How to Recreate Decades of Fashion: 1980s

When we think of the 80s, we think of The Breakfast Club, Dirty Dancing, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, MTV, and more. The 1980s was the most creative fashion decade to date. Some fashion designers ignored history and some borrowed from it, while others tried to design the future. Designers abandoned all convention, and their creations were interesting to say the least.

Early 1980s fashion was very similar to the late 1970s. The early 80s were somewhat subdued in color—browns, tans, and oranges were what people were reaching for. Blocky shapes were everywhere, and dressing like a tennis player was the cool thing to do. Velour was hot and velvet was even hotter. For both men and women, high waisted bottoms were a hot ticket item. However, we’re going to focus on the 80s that everyone knows and loves—the big, the bright, and the oh-so polyester.

By the mid-80s, pop music stars like Cyndi Lauper were ushering in an entirely new style—one that many people associate with the 1980s today. Bright colored accessories like sunglasses, bangles, and hoop earrings were a necessity. Teased hair, loud makeup, and neon were an important part of this style. A shortlist of some famous female icons: Madonna, Molly Ringwald, Sheila E, Debbie Harry of Blondie, Joan Collins, Linda Evans, and Grace Jones.

Whoever said “less is more” didn’t come of age in the 80s.  Girl, you know it’s true (sorry, couldn’t resist the Milli Vanilli reference).  80s fashion was all about color, size, and experimentation.  Women wore blue mascara and yellow eye shadow, had hair to the skies and shoulder pads not far behind it. Many of the biggest fashion trends of the 80s were unisex: Members Only jackets, popped-collar polos, parachute pants, Converse chucks, Wayfarers, even big hair—all were enjoyed by both the gals and their dudes in the 80s.

With the lines between men’s and women’s fashion blurred more than ever before, it was an exceptionally flexible time. A woman could wear skin-tight leggings and a giant turtleneck sweater one day, and parachute pants with a small v-neck top the next. The mid- to late-eighties were a period of experimentation. From fabrics that changed color to clothes meant to be worn backwards, nothing was off limits. Bright neon colors were very popular, and rocking brand names was more important than ever. Belts and bracelets were the most vital accessories in the wardrobe.

By the late 80s, people absolutely LOVED wearing brands on their clothes. You couldn’t turn a corner without seeing someone in a Coca-Cola, Garfield, or band t-shirt. MTV also had a huge impact on fashion, as teens across the U.S. were tuning in to watch music videos starring wildly dressed celebrities. Suddenly it became much easier for fans to see their favorite celebrities/fashion choices, and fads spread across the country faster than wildfire.

Can you imagine finally being able to see your favorite bands on TV after only being able to see them in concert or on album covers? Luckily, you have the internet to tell you how to dress like our favorite 1980s celebrities!

Here are just a few ways you can get some of these bodacious 80s styles today:

Molly Ringwald

From The Breakfast Club to Pretty in Pink, the Brat Pack dominated the decade's teen movies, with one idol always stealing the show as the prettiest, most popular girl in school. Everyone wanted to be her, and still does (oh come on, admit it!). Her classic look involved layers and prints—super easy to recreate!

1. The Printed Pants

Printed skinnies are everywhere right now. You don’t have to stick to jeans (leggings are also an 80s staple) or even a floral print. The 80s were all about experimentation! But if you want to copycat Molly’s look, you can grab these floral skinnies from Macy’s!


2. The Layers

You can always grab all of these pieces from a local thrift store (finding 80s clothes there is way more common than it should be), but that’s easy and not recreating the decade with today’s styles. You can pull off Molly’s look by pairing a light wash jean jacket with a thin, plain cardi (which they have a ton of at Gap right now) and tee if you don’t want to find that big sweater. Throw on any tee that matches your pants, and voila! It should look a *little* something like this when it’s done:


3. The Shoes

You can round off the look with a high-top lace-up bootie or sneaker. Try these Vans from Nordstrom Rack—a classic look that just about everyone in the 80s had, from Marty McFly to Ferris Bueller’s sister.


4. The Finishing Touches

Get a ton of 80s-esque volume in your hair by spritzing it with sea salt or texture spray when wet, and then blow dry your hair upside down. For extra volume, add some Pssst! dry shampoo and Aqua Net hairspray. Wear a pinky lipstick to get Molly’s classic makeup look (but don’t worry, you don’t have to apply it with your boobs!).


Joan Collins

Ahhh Joan Collins. If you’re like me, you grew up watching her as Potiphar’s viciously divine wife in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This queen of 80s TV inspired thousands of big hair dos and heavy make-up statements throughout the decade. Her character, villain Alexis Colby in popular soap opera Dynasty, had a wardrobe of puff shoulder dresses and trophy jackets that was so bad, it was so good.

1. The Top

Since huge shoulder pads and puffed sleeves aren’t really in style, we can still look at Joan and take principles of her outfits and apply them to ours. She was big on having the proportion of big top + skinny bottom. So for the top, go for an oversized, blingy sweater or jacket like this one from H&M. Joan was all about the sequins!


2. The Bottoms

If you’re feeling extra extravagant, you can find a matching sequin miniskirt to go with the top. But if you want the jacket to be the focal point, just wear black leggings or these high-rise skinny jeans from Gap for the perfect 80s look, plus they’re a staple you’ll wear for life.


3. The Shoes

Super duper pointy toed pumps were ESSENTIAL when it came to the formal 80s look. So grab your pair of pointy toed black pumps to go with your Joan-inspired ensemble. 


4. The Finishing Touches

Joan’s most common makeup look rang very true to 80s fashion—more, more, and more! Dark, defined eyebrows, a dark purple smokey eye, big lashes, a bright pink or red lip, and deep contouring are what you’re going to need to bring out your inner diva! Curl your hair with a wand, tease it, and pile it on your head to mimic Joan’s mile-high locks. Finish off your look by draping yourself with tons of costume jewelry—glitzy earrings, a necklace, and tons of jeweled bracelets to look effortlessly divine.


Jane Fonda

We couldn't do an ode to 1980s fashion without mentioning the original queen of aerobics, Jane Fonda. The award-winning actress was the first major star to do an exercise video, making legwarmers and Lycra as important to the decade as the power shoulders. She is the fitness guru who inspired the fit-obsessed styles of today—like wearing patterned leggings as pants or legwarmers for style.

1. Leggings

Literally, that’s it. Grab your favorite pair of leggings. Make sure they’re super tight and let you MOVE. To go the extra mile, make them BRIGHT and NEON! Try these from GapFit—they beat Lululemon and Nike in fit, style, comfort, and moisture-wicking technology in a ton of product tests.


2. Top

You would look really silly showing up to the gym or your daily life wearing a leotard like they did in the 80s. Calm down—I’m not crazy enough to tell you to do that today. Just wear a regular tee or tank like this tee from Gap (can you tell by now I’m obsessed?) if you’re going to wear exercise leggings as daily fashion. The only rule is to stick to bright colors!


3. The Sneakers                                              

Nike was the most popular shoe brand in the 80s. You can go for a classic Nike like they wore in the 80s here, or you can go with the sleeker look that’s more popular today. Nikes are one of those shoes that has withstood the test of time, and are a perfect example of the 80s in today's fashion.


4. The Finishing Touches

If you do want to wear legwarmers—be my guest. You can find them at Target, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, TJMaxx, anywhere! Otherwise, tease your hair up really big and pull out your mom’s old exercise tapes to get jazzed for jazzercise!



And last, but most certainly not least, the queen of 80s fashion, the one and only Madonna! Her majesty burst onto the pop scene in 1983, working haute scrunchies, leathers, and tutus like the world had never seen before. The world fell in love (naturally) and the queen of pop reigned for the rest of the decade—and even into today—breaking style boundaries with her incredible physique and conical bras.

1. The Crop Top

Wow where have we seen crop tops before? Literally everywhere. Everywhere. If you want to look exactly like Madonna, try to find a black see-through crop top like this one from Forever 21. Now, don’t freak out because that’s not the only thing you’re wearing on top.


2. The Bra

Now, who doesn’t love a great bralette? For Madonna’s look, you can grab this adorable lacy bralette from Aerie (my favorite place to get bralettes— they're always on sale and I’m addicted to them!). 


3. The Bottom

Madonna was all about leggings, but she also rocked fringy tulle skirts like it was her job. So pull on those leggings, and also reach for this mesh skirt from Express. If you don’t feel like shopping, a regular black skirt is fine too!


4. The Shoes

Madonna was all about strappy pumps! To get her sexy look, try these heels from DSW. Pair them with black lace socks for added oomph! 


5. The Finishing Touches

To get Madonna’s iconic hairstyle, curl and tease your hair, then put it half up on top of your head in a scrunchie. You can also tie a piece of black fabric in a bow on top of your head if you want! Make sure you wear a ton of charcoal black eyeliner and mascara, then give yourself an incredible smoky eye and deep red lips. Finish off your look with two wrists full of bracelets and a cross necklace, and you’ll look exactly like Madonna! 


Whether you want to channel your inner Madonna, get nostalgic with The Breakfast Club, or get fit with our girl Jane, reach for your scrunchies and shoulder pads for a classic 1980s vibe!


Bonus + Fun Fact + Shameless Self-Promotion: I was QUEEN of spirit days in elementary, middle, and high school (true story). ESPECIALLY “80s Day.” So since you guys have been such loyal readers of my weekly fashion roundup, here is a picture of me in 8th grade getting my Madonna on (in my mom’s actual sweatshirt from the actual 80s) with my friends on “80s Day.”


If you missed last week’s article on the 1970s, click here!