Top 10 80s Fashion Trends: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Top 10 80s Fashion Trends: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

1980s clothing trends
​You either love it or hate it, which is why ’80s vintage fashion styles are probably the most controversial of all the eras. First, many vintage sellers argue that the ’80s clothing isn’t even “vintage” — because we are still only two decades away from its time, the era is best qualified as “retro” or “nostalgic” and the style value less. Second, I’ve encountered many vintage lovers who strongly dislike the era, shuddering at the thought of ‘80s fashion trends like stonewash denim, batwing sleeves and shoulder pads. While 1980s fashion is a far cry from the feminine fashion of the 1950s and may not make your vintage lovers’ heart go pitter patter with delight, I believe that the ’80s is worth honoring because its trends were so avant garde in style, design and wear by the modern woman of her day.

<< CHECK ‘EM OUT! The best 1980s vintage fashion clothing trends you love to remember, wear and (perhaps) chuckle at 

Admittedly, even I cut out shoulder pads before wearing an ’80s garment — but I still like totally love ’80s fashion and have respect for what shoulder pads, along with 9 other rockin’ ’80s trends, represented for women’s fashion! Do you love or loathe the ’80s?

xx, SD


Feel free to scroll through the post to see these totally trendy ’80s clothing styles, or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the text within the article!

#1: Tropical Print

#2: Cut-Out Shoulders

#3: Peplum Dresses

#4: Diane Freis Dresses

#5: Stonewash Denim

#6: Denim Jumpsuits

#7: Coogi “Cosby” Sweaters

#8: Power Blazers

#9: Batwing Sleeves

#10: Old Hollywood Black Dresses

#1: Pin-Up Tropical Style

The 1980s did the 1940s and 1950s in all the right ways by playing up pin-up style with tropical prints (think “Hawaii Five-O”) and designs loved by the California girl with Rockabilly flair.

80s hawaiian style clothing worn by fashion bloggers
WORN TODAY: It’s easy to wear an ’80s piece with tropical print, whether you want to wear the print full-on with a matching top and short like Victory Vintage Boutique (left) or as a bottom paired with a solid colored top like Retro Minx (right).

#2: Cut-Out Shoulders

Showing skin in the ’80s got creative with well positioned cut-out holes/openings on a garment’s sleeve. The cut-outs could be found anywhere from the shoulder to the chest area, but you’ll often see ’80s blazers (like above) or shirts (shown below) with missing material along the shoulder line.

cut out shoulder 1980s clothing trend

Source: Stylish in Suburbia / The Aurora Sky 

WORN TODAY: The cut-out shoulder trend made a comeback in modern fashion, as contemporary fashion brands are now offering their own versions of the missing shoulder button-up. I’ve seen DIY fashionistas thrift store shop ’80s oversize blouses for a steal, and then add a touch of modern femininity to them by removing the shoulder material themselves.

cut out shoulders 1980s clothing on etsy
​OWN IT: ’80s Cut-Out Shoulder Mesh Sleeve Body Con Dress () by Fabled Fancy on Etsy / ’80s Cut-Out Shoulder Lace Sleeve Body Con Dress () by Fabled Fancy on Etsy

#3: Peplum Dresses

'80s clothing trend peplum dress

Peplum Dress – My Own!

Like the ’80s did the ’40s with pin-up tropical style, the ’80s did the ’40s with some pretty peplums, too! The peplum is best described as a “skirt on a skirt,” creating a flare that varies in length and cut but usually begins around the natural waistline and falls shorter than the length of the dress’ actual skirt.

80s vintage peplum dresses worn by fashion bloggers

Source: Yours Truly Mag / LuLu Tresors 

WORN TODAY: If you shop Forever 21, you may have noticed the fast fashion chain’s serious penchant for the peplum last spring. The peplum is a great girlie touch on top of a skin-tight dress because it adds structure and volume, also helping slender, petite girls accentuate their waist line for a more curvy body look.
'80s peplum dresses available for purchase on etsy
​BUY IT: Dark Floral ’80s Peplum Dress () by The Paraders on Etsy / Light Floral ’80s Peplum Dress () by Pom Pom Clothing on Etsy

#4: Diane Freis Dresses

You don’t know her today, but Diane Freis was a highly coveted department store based designer brand from 1983 (when she released her dresses stateside after launching the brand first in Hong Kong) into the 1990s. Once you know her design personality, it’s not too hard to recognize a Diane Freis dress. Like Pucci, her abstract floral prints are unmistakable and intended for girls of bold personalities. Her dresses are usually mid-length (below the knee) and cut to skim the waist and flow loose and billowy everywhere else.

1980s diane freis dress worn by fashion blogger
WORN TODAY: A Diane Freis dress isn’t quite office or day appropriate, but you can certainly channel this luxury ’80s fashion brand (with inflation in consideration, her dresses average ,000 each today) for evening rooftop affairs (like blogger Fashion Park Station above) or as a fresh dance frock at a forthcoming Fleetwood Mac reunion tour!

diane freis '80s dresses available to buy on etsy
BUY IT: Diane Freis Red ’80s Dress (6) by Stairway to Vintage on Etsy / Diane Freis ’80s Purple Dress (.50) by Quirk Vintage Clothing on Etsy

#5: Stonewash Denim

1980s clothing trend stonewash denim jacket

Stonewash Denim Jacket – My Own!

You can’t not think of stonewash denim when you think of the ’80s, and rightfully so because the trend of stonewash literally was invented by an Italian ’80s denimwear company after late ’70s punk rockers were spotted bleaching their jeans in rebellion of the ’80s vintage fashion trends. Head banger rock bands like Motley Crue and AC/DC popularized the wash to the mainstream during the early ’80s, and before you knew it every groupie girl was buying her own version of this stonewash-acid wash light denim look.

1980s clothing trend stonewash denim
WORN TODAY: Roll your eyes if you will, but stonewash is stellar and definitely here to stay as a modern trend of 2012. I’ve been seeing the wash in contemporary stores, and many a vintage store in NYC is now carrying a small selection of stonewash denim jackets, skirts and high-waisted pants. The stonewash skirt is a great choice for the girl who loves to layer in denim, as you can wear dark denim on top with a white tee and the stonewash below, as seen on Revival Vintage to the left. Fashion blogger Natural Beings rolled the cuffs of her thrifted high-waisted stonewash jeans. She kept it low-key and contemporary chic with sneakers, leather belt and a striped tee.

stonewash denim 1980s clothing on etsy
BUY IT: ’80s Vintage Fashion Stonewash Pencil Skirt () by Charming Gypsy Vintage on Etsy / ’80s Stonewash Print Pumps () by Tight Pressed Vintage on Etsy

#6: Denim Jumpsuits

The jumpsuit originated in trend from the 1940s and found its way back into the fashion consciousness in a good (or arguably bad!) way in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the jumpsuit went super casual with the era’s love of all-things-denim, and designer denim brands like GUESS? were producing 100% denim jumpsuits with long sleeves, high necklines and tapered legs!

1980s denim jumpsuit worn by fashion blogger
WORN TODAY: The denim jumpsuit of today is a personality piece that with colorful accessories – like fashion blogger Beckerman Bite Plate so brilliantly does with her red pairings – need not look like you’re wearing a trucker’s uniform or something pulled from your mom’s closet (although honestly, that’s OK too!) I love how Miss Beckerman is wearing her pinstripe denim onesie with light grey heels and silver-white bangles on both arms. Down to her bold red lip, she’s consciously styled her ’80s vintage fashion garb for an appearance that doesn’t scream the era.

1980s denim jumpsuits available to purchase on etsy
OWN IT: ’80s Diane Von Furstenberg Denim Jumpsuit (5) by Tiger Lily Frocks on Etsy / ’80s Button-Up Denim Jumpsuit () by Rock Street Vintage on Etsy

#7: Coogi “Cosby” Sweaters

Coogi brand sweaters were bright and bold knits that were very expensive and therefore a status symbol, especially amongst rappers of the ’90s (RIP Notorious BIG!). The mixed knit color and pattern trend inspired the entire era’s trend of over-the-top patterned sweaters, also known as a “Cosby” sweaters because actor Bill Cosby wore them so often on “The Cosby Show” during the decade. They look a bit like your Grandmother took a psychedelic trip and busted out her knitting needles for creative expression, but these sweaters retailed for hundreds of dollars in their day and are still considered the “cool girl-guy” sweater of today when styled with modern influences in mind.

1980s coogi oversize sweater worn on fashion blogger
WORN TODAY: When wearing a Coogi sweater one might as well dress with Coogi confidence, which is exactly what fashion blogger Teffopia is doing here mixing Coogi knits with leopard print pants and the ombre coloring of her hip length braided hair. Since the sweaters are more masculine in cut, pairing one with fitted trousers and slipper shoes feels right in place of a jacket on a cool fall day.

1980s coogi brand oversize sweaters on etsy
BUY IT: ’80s Coogi Style Sweater (.99) by Love Charlie J on Etsy / ’80s Men’s Coogi Sweater () by Buddy Buddy Vintage on Etsy

#8: The Padded Power Blazer

Ugh, shoulder pads! I totally understand — it’s quite alright if you are thinking that right now! I for one cut the shoulder pads out of practically every ’80s vintage fashion garment I’ve ever owned. I just don’t have the frame for them plus the style isn’t always embraced by the times. That’s not to say shoulder pads won’t come back (have you seen the September 2012 issue of Vogue? Lots of ’80s influences!) or that the power-padded blazer can’t be worn appropriately with today’s style in mind. For the working girls of 1980s corporate America, the masculine styling of the padded oversize blazer was a confidence booster in an era when women were making greater leaps and bounds in their careers than ever before. The style represented a shift in the expectations of females: They could be the CEOs and wear the pants with a blazer, just like the men in the office.

80s red blazers as worn by fashion bloggers

Source: Drowning Equilibriums / The Kissing Tree Vintage

WORN TODAY: The ’80s blazer is a great compliment to the high-shorts trend. Wear a longer style (with or without the shoulder pads – up to you!) that hits right above the bottom hem of high-waisted shorts. Pair with a solid colored button-up below and heels for a professional look that’s fashionably fierce, not sexy secretary.

oversize red blazer from 1980s available to purchase on etsy
BUY IT: ’80s Bold Red Power Blazer (5) by Erstwhile Style on Etsy

#9: Batwing Sleeves

So much of ’80s vintage fashion styling was dressing in oversize “top” garments, and the batwing jacket and sweater trend is one of these oversize examples. This particular type of sleeve is like wearing a free waist skirt — it doesn’t matter how big your arm is, it just fits! Spread your arms out like a bird and it looks like you could fly away with those wings, baby!

1980s clothing batwing sleeves
WORN TODAY: While the ’80s girl may have worn batwing jackets, tops and sweaters with skintight leggings and legwarmers below, the modern girl is better choosing a pretty patterned batwing garment (like these polka dots above) and pairing with a simple pencil skirt and stellar heels. Since you’re covering so much of your upper body and creating the allusion of more volume than you actually have, showing off some skin below balances your silhouette and prevents you from looking like an oversized mess! '80s clothing trend batwing sleeves
BUY IT: ’80s Cobalt Blue Batwing Jacket/Top (.54) by Honeymoon Muse on Etsy

#10: The Old Hollywood Black Dress

The LBD was revolutionized in the ’80s vintage fashion toward “Old Hollywood” glam style. The difference between the LBD of eras before and that of the ’80s is how the 1980s focused styling from the chest up and along the dress’s neckline. Since the shoulder was officially an area of attention for the ’80s, sleeves were more prominent on black dresses as was a decorative neckline of more than just your average scoop line or sequin trim. The neck was where all attention centered — and it held a style stage all its own! The rest of the dress was typically cut straight to the floor (Old Hollywood) or had a very prominent slit for leg exposure. This was another example of how the ’80s did the ’40s, since Old Hollywood is a direct reference to the Golden Era of 1940s film and its many female celebrities who graced us with their glamorous fashion personas.

1980s black evening gown with sequins front and back
WORN TODAY: The ’80s LBD is the ultimate street stopper of dresses. You’re not so bold and bright that you feel like a circus freak, but heck yes  people going to give you a double look as you enter the party! I modeled an ’80s vintage fashion black dress from Olive’s Very Vintage last spring. The front slit was a delight, and such a different feel from the modern “side” slit used to draw direct attention the leg. But with this slit’s positioning, it’s key that a lady cross her legs when she sits! The sequined shoulders are perfect for those party photos too, since most shots enter around the neckline and up. That’s why the ’80s dress is truly the ultimate socialite stunner (eat your heart out, Gossip Girl!)

1980s Clothing Trends Glam Black Dress
BUY IT: ’80s Old Hollywood High Neck Black Dress () by Wolf’s Mouth Vintage on Etsy / ’80s Old Hollywood Scoop Neck Black Dress () by Luv Stoned Vintage on Etsy


1980s CLOTHING: ’80s Edwardian Blouse, ’80s Greek Key Blazer, ’80s Fishtail Skirt &  ’80s Bustier FASHION: My ’80s Dresses Shoot with Olive’s Very Vintage PHOTOSHOOT: An ’80s Fashion Photoshoot Like No Other on Mirror80 HISTORY: Get Decade Crazy on Like Totally ’80s!  ’80s FUN: My New Favorite Website All About ’80s Fashion Dress ’80s VINTAGE: How to Date 1980s Clothing When Shopping Thrift TRENDS: Why ’80s Fashion Trends Are So Memorable by The Great ’80s

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