruck", Vanna in her fun and glamourous prom-like outfits in the Wheel of Fortune, and Duran Duran with those zipped out space-age looking jackets, and the list goes on..... The eighties was not only about "fun", but with a positive outlook that is lacking nowadays...It seems like today's "artists" are borrowing styles from the past.

  22. Too funny. Oh yeah, Vanna White. She deserves a place in the Eighties style pantheon too.

    I get that Madonna was street fashion and Vogue was couture. Still, if I were going to an Eighties party today (which more likely would be with people IN their eighties), I'd definitely wear something gathered and boxy in magenta or teal. And asymmetrical.

    And I'd put a little mousse in my wig.

  23. The 80's - do I really want to go there? Shoulder pad build-up. Gold button conflict. Thong bikini's. Career wear for women. Cone heels. Upholstery print dresses. Acid wash denim. Boxy. Big. Drapey or bandaged so tight you can see their organs.

    Sure there were some success stories and yet the shear power of over-the-top-excess pretty much defines the decade. I only speak for myself, yet as a self admitted clothes aholic you KNOW I was there and succumbed to some of that blitzkrieg. What exactly, only my therapist knows, the evidence has been culled years ago from storage.

  24. I was a teenager in Europe during the 80s, and remember people wearing lots of different styles, though few dressed like Madonna. My friends and I were heavily into New Wave, and made clothes that looked like the ones our favorite bands wore, Visage, Gary Numan, The Cure. We made Sarouel-pants from grey lining fabric, and combined them with baggy black or grey sweaters. Lots of silver accessories too, blue nailpolish, and eyeliner going almost to the hairline. It was a fun and very creative in my life. In the late 80s, I remember wearing very classic things, wide-leg pants and jersey wrap tops. Dries Van Noten was still a young and new designer then, and I still have a beautiful, very fitted dress from 1989 you could totally wear today and not know the difference.

  25. I was in my 30's in the 80's.

    I wore shimmery tights & leg warmers to aerobics.

    I had extra long neon pink acrylic nails.

    I had my hair frosted.

    It seems like all my tops had shoulder pads. Didn't need 'em....they resulted in my husband sometimes calling me Butkus.

    My very glam Christmas dress was a gold and black metallic number with ruching.

    My youngest daughter insisted on wearing GIANT sequin encrusted earrings to interesting accessory for a second grader in Catholic school.

    I no longer have acrylic nails and my hair is frosted compliments of mother nature.

    And my "glam" Christmas dress went on to be a Halloween costume....representing, you guessed it....the '80's'.

  26. If anyone is interested in some 80's patterns I have a lot of 15 on sale at Ebay. Would love to unload them.

  27. Off-topic, I know, but I promised to let you know when I posted about the prom dress. I have done so, although with only one picture:


  28. Oooo -- that's it. We should turn this into an Eighties swap meet!

    Anything from the McCall's Brooke Shields line out there?

    Sophie, your dress looks great: almost Eighties! LOL

  29. The 80s were my university years. One of the big trends back then was the preppy look, and that's mostly what I wore to college. Dress-up clothes were Laura Ashley-type floral dresses with full tea-length skirts. Victorian decor was very much in style, too.

    But I also admired the New Wave look, with the bright colors and Japanese-inspired fashions (Remember Esprit and Benneton?). Elements of this look actually suited me better and I wish I'd worn more of them.

    I also remember the 80s as fun and carefree and modern. The grunge look of the early 90s was downright depressing.

    I am glad to see some of the 80s fashions coming back (in a less voluminous version). This time around I am definitely going to enjoy wearing more of the brighter colors.

  30. In the 80's I used to love wearing all those styles. At that time I didn't think that they were silly or exagerated. I have very good memories of all those years having fun wearing those clothes and hairstyles especially the bangs

    But now I feel embarased when I see pictures of myself from the 80's
    It makes me feel like I looked almost like a clown!

  31. love the 80's - went through my wonder years during that time. great hair, awesome clothing, and the music, sooooo perfect!

    And don't forget P Nagel. His stuff was everywhere!

  32. Damn, reading all of this makes me want to kick back and watch St. Elmo's Fire -which, by the way, is a great 80s style movie, because each character has his/her own personal style that embodies a different trend of the mid 80s. I suppose The Breakfast Club would work in a similar way, but the characters in that were too stereotypical.
    I'm 1 year too young for Peter's cut off, and I admit my memories of the 80s are heavily influenced by exposure to my older brother and sister, who were born in '63 and '67. My brother was a-stylish (as in, lacking style of any kid) but my sister rocked the punk look in a big way - leather pants, zippers on everything, chain belts, and multicolored hair that was frequently teased into a mohawk or something resembling Tina Turner in "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome".

  33. I am just under the cusp (32), but my older sister was in high school in the eighties so I did see it in action. I think the thing about the 80's that make those pictures so shudder-worthy is the fact that most of the fashions were so unflattering, as Brian mentioned above. Let's just say that asymmetrical lines, neon colors and oversized clothing does no one justice (in photos) later on in life.

    There is an event that is happening tonight that made me very aware of this. Peter, I will email :)

  34. Sometimes I can bring myself to like the eighties, but usually not. As someone who is only 22, but highly exposed to eighties-fashion in my workplace, I've seen its range. My real problem is that most of it comes off as fake fake fake. For an era all about greed and showing off, the wuality of the garments is highly questionable. The fabric is generally polyester trying to be silk and all the jewelry is plastic and really crap gold-tone. The fifties/eighties shoes are quite acceptable but other than that? Yech. Maybe it is because my mother is still wearing her jeans from the eighties? And the masculine haircut that makes all middle-aged women COMPLETELY unfeminine? Even Tim Gunn hates the eighties, so there you have it.

  35. I'm 47 and lived the whole 80's thing while I was at uni. I had big hair, big shoulder pads (in everything) and too much makeup (not to mention the candy pink nail polish). The reason I think the 80's is despised is the bad makeup. Blusher was worn like stripes on your cheeks! Whilst I think a lot of the fashion was unattractive, I actually yesterday pulled two original 80's Donna Karan patterns from my stash. One is for a tulip skirt and the other for a pleat fronted knit top. Why did I pull these out? Because they are an exact match for two CURRENT patterns I wanted to make. As much as I hate to admit it, the fitted high waisted pants and skirt of that era suit me way better than things that hang off my hips. So whilst I am Australian and do wear some 80's style clothes, I wouldn't say I'm an afficianado. You won't be seeing me in fluro with big hair, but you will see me in high waisted skirts and pants.

  36. Ok, I was a little tot in the 80's, BUT I had to suffer through 80's juvenile fashion: puff paint, hyper-color t-shirts, neon everything. And I got a perm. When I was 8. Why Mom, why?!.

  37. I hated prairie (sp?) skirts, leg warmers and fingerless gloves. That's just to get started...

  38. I lived (and still live) in a small town in Southern Indiana, and we're about 10 years behind the times. I'm pretty sure we were wearing all that stuff into the 90s. In the 80s, I was wearing a lot of preppy stuff. I *loved* my tweed sports coat with leather patches on the sleeves. I also liked to tie a sweater over my shoulders. I'll confess to owning a pair of topsiders or two.

  39. I didn't see one Member's Only jacket in that spread. Analysis discredited.

  40. I was in Jr High/High School in the 80's and for us it was all about wearing the "new" jean from Levi's called 501's or Guess jeans. An Oxford shirt, Izod, or Polo, or the Oxford with the Izod/Polo underneath with the color up. Also, Bass or Dexter "boat shoes" or loafers. Laura Ashley dresses. OP brand was popular and we would buy up the new T-shirts as they came out. Famalari (sp?) shoes were popular too, I used to put the stickers that came with them on my school notebooks. Then of course, there was ESPRIT. Would make "special trips" to Dallas to get things from the ESPRIT store.

    The 80"s were so much more then just the new wave/punk look. Like the 50's were probably more then the poodle skirt.

  41. My mom used to shake her head in horror when I borrowed my dad's XL or XXL shirts to wear over my skinny jeans or leggings, with neon socks that matched my plastic neon earrings and maybe a neon headband.
    For some reason she thought that XL shirts were not the appropriate size for a 5'1" girl who weighed about 100 pounds. She just didn't understand the elegance of 80's fashion.

  42. Kbenco was right. In ten years time we'll probably be sneering at the fashions of the 90's.

  43. I'm already sneering at 90's fashion, Val.

    Oh, Anonymous, that XXL story is hilarious. I can totally picture it.

  44. Spiral perms, stirrup pants, black motorcycle jackets and pointy ankle boots... Ah the memories!

  45. I think that the lover/aversion you feel toward the eighties all depends on the way you felt during the eighties. If it was the high time of you life, if you had fun, felt popular and could do whatever you wanted - then you probably still love the eighties.

    On the other hand - if you were a gawky misfit of a teenager with pimples and a non-existent relationship with a poster of your favourite pop-star - then you are perhaps just a wee bit embarrased by you then-self - and hate the eighties

  46. I will still wear a Flashdance sweatshirt once in a while. So much more flattering than a crewneck. But that's all that remains of the '80s for me. There's something so unappealing about it now. I can't put my finger on it exactly, either. Even the '70s are more appealing fashion-wise now, and I never thought I'd think that when I was a teenager, and thought we'd "escaped" the '70s to a much more sophisticated future!

    I graduated in '86, so I was a teenager for much of the '80s, and subject to every fashion whim that came down from above.

    Too bad we can't post pictures, because I've got some good ones, and I don't mind sharing because I'm dead to shame. Buffalo plaid, lace fingerless gloves, Bermuda shorts, bleached jeans, popped collars (a couple at a time), etc. And a nice poofy perm to top it all off.

    I spent most of the '90s in jeans, overalls, and flannel, though, and that wasn't really any better.


  47. Just three words: Acid Wash Jeans

  48. I think that most people think of late 1980's or even more so early 1990's style when they think of 80's fashion.
    I love the early 1980's, I was in primary school then and wore some fabulous streetwise and very fashionable things, like a bright pink cordoroyd jacket (Dobber or Lee, I think) in denim-style.
    I'm talking "Fame" (the movie, the original version) and "About last night".
    I remember when nautical fashion gradually became more and more fashionable in the mid 80's (my middle-school-years), american west coast-fashion I guess. I remember it fondly. Bare feet, rolled up trousers, striped t-shirts, sneakers.
    There's loads of other nice 80's fahion too, I think you nailed quite a lot of it.
    But the glamorous Vogue (I love the Minelli-image) is probably no 1...

  49. A year late, but I had to comment on the oft-misunderstood decade. You know how they say fashion comes in cycles; for me a lot of the '80s was a revisiting of the '30s and '40s, best demonstrated by a personal style icon, Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt in Remington Steele. Structured jackets, tapered pants, pencil skirts, menswear-inspired but always feminine.

  50. *raises hand high and proud*...another Aussie 80s lovin' junkie here. I LOVED big belts (the bigger the better); big dangly plastic gem earrings that were so heavy my earring holes began to stretch; big oversized pirate shirts with big rose prints or damask satin fabric; pixie boots with leggings tucked into them. Blonde tips in my brunette hair that was blow dried BIG haha

    i'm feeling so nostalgic i may have to put a Duran Duran vinyl album on the turntable...i think i even might still have a pair of saved favourite big earrings that i could put on :)

    Ain't no hatey Eighties here!

  51. I think the thick shoulder pads and wide shoulders is the one thing that made me hate 80's styles.

    I have to say, looking at your "most hated pattern" jumper, that I think your 70's tan jumper for men ranks right up there! I liked a lot of 70's and 80's jumper patterns for kids though. I'm a big Betsey Johnson fan.

  52. Oh, suddenly I remembered shopping for prom dresses with my daughter who graduated from high school in 1992. Some of those were in the 80's. There would be row after row of prom dresses with huge fabric flowers on them. Not just one mind you, but stuck on all over the place. It was so difficult to find more variety. Really today there is a wide mix of style that one can choose from and no one considers too strange.


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