1980s fashion is probably best rembered for its big hair, big shoulder pads, and even bigger blockbuster gigs, grooves, and TV shows.
The 1980s encompassed ten years that would come to change the world into a modern place. There have been several turning points in the cultural shifting of mankind. The first of these was the close of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” After which came the Roaring Twenties, which was shared with Britain was well as the United States. World War II turned the planet into a virtual battlefield which left many keeping their frivolities in closer check, swearing off any more wars as destructive as the fight against Nazi Germany.
As time wore on, however, the newer generations, unscarred by warfare, took on a new perspective. The 1960s and 1970s were primarily a period of “hippie revolution,” where people across the world preached peace. By the time the 1980s rolled around, Vietnam, Korea and the Cold War had already affected the world. Reality was mixed with both peace and warfare, creating a unique sound, style and aura that made the 1980s.
The 1980s, for Britain, was a time of focus on the Royal Family. Although Princess Diana was primarily popular during the 90s, her influence on the Prince and his family was undeniable. Her eclectic personality and smile charmed not only the UK, but the rest of the world.
Leaders emerged that would soon come to play major parts in later wars, such as President Ronald Reagan of the United States and Sadaam Hussein of Iraq. Mikhail Gorbachev became a well-known figure during this time, as well.
Music experienced a unique rebirth during this period. The uplifting, happy-go-lucky tunes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were somewhat upstaged by a new type of music created, almost single-handedly, by American music sensation Michael Jackson. Pop music exploded onto the world platform with the release of his smash-hit, ‘Thriller,’ in the early 80s.
Madonna would later go on to define new heights for female performers. The styles of British pop were deeply imbedded into culture, influencing societal feelings with their songs. Pop artists like Sonia provided peppy music as well as an emotional outlet for their audiences.
Style and fashion were taken to new levels during the 1980s. Pop stars were gaining a new degree of fame that projected them onto the world stage, as well as were world leaders and celebrity figures. Much of the fashion that was popular during the end of the twentieth century stemmed from the influence of these public figures. Big hair, big shoulder pads, and leather are one way to sum up the style. Pastels, prints and breezy blouses graced women’s figures as basic jeans defined men’s.
The 1980s was as big of a phenomenon as the century it resided within.
It’s now 30 years after the 1980s and still people everywhere in America look back on these years as some of the best in their life. What is it about the 1980s that makes people look back and still celebrate the culture? Is it the outrageous colours of the clothing or the music, or maybe the tons of icons that came out of the 80’s that makes this decade so special? Perhaps the answer is simple… It’s all of them.
If you grew up in the 1980s then you know how special this time period was for America. The 80’s is when pop culture hit its peak and fashion came to an all-time high. Even if you were into the metal scene, the 80’s had everything you wanted, from the long-haired metal bands to the rock ballads that are still used everywhere. Everything in the 80’s was fashion and music.
If you were into the pop scene then you remember the rise of great artists like Michael Jackson, Debby Gibson, Tiffany, and Cyndi Lauper. You remember their style with the tight leggings and poufy skirts over them that made you stand out and look the part of the 80’s pop star. Who could forget Madonna? It was the 1980s when she exploded onto the scene with her risqué clothing and songs that made the censors go wide eyed.
She wowed the crowds with clothing that no woman before would dare to wear before. The critics didn’t know what to think about all the crazy colours and make up, but teenagers and young adults everywhere went nuts for this outrageous rebel style that was like nothing seen before.
The metal scene was just as glamorous as the pop scene. Men had long hair and women cut their hair short. hair metal bands everywhere were selling out show after show. Bands like Poison, Cinderella, Rat, Motley Crue, and Whitesnake are only a few among the dozens of hair metal bands that made the crowds go crazy.
It was the true age of sex, drugs, and rock n` roll. Spandex was found in abundance, along with tight ripped jeans, and striped everywhere made the fashion of this era stand out like no other. Men even began to wear makeup and proclaim themselves as glam rock bands.
Hairstyles was another thing that made the 80’s stand out above many other decades. Women wore their bands as high as they could get them. You saw crimped hair everywhere with so much hairspray that the hair barely moved at all. Men had long hair or wore the mullet style, and no one was afraid of glitter. Even women who wore their hair short teased their hair until it was spiked up. It was the age of hairspray to many people, and some swear the reason we have a hole in our o-zone.
No matter which way you look, the 1980s in America was glamorous and full of colour. There are still parties all over the country commemorating the awesome decade where anything goes, and you were only as cool as your hair was tall. It was the decade where so many things were introduced, timeless fashions came into play, and you could truly express yourself in any way that you felt you needed to. The 1980s was absolutely a decade of decadence.
In the 1980s, fashion took a dramatic turn from the 1970s. While in the decade before, baggy bell bottoms were fashionable, individuals traded in their loose trousers for skin-tight pants. Furthermore, the close-fitting blouses of the 70s had disappeared, replaced with ripped, baggy sweatshirts made popular by the hit film, Flashdance. During this unique decade, bright colours were especially preferable, and accessorizing was the key to an outstanding wardrobe.
Media had a particularly strong effect on 1980s fashion, blazing the trail for the fashion pioneers of the decade. Daytime dramas like Dallas and Dynasty left their mark, heightening the popularity of women wearing large shoulder pads often attached by Velcro strips on the inside of the clothing. Female shoulder pads often contributed to “power dress,” a term coined for women who had emerged as important figures in the workforce.
Continuing the media-inspired fashion frenzy, dance wear evolved in the 1980s in the wake of such films as Fame and Staying Alive, the latter a sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Flamboyant leotards became increasingly popular in the early 80s, and they were often worn with headbands, legwarmers, and snug tights to complete the look. Around this time, aerobics had taken off, making dance wear essential to every wardrobe not only as workout attire but also as common street fashion.
Music superstars like Madonna also left lasting impressions on the 1980s fashion world. Embracing the dance wear craze born in the same decade, Madonna broke out of her shell with street urchin fashion made unique with tight leggings, tiny skirts, colourful rubber bracelets, fishnets, and unkempt hair.
She had a particularly strong influence on women, inspiring the idea of lingerie as outerwear when, prior to her ventures, the accidental display of one’s bra was virtually unheard of. In this respect, Madonna shattered through the norm and helped to usher in a new decade with more radical ideals than its predecessor.
Long and oversized hair became extremely popular in the 1980s. By using copious amounts of mousse and hair spray from brands like AquaNet, individuals teased their hair up to the extreme, achieving high volume made popular in the decade.
Individuals would often accentuate their respective hairstyles with glitter, headbands, and other forms of flamboyant hair ornamentation. As a rule, hair was not usually parted. More flamboyant individuals favoured the unpredictability of untamed hair whereas businesspeople usually combed their hair straight back for practical purposes.
Style and flair became an important element of the 1980s. With large shoulder pads for women, voluminous hair, eccentric dance wear, and lingerie as outerwear, fashion had reached a new plateau, emerging from the decade before it like a vibrant, unique, and utterly wild animal ready to pounce.
The 1980s began with the highly anticipated second instalment of the Star Wars saga, “The Empire Strikes Back,” followed closely by Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Both movies not only ensured stardom for actor Harrison Ford, they established blockbuster franchises as the new measure of success in the film industry.
This “bigger is better” mantra became a prominent theme of the 80s, a decade in which business routinely experienced hostile takeovers, buyouts and mergers, a decade marked by consumerism, perhaps best summed up by stockbroker Gordon Gekko’s famous “Greed is good” line in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.”
Notably, all three of the movies featured male protagonists. In the early part of the 1980s, women were still struggling to succeed in a “man’s world.” In fashion, this upwardly mobile drive was personified by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher established the “power dressing” look, with tailored suits, no-nonsense court shoes and handbags that became so synonymous with Thatcher’s political style as to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary, where “to handbag” is defined as ruthless or insensitive actions taken by a woman politician.
One lesson learned from the “power dressing” style would persist throughout the decade: image was everything. This lesson was taken to heart by the younger generation of the 80s, powered by the debut of MTV, which forever changed the way youth evaluates music. With the advent of music videos, the style of the artist became as significant as the music itself. Personalized style became a necessary component to success.
This resulted in a hodge-podge of fashion trends, from acid-washed jeans and torn sweatshirts to shoulder pads and parachute pants. Madonna’s ever-changing styles during the 1980s exemplified the era’s eclectic fashion.
The 1980s was also the era which brought “yuppies” to the fore, the upwardly mobile young professionals seeking to enjoy all the perks of the good life. Jay McInerney encapsulated the lifestyle with his book, Bright Lights, Big City.
By night, young professionals might be found indulging in the hedonism of 1980s club life, but by day they portrayed themselves as serious businessmen and women, dressed in a conservative “prep school” attire. Brooks Brothers and Polo Ralph Lauren designs popularized the preppy look, while retail clothing stores like The Gap mass-marketed it.
By the end of the 1980s, women had secured their place in the professional world, as a family’s ability to maintain a middle-class lifestyle became increasingly dependent upon a two-income model. The end of the decade also brought access to the growing internet into more and more homes and offices, marking the beginning of the global economical and cultural changes that would come to the fore in the 1990s.
1980s Pop Music
Pop music in the 1980s left lasting impressions on the music world. Artists in the 80s pioneered the modern music world, giving birth to styles and sounds that pushed the envelope of what the public considered taboo to create melodic pieces of art that have lasted through the decades since.
One of the most notable pop music stars in the 1980s was Madonna. Madonna’s career began in the 1970s but did not take off until 1983 when she released her self-titled debut album. Released by Sire Records, Madonna’s debut album ushered in a new generation of music that carried on through the decade. “Everybody,” the first single off the album, became an instant hit on the dance charts and in the following year, the “Like a Virgin” single solidified Madonna’s status as a music super star.
Around the same time, Michael Jackson had undergone a transformation and crashed onto the music scene with his new album, “Thriller.” The release of the album ushered in what came to be known as the Thriller Era; rightly so because Thriller went on to become the best-selling album of all time. For this reason, critics often cite Michael Jackson as the most popular pop music star and the most influential artist of the 80s. His sound drew much of its influence from R&B, another popular genre in the 80s, yet his voice and his dance styles were distinctly pop.
Behind the spotlights on Madonna and Michael Jackson, songstresses like Whitney Houston and Tina Turner established solid positions on the pop music charts. Pop ballads had become increasingly popular during the 1980s, making stars like Lionel Richie prominent figures in the era, sometimes coined as urban pop. The latter half of the decade also gave birth to the world’s first sample of teen pop, made popular by boy bands like New Kids on the Block and New Edition.
Dance was an important aspect of 1980s music and pop showcased it best. Popular United Kingdom bands like Frankie goes to Hollywood made slam dunks on the music charts during the early 1980s, whereas new age and pop star Enya dominated the hits list during the latter part of the decade with her breakthrough album, “Watermark.” Synth pop also rose to popularity in the early 80s, creating careers for artists like Tangerine Dream, the Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears, and the Eurythmics.
By the end of the decade, pop music had reached a level of versatility rivalled only by the many sub-genres of rock, creating an entirely new era of music and art that continued inspiring musicians well into the 90s.
The economic downturn of the 1980s gave the automobile industry difficulties right out of the starting gate. Among others, the Chrysler and American Motors companies were nearly bankrupt; even Ford, the leader of the American automobile industry, was in financial trouble. It simply was not the right time for consumers to purchase brand-new automobiles, particularly after competition from European and Asian automakers began to rise.
Consumers in the 1980s needed smaller automobiles. Compact cars quickly became the norm, mostly because they cost the consumers less to maintain and fuel, but also because the streamlined designs resulted in higher efficiency vehicles. For this reason, Japanese motor companies like Mazda and Toyota flourished, adding to the import market in the United States and Europe and giving the national car makers major runs for their money.
The epitome of efficiency and aerodynamics in vehicles came began in 1983 when Ford began to redesign their existing models. The idea was to create a small, sleek automobile that would top the competition in efficiency by providing decreased drag and increased airflow capacity without forcing the consumer to pay astronomical prices. Shortly thereafter, the Thunderbird was born, bringing the automobile industry into a new era of design and functionality.
The Taurus was everything that Asian auto makers had produced and more. Ford had another hit with the Taurus in 1985, again implementing the streamlined design in an attempt to appeal to the needs of the consumers. With its new additions to the world of automobile design, Ford picked itself up from tatters and rebuilt itself, revolutionizing the automobile industry and changing the way the world looked at vehicles.
It was during this time that GM, a consistent player in the automobile industry, began to suffer. With Ford, Chrysler, Mazda, and Toyota churning out efficient compact vehicles, GM attempted to redesign their existing models, but their attempts did not bear much fruit. Their vehicles were nowhere near as sleek as those offered by the competition and sales took a nosedive in the latter half of the 1980s.
Despite Ford’s newly discovered success, European car makers had better luck during the early and mid-1980s. The yuppie culture had emerged, and their tastes led them to stylish European car makers like Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Admittedly, whereas the more privileged consumer drifted toward imported luxury vehicles, the average consumer seemed to prefer the smaller, more practical vehicles offered by manufacturers like Ford and Mazda.
For many consumers, life in the 80s meant saving pennies wherever possible and purchasing the most economical, practical vehicle. For this reason, smaller vehicles like the remodelled Ford lines flourished, helping to revitalize the American car industry in its ongoing competition with European car makers.
1980s Household Interiors
The 1980s was a time of evolvement for household styles. Who can forget the 1970s, with its shag carpet and psychedelic swirls and patterns that graced the interiors of most young people’s houses during this period? The 1980s saw a transition from the mish-mash of colours and slanted, flat roofs to a more modern, streamlined style. While styles for people during the 80s cantered on big hair, big jackets, big shoulder pads and big pop stars, the housing designs of this period was just as unique.
The popularity of colouring has changed since the beginning of the twentieth century. The Victorian Age dominated for a time, giving way to a more refined, mint green colouring that many houses carried during the 1940s and 1950s. The 1980s, however, had a notably different palette of colours, most popular of these being peach and a light, salmon pink. Hunter green, mauve, teal, blue and greys were also popular – almost as an ode to the current popularity of black, teal, and blue leather that was dominating the fashion world thanks to Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Brass-framed octagon mirrors and large, wall-covering mirrors within large bathrooms were also popular. A common trend for the wealthier was building rooms out of glass blocks. The average household instead built windows and parts of doors out of wavy glass blocks, creating a blurred image of what was going on in the other side, thus inducing a sense of unique privacy.
Just as Princess Diana unabashedly and forever influenced the world of fashion and style in England and the world, Great Britain was influenced in its interior decorating by other nations of the world. Particularly Hollywood. A huge trend throughout the 1980s was the dressing room-style bathrooms with rows of light bulbs that resembled a Hollywood strip. Etched glass was also enormously popular. People would place their etched mirrors or accessories in glass cabinets to show them off.
The furniture of this era was less about single, bold colours and more about splashy designs. Pastel swirls and brushes of light-coloured paints were popular, as were lacy curtains with large ruffles in the popular salmon pink colour of the eighties. Just as lace was popular in clothing, it was also popular in houses, too.
Curtains were lace. Bedspreads were lace. Pillowcases and bed-shams were made of lace. Carpets maintained, for the most part, a white tone. Couches were usually blessed with busy, swirling pastels that, by today’s standards, might be considered ridiculous. Pillows were generally brown, Gray and teal, as were the walls, as previously mentioned.
The 1980s were a time of departure, paving the way for modern decorating that would eventually come to define the 21st century.
1980s TV Shows
How many times has someone come home and turned on their television set, only to turn it right back off again because they could not find something to spark their interest? It seems as if, no matter how many channels you have access to, there is never anything on. Back in the 1980s, the opposite tended to be true. While television has changed since the 80’s, especially in terms of acceptable language and actions, many people miss television from that decade. Comparing the current viewing options to what was available in 1980s, as well as subject matter, it’s easy to understand the attraction to the television viewing of the 80’s.
One aspect of 80’s TV was that there was something to attract every viewer, no matter what their entertainment tastes were. There were also a lot of star-studded line-ups to be found on the small screen. Comedy yielded cutting edge shows such as Designing Women, Night Court, Cheers and Full House all of which looked at aspects such as women’s equality, the legal system, life in a barroom and single parenthood from a male perspective.
These shows were all comedic, but with serious undertones. For those who enjoyed a flare for adventure you had such greats as MacGyver, Airwolf, The A-Team, and other such shows to fulfil the need for edge-of-your-seat action. When it came to a need for drama that could be found in the lives of others, there were shows like Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing and Falcon Crest.
Another aspect of the 1980s television programming was the made-for-TV movies that could be found. Many of these movies were of the same quality and made with attention to detail that could be found in the making of a blockbuster. They received the same promotion prior to airing and a number of these movies have now become classics and are available for purchase on DVD. Appearances in these made-for-TV movies have also been the launching point for many high-profile acting careers.
When it came to 1980s television, there were quite a few well-known faces that could be found on the small screen. Television was home to actors and actresses such as Linda Evans, John Forsythe, Joan Collins and Jane Wyman, just to name a few.
All these artists were already successful, either in previous television or on the silver screen, before becoming television superstars in the 1980s. In addition to the star power that could be found in these great shows, another aspect of television that isn’t as evident as it was in the 1980s is longevity. Today’s viewing options just don’t seem to have the history or star power behind them that could be found in the 80’s.
1980s Films and Cinema
The 1980s were quite an eclectic mix of Hollywood offerings. Sequels were made of every blockbuster in this decade, including The Empire Strikes Back, The Evil Dead, Chucky (Child’s Play), Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman.
Many franchises hit the screens, such as:
- Back to the Future I and II (BTTF III just missed the 80s, and was released in 1990).
- Brat Pack, a.k.a. “rite of passage” films: Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles
- Chucky the homicidal doll: Child’s Play
- Friday the 13th
- James Bond
Extremely violent films emerged under the umbrella title of ‘action,’ many of them starring the future governor of California: Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator.
The Die Hard franchise began in the late 80s. Audiences began to expect an action extravaganza to have a somewhat tongue in cheek tone, and to contain lots of things blowing up, minimal dialogue and many stunts.
Other firsts and trends were:
- • The first sophisticated blending of live action and animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
- • Fantasy, including swords and sorcery: Dragonslayer, The Princess Bride and Excalibur.
- • Sexy thrillers became popular, and more daring than in previous years: Blue Velvet, Body Heat and Fatal Attraction.
An interesting genre of horror and science fiction comedies emerged, that included Ghostbusters I and II and Back to the Future. The Ghostbusters franchise began in 1984 with the original film, penned by Harold Ramis and Dan Ackroyd. The unlikely premise depicts three men ousted by academia, trying to apply real-world parapsychology concepts to their field of study.
Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver co-starred in both the original and the sequel, which was released in 1989. The franchise also spawned two animated series, Slimer and Extreme Ghostbusters.
The Hollywood rumour mill has been churning for over a decade on whether the public can expect a third in the Ghostbusters sequence. The plot involves the original trio training a new generation of ghostbusters. The American Film Institute deemed Ghostbusters to be the 28th funniest movie of all time.
In a class all by itself, Back to the Future is a humorous sci fi time travel film, in which Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly arrives in 1950s to interact with his parents. His mother becomes infatuated with him, and almost fails to get together with his father.
The top grossing movie of 1985, Back to the Future yielded two sequels that came out in 1989 and 1990. The franchise created a motion simulator attraction at Universal Studios and a cartoon series. The three films were nominated for five Oscars, and won one.
In fashion, let’s not forget those 80s shoulder pads that made women look like they had three heads.