The women’s fashion trends from the ’80s that need to make a comeback

Aug 01, 2023
Here are the looks we need to see again. Source: Image Supplied.

Fashion is such a fickle thing. What’s cool and stylish in one season can be drab and outdated the next. And it often doesn’t even take that long.

Remember woolly boots? Crop tops for men? Platform thongs? Embroidered jeans? “Porn Star” t-shirts?

These unsightly accoutrements came in and out of fashion with alarming speed – sometimes on the same day. And for that, we must all give thanks. 

Yet while many styles of yore deserve to fade into obscurity, some trends are long overdue for a comeback to reclaim their rightful place in society.

For these gems, we must hark back to the 1980s, that glorious decade when women enjoyed fashion stylings that were at once attractive, outlandish and bewildering.

It’s all a matter of taste, of course. Still, here are the looks we need to see again.

Leg warmers: Made popular by the late Olivia Newton-John during rehearsals for Xanadu. Their natural place might well have been in the gym or the dance studio but, let’s be honest, there was no more beautiful sight to behold than a pair of fluro-coloured leg warmers worn over a pair of high-waisted acid-wash jeans. Made you glad to be alive.

High-Waisted Acid-Wash Jeans: The perfect look to set off your leg warmers. A warning, though: Please do not attempt putting these on if you have an uncooperative girth, for when the jeans inevitably give way under the pressure it can pop the top button and send it flying off into space with the force of a sniper’s bullet.

Big Hair: One of the signature looks of the ’80s, these improbably ginormous manes often assumed such scale they acted like aerofoils in high winds and sent women airborne, Flying Nun-style.

Yes, the prolonged blasts of styling spray required to keep big hair in place meant the release of countless tonnes of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the Earth’s atmosphere, creating a huge hole in the Ozone layer. But we didn’t care then because the environment mattered far less than looking fabulous.

The bad news is the Ozone hole is still there, recovering slowly. The great news is that CFCs have been replaced by environmentally friendly propellants and whatnot – so, girls, spray, spray away!

High Heels with Cotton Socks: History does not identify the fashion maven who came up with this admittedly odd combination – sometimes referred to rather disparagingly as “hooker fashion” – but what better way to set off a $900 pair of 5-inch slingbacks than with a $3 pair of schoolgirl socks?  

Shoulder Pads: Undoubtedly the definitive look of the 1980s; the bigger the better was the presiding rule, with the set worn by Grace Jones being so expansive you could land a helicopter on them. Favoured by Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll and the rest of the women from Dynasty, shoulder pads signalled power, prestige and lots of reinforced foam.

The Form-Fitting Pencil Skirt: Matched with high heels and pads they cut an intimidating figure, though as we saw with Rachael (Sean Young) in Blade Runner the outfit made it almost impossible to walk. A small price to pay.

Bandannas: Madonna made these popular early in her career, creating the first look ever to combine the edginess of a street gang member with the sublime sexiness of a washerwoman. Unfortunately, when she abandoned the look, so did everybody else.  

Flat Caps: Some fashions designed for men look better on women. This is one of them.

Men’s Shirts and Ties: Same deal. Why were these great combos left behind?

Singlet over Singlet over Bra With All Straps Visible: A cheap, casual, all-purpose, all-weather outfit that you just don’t see any more. Perfect for visits to the supermarket. Add a man’s tie and – Bingo! – it’s now formal wear.

 Oversized Belts: There was something very special about seeing a belt designed for a heavyweight wrestler wrapped around a 24-inch waist. They looked especially striking when matched with a summer dress or a business suit of clashing colours. 

Overalls: How did these go out of style? They were comfortable and easy to wear and in the event that repairs suddenly needed to be done on a crankshaft, no sweat, you were already dressed.

Pike Boots: Replete with buckles and straps and all sorts of studs, these boots sent a clear signal that the woman wearing them was not to be messed with. A favourite accessory when picking up the car from the garage as the mechanic would be too intimidated to think of over-charging. Talk about empowerment.

Corsets: Worn on the outside for all to see, this provocative look enjoyed only a brief time in the sun and resulted in a lot of men walking into poles and street signs. The key, of course, was for the woman wearing the corset to pretend she didn’t notice a thing.


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