80’s and 90’s Fashion

Oh, how the trends of decades past come back to haunt us. Have you ever taken a photo album out to show friends, only to be completely flabbergasted by your fashion choices in the pictures? Ever look back, shake your head in disbelief and say to yourself, “What was I thinking?” If you were up with the times during the 80’s and 90’s, then you probably have.

The 1980’s were a time when fashion was heavily influenced by pop music and the arrival of MTV. Androgyny and gender-bending was also a popular trend in the 80’s. Men began to experiment with long hair and makeup, and women tried out shorter styles with layered, less form-fitting clothing.

Hair was a big deal in the 80’s, and I mean a big deal. Teased, sprayed, and cajoled into impossible styles that feathered out and away from the head – ‘big hair’ was in for both men and women. Ladies also favored a sideways ponytail, which is a look that will definitely date your photo to this decade. Another trend we owe to the awesome 80’s is the mullet, which featured shorter hair near the face and long locks in the back of the head. And with a catch phrase like “business up front, party in the back,” who wouldn’t love this style?

Clothes in the most ‘radical’ decade were quite a departure from earlier styles. Popular ensembles for women included mini-skirts paired with leg warmers and sweatshirts or puffy jackets. Stretch stirrup pants with long shirts and leggings accompanied by scrunched socks and athletic shoes were also quite the rage.

Men’s fashions also took a nod from pop culture, with musicians on MTV popularizing the parachute pant, which was skin tight at the top and baggy at the bottom. Other looks that dudes of the era thought to be cool were a blazer with the sleeves rolled up and a skinny necktie, acid washed jeans, and zippers that led to nothing, a-la-Michael Jackson’s Thriller look. For both sexes, Members Only jackets were a must have item.

The phenomenon of “power dressing” also took place during the 80’s. More women were in the workplace, and in order to show they were of equal value to their male counterparts in the office, they took to wearing suits, often with shoulder pads. The purpose of these was to make the wearer look more powerful, and many jackets came with Velcro in the shoulder so that different sizes could be sported.

While the 80’s fashion carried into the next decade somewhat, the 1990’s had their own distinct style to be sure. Influenced by music, but also quite heavily by TV and movies, the 90’s embraced the ‘grunge’ look with a passion. The grunge music scene was exploding during the 90’s, with bands like Nirvana reaching the height of their popularity.

The grunge look was particularly popular in men’s fashion, and flannel shirt sales took off. A loose fitting flannel shirt over a white tee and very baggy jeans were common throughout the decade. To the dismay of grumpy old men everywhere, another trend popular with the boys during this period is the practice of ‘sagging,’ where pants are worn low well past the hips, often with boxer shorts or underwear visible. The ultra-baggy jeans craze hit its stride during these years.

Music wasn’t the only inspiration for the era’s fashion conscious youth. The movie “Clueless” was a big hit with girls across the globe, and many emulated their on screen idols by copying their clothing. Babydoll dresses, which were short A-line dresses often with empire waists, were extremely popular. Usually these were worn with opaque leggings and sometimes slouched socks and Keds-style tennis shoes.
Both decades made unique fashion statements, and their mark stays with us today. Some trends that originated during those times remain popular, and some (I’m looking at you, Mullet) really should stick to the pages of our photo albums. No matter how you feel about it, the fashions are instantly recognizable; and whether you beam with nostalgia or cringe at the memory, they were awesome threads back then.

Author: Maegen

My name is Maegen and I work in the Customer Service department for Frankel's Costumes. Most of my knowledge for costumes comes from anything ranging from movies, video games and cartoons to period studies and literature. Oh, and I am a nerd.

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