Dear Eighties, You Look Ridiculous

Friday, November 18, 2016

I know, it's not earth shattering news to declare on a blog that the '80s looked so awful. I love the '80s; I really do. I came of age, so to speak, in the decade and I loved the music and seeing "technology" (aka Walkmans and VCRs) sprout at a rapid pace before our eyes. But believe it or not, it's only recently that I could appreciate just how flipping terrible our clothing and hair looked during this decade of decadence. Don't get me wrong or call me clueless -- I've known for a good 20 years now how bad we all looked back then. But what I'm trying to say is that at the time I was living through the era I was blissfully unaware of it all. I thought I looked GOOD.

I thought THIS looked good:

I thought THIS was cool:

I thought THIS was cute:

What were we all thinking at the time? Eighties fashion is now so laughable and regrettable that they now make Halloween costumes of it. And if you wore one to a party, there's no doubt everyone would know what moment in history you're from.

To be fair, the start of the decade wasn't so awful looking at all. Take a look at, for example, (and I know this is a really oddball choice) a movie like Caddyshack. OK, with all fairness it was filmed in 1979 and released in 1980, but for the first few years of the '80s, clothing was still pretty normal looking in my opinion. Yeah, it was filmed on a golf course, but the tees and shirts were still pretty mainstream. We had no inkling of the outlandish shoulder pads and bulky sweaters that were to come.

I remember that most of my clothing for the first two or three years of the '80s was pretty much the same as the '70s. I remember my now-former sister-in-law at the time giving me some of her three-quarter sleeved angora sweaters. I wore them to school with my Levis and felt sexy (even though I still really had no clue what the word meant) for the first time in my life.

We also had the preppy look which started early and continued into the decade. Seeing the "Bermuda bag" in this diagram was truly a flashback for me; I had one as well as both of my sisters.

I'd say it was about around 1984 when everything kind of fell apart...or exploded, depending upon your perspective. I'm no fashion historian or expert, so I don't know what was going on in Paris and New York that was driving some of these mid-80s looks. I can only guess that it was a reflection of the MTV craze and pop culture at the time, even though (ironically) we went through a phase in the '80s where the '50s look was big.

The following magazine cover below is from the Australian version of Vogue, circa 1985. Kinda says it all, really -- although I will admit I like the scarf (just not being worn on the head like that) and the funky earrings.

And speaking of neon lipstick, I had a bright hot pink sweatshirt that matched the lipstick above. Just like the sun, no one could risk looking directly into. I had the miles of thin rubber bracelets, the leg warmers, the parachute pants, a pair of hightop Reeboks, the jelly shoes, and several leggings covered with funky patterns that matched my ESPRIT sweaters. (I still think there's nothing wrong with wearing leggings today, as long as they're a solid, neutral color.

At least we can't say there wasn't any color in clothing during this time.

I had baggy sweaters with shoulder pads (cringe.) My mother and I recently got rid of several Vogue Knitting issues we'd been holding onto from the '80s. They weren't even worth scanning and poking fun at on this blog. Mostly sweaters that looked like Bill Cosby's, but for women. It's amazing -- you can find lots about '60s designs that you could wear today, and even some trends from the '70s if modified for the modern age. But the '80s knitting pattern books had to GO.

One of my favorite '80s staples that I did like were jumpsuits. Mine were actually pretty sleek and slim looking, not the baggy ones you often see in old catalog or pattern scans. I had a navy blue one from the Spiegel catalog made out of comfortable woven cotton jersey, and it had a drawstring and pockets. To this day I wish I still had it.

One small consolation to me is that the men didn't have it so easy, either.

And don't even get me started on the hair and makeup during this time. "Maybe she's born with it"? No, more like she speckled it on...

I'm just glad that the chances are good that we won't be seeing these fashion trends for a good long time; possibly never again, although some designers have tried unsuccessfully to bring back large shoulders and other details in recent years. Fortunately I don't think anyone is gullible enough to put up with this again. I guess the one good thing I can say about '80s fashion is that it was as unforgettable as it was regrettable.


  1. First, a complete disclosure: I went through a phase in the mid '80s when I had a penchant for wearing for wearing flourescent day-glo neon-colored T-shirts, epecially in green. Also, as the '80s went on, there was a revival of all things '60s, and being into retro even back then, I wore plenty of paisley print and tie-dye shirts. Now that I've revealed my complete '80s nerdyness, here's my thoughts . . .

    Indeed the '80s were quite quirky (to say the least) fashion-wise. But, you know, it was also a fun, colorful period of time. I think making fashion choices you later look back on in amazement is part of the fun of being young in the mid to late 20th century. I remember back in the '80s (when I was a teen) a lot of baby boomers were recalling their wild hippie/nehru jacketed/miniskirted days in the sixties. And '70s youth would later look back in embarrasment and schock at their polyester-clad disco years. Its fun to know we also had the joy of making our own youthful clothing choices/mistakes/trainwrecks as well, and that we actually had fun while wearing our wild fashion abominations (even if we now hide any photos from that period).

    Since around 2000, youth have been more level-headed in their fashions, I think. Not so many fads. Not to much to look back on in amazement. But, not as much fun either, I think. Nothing to remember, fashion-wise, that made their era weird and memorable.

    1. Hi Lazlo - I had a feeling you would leave a comment on this post! Yes, I do agree with you; the '80s were fun and colorful and I did love wearing those ESPRIT sweaters and shirts at the time. It's just a little shocking to look back now and realize we actually wore some of this stuff...but when everyone is doing it, you fit right in.

      Today's fads seem to mostly be tattoos, man-buns or topknots, and dying hair blue, purple, etc. I guess if I had to choose, I'd take the '80s trends over that.

    2. Hey Pam! I do agree with what youre saying. I must admit that if I saw those guys at the beach (in the pic above), I'd go the other way! On the other hand, that Miami Vice look in the next picture still looks rather dapper, imho. (Well. . . maybe a mix of quirky and dapper.)

  2. I remember wanting acid-washed jeans in the worst way. Once I had them, I was like, "This is it?"

  3. Pam, I also came of age during the 80s. However, I pretty much though most of the fashions, fads, and music were weird even then. It was probably the terminally, baroque phase of disco. Then came grunge, and the decline accelerated.

  4. Yup, coming of age as well for me in the early 80s. I don't remember going for any type of "edgy" trends, being more a casual blue jeans and t-shirt type. I remember very well that period but in a sense it reminds me a bit of what went on in the 50s. Both were periods of drastic changes in technology, fashion and so on. Our parents had the television, jukeboxes, rock 'n roll, drive-in theatres while we got VCR's, Walkmans, MTV (for when it was about music videos). Both periods marked a return to bright colors in clothing, cars and various everyday objects. Perhaps it was an attempt, just like in the fifties, to brighten our lives as much as possible despite the ever looming threat of nuclear war. The tirades between Reagan and Gorbatchev were not unlike those between Eisenhower and Khrushchev. I admit, 80s fashion was really something else, for better of for worse, but I like to think there was a lot of experiments going on, trying to come up with new styles and trends. Funny thing is, my parents have the same reaction when they look at how they dressed in the 70s, almost embarrassed in a funny way.

  5. One of the first post I did on my current blog was about the lack of color in women's clothes. In my school, the preppie look seemed to last until 1987. When I went to college later than year, I was amazed at how the girls from St. Louis and Kansas City dressed. Wow! I loved the more outrageous looks of heavy makeup, big hair and bright color.

    It is funny you mentioned 1984. I've been writing a parody of dystopian novels. The main female character in my story dresses in the kind of 80s women fashions you mention (i.e the girl on the Dolly cover), while all the other women are forced, by the government to dress like Holly Hobby/Little House On the Prairie characters. She tells a friend that she longs for the "good ole days." When he ask when she thinks the "good ole days" were, she answers "1984." There is a subtle joke there.

  6. how did that whole florescent trend come about? although I came of age during the cheestacular 80s I don't feel particular affinity for the decade as a whole,i was however all about the 70s revival in the 90s


Powered by Blogger.