Ten Clothing Pieces That Defined 1980s Fashion In America

Fashion in the 1980s
Fashion in the 1980s / Pinterest / wheretoget
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In January of 1980, the Rubik’s Cube made its debut at the International Toy Fair. The small puzzle featuring dozens of brightly colored tiles could be seen as a prelude to the 1980s fashion. This is because the wardrobes of that time were all about as wild and colorful as that famous puzzle box. The name of the game was to stand out. Only one problem: everyone else was working hard to be fashionably ostentatious too.

As a result of various social shifts and general developments of the time, the 1980s fashion is memorable to this day. Many pieces of clothing became ubiquitous among the U.S. population throughout the decade. Whether it was the tailoring, colors, or size of the item, it is easy to look back and remember what defined fashion in the 1980s.

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1. Neon, neon everywhere

Bright neon colors definitely defined 1980s fashion
The neon was hard to miss / Pinterest

Recall the desire to stand out. The best way people did this in the ’80s was through vibrant colors. As a result, various bold neon colors adorned anyone embracing the fashion of the time. At least riding a bike was made all the safer; no one could miss a highlighter-yellow bicyclist.

Any clothing item could and would be neon-colored. Leg warmers, themselves pretty characteristic of this era, would be bright pinks and yellows. Sweatshirts, sized to be especially large, featured wild colors. Shirts, pants, anything visible on the body would make itself very visible.

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2. 1980s fashion had acid-wash jeans reimagine denim

Acid-wash jeans and denim in general became fashion staples
Acid-wash jeans and denim, in general, became fashion staples / wheretoget

Some creations are happy accidents. Such was the case for acid-wash jeans. The Rifle jeans company of Italy brewed this fashion piece up after accidentally tumbled jeans, bleach, and pumice stone with pretty much no water. The simplicity of this recipe meant many people could replicate it and have this 1980s fashion piece themselves.

Other denim items were not spared this splattering of bleach. Jackets, usually oversized like the sweatshirts, also got the acid-wash treatment. Interestingly, they seem to be making a comeback. Many acid-wash pieces made an appearance on the F/W 19 runway show. Even celebrities have been seen sporting the look.

3. Shoulder pads weren’t just for football players

TV queen Joan Collins sporting a professional outfit with shoulder pads present
TV queen Joan Collins sporting a professional outfit with shoulder pads present / Everett/REX Shutterstock

In fact, shoulder pads were present in the blazers women wore during their workday. Almost any blazer purchased in the ’80s had shoulder pads in them, so much so it looked unusual to see a professional outfit without them. Compare this to now, and the difference is especially striking. Jackets are still present to finish up a professional outfit, but without the shoulder guards.

Its prevalence in the 1980s fashion actually is a resurgence of popularity from decades ago. In the later decade, they were made from cut foam designed to define the silhouette. Because many associated the broad shape with masculinity, the shoulder pads became symbolic of women breaking into the workforce in earnest and reaping success in the corporate world. Ultimately, they became symbols of power in an era when many overshadowed groups were demanding their voices be heard.

4. Tracksuits for all occasions

Tracksuits were not just for athletics anymore
Tracksuits were not just for athletics anymore / Grailed

The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J accelerated the popularity of tracksuits. No longer was this set for workouts. In the ’80s, they became a clothing staple for any occasion, without breaking a sweat. Adidas became one of the most famous producers of tracksuits, featuring the three bars along the edges of the outfit. But other variations existed, with different styles and patterns to choose from.

Eventually, velour sets became highly popular. This led to the material being the most popular when making tracksuits. In the latter half of the 1980s, a brief switch would draw people to wearing nylon shellsuits, though this was very brief. No one could resist this popular trend for long.

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5. Don’t get your shirts in a ruffle…or…do, in the name of 1980s fashion

A woman's ruffled bib blouse
A woman’s ruffled bib blouse / Pinterest
Prince in Purple Rain
Prince in Purple Rain / City Pages

Men and women alike pursued clothing with more surface area to it, especially with shirts. Looking back on the trend to be noticed, this makes perfect sense. What better way to grab attention than by increasing what there is to see? And so, the 1980s fashion included ruffled shirts and blouses.

Some examples might remind viewers of what dancers or figure skaters might wear. This too is rather logical, since artists could often be seen sporting the fashion piece. Prince, for example, wore a white shirt with a sophisticated, airy, ruffled front in “Purple Rain.” The style found itself in many closets in the ’80s.

Read onto the NEXT page for more ’80s fashion nostalgia!

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