Women's Fashion in the 80s: Top 14 Decade-Defining Trends (2023)

14 Most Popular Ladies Trends of the 80s

Ah, the 80s! What a decade of decadence, fun, and style it was…

Driven by soul-melting music, sleek sports cars, and technology bringing TV into every house, the 80s was a time of unbridled excitement.

Showcased by larger-than-life movie stars and music celebrities, the wardrobe choices and hairstyles of the 80s era for women were equally eye-catching, daring, and bold.

As such, attempting to list all the iconic 80s fashion trends from a decade brimming with sartorial creativity would be a near-impossible task.

Yet, I’ve highlighted the 14 most popular women’s fashion styles that defined the 80s decade.

1. 80s Workout Fashion

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With movie icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and fitness goddess Jane Fonda leading the way, the 80s decade saw a growing emphasis on health and fitness activities.

The 80s was a time when fitness and health were at the forefront of popular culture, and being in shape was more than a goal, but a status symbol, and wearing stylish outfits was part of one’s image.

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Some of the most representative 80s workout clothes were spandex suits, leggings, tennis armbands, colorful workout gloves, leotards, shell suits, and mini shorts like John Travolta wore in “Perfect” (1985).

Other popular clothes for workouts in the 80s were neon headbands, scrunchies, muscle tank tops, Zubaz pants, and velour tracksuits with Rebook sneakers.

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Women's Fashion in the 80s: Top 14 Decade-Defining Trends (4)

2. The Preppy Fashion

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The 80s saw the rise of the “Preppy Fashion” trend, characterized by the sophisticated and refined style of the upper-class academia from prestigious Ivy League schools.

The preppy look exuded classic, relaxed, scholarly vibes and included a carefully curated wardrobe of must-have items.

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Essential pieces included: Polo shirts with popped collars, tennis sweaters, Ivy League cardigans, turtlenecks, traditional navy blue blazers, seersucker jackets, and chino trousers.

Shorts, repp stripe neckties, classic boat shoes or penny loafers, and timeless Ray Ban sunglasses were popular in the 80s preppy fashion.

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Women's Fashion in the 80s: Top 14 Decade-Defining Trends (8)

3. 80s Neon Trend

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The 80s neon trend reflected the times, capturing the decade’s bright, bold, and adventurous spirit.

Early music artists wearing neon sunglasses at night and singing about “the bright future ahead” fostered the ubiquitous neon trend that dominated the fashion scene then.

From fluorescent neon green and yellow to neon pink and blue, the 80s bold and bright colors permeated every aspect of life, making statements with every step.

Madonna, Jane Fonda, Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields, Cindy Crawford, Cheryl Tiegs, Karen Alexander, and other celebrities were instrumental in promoting the neon clothing trend.

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Similarly, top fashion brands like Esprit Clothing, United Colors Of Benetton, Rebook, and Nike capitalized on the trend by marketing neon skiwear and workout clothes, neon headbands, jelly bracelets, bold neon makeup, neon leggings and leg warmers, and even neon glasses.

4. 80s Rockers

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As rock bands like Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Guns n’ Roses, and Kiss rose to fame, the 80s saw a surge in rock fashion popularity as millions sought to emulate their favorite rock stars.

Embodying the 80s rocker style requires the proper attire of 80s biker-style leather jackets with metallic studs, pockets, and patches or denim jackets.

Pair the jacket with skinny leather pants, ripped jeans, and black, white, or grey t-shirts.

Complete the look with high leather combat boots, biker gloves, bandanas, leather studded bracelets, and eye-catching silver rings to capture the essence of 80s rock fashion.

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Women's Fashion in the 80s: Top 14 Decade-Defining Trends (12)

5. 80s Hip-Hop Fashion

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In the 80s, hip-hop fashion was a form of self-expression that transcended mere clothing and reflected the music of the time.

After Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five paved the way in the 70s fashion with unique blends of rockstar flair and cowboy panache, the 80s hip-hop fashion was influenced by rap legends like Run DMC, MC Hammer, Eric B. & Rakim, and LL Cool J.

In a fusion of street, sport, and luxury fashion, the 80s iconic hip-hop styles are still relevant today, with items like air Jordans, bucket hats, and tracksuits continuing to be worn decades later.

Some of the most recognizable pieces of the 80s hip-hop fashion decade were: RUN DMC-style leather jackets with light wash jeans and Kangol bucket hats, big rope and clock gold chains, boomer jackets, patched jackets, windbreaker jackets, man boots, and Gucci’s Dapper Dan style.

80s rappers also wore Adidas tracksuits, thick socks, Jordan sneakers, four-finger rings, snapback caps, gold hoop earrings, trucker hats, men’s polka dot shirts, Gucci loafers, and Cazal sunglasses.

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6. 80s Punk Fashion

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The UK’s 80s music had a bold and rebellious energy that instilled the youth with different values, as reflected in their clothing.

Punk fashion took it a notch up by breaking the norm of preppy polos, women’s sneakers, and suits.

Some punk clothing essentials still worth adding to your wardrobe are Doc Martens or military-style boots, punk rock chains, plaids, and ripped skinny jeans with band t-shirts.

Let’s not forget women’s black leather jackets, patches, safety pins, trousers, kilts, buttons, buckles, and black leather belts, completed with skinhead or mohawk hairstyles.

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Women's Fashion in the 80s: Top 14 Decade-Defining Trends (18)

7. 80s Pop Fashion

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The 80s decade was a pop-culture landmark, primarily through its output in music and movies and the resulting unforgettable fashion trends that we associate it with.

Superstars like Madonna, Molly Ringwald, and Cyndi Lauper inspired teenage girls with hairstyles, fishnet clothing, glitter makeup, big earrings, bracelets, scrunchies, and fingerless gloves.

For men, pop icons like Michael Jackson and David Bowie made it acceptable to wear sequined clothing and even makeup to enhance facial features.

(Video) 1980s Forgotten Fads

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Women's Fashion in the 80s: Top 14 Decade-Defining Trends (21)

8. 80s Goth Fashion

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In the early 80s, followers of the US deathrock musical genre, particularly regulars at London’s Batcave club, decided to confront the darkness of the future head-on.

As a result, the classic goth look was born, characterized by towering backcombed hair and dark attire, ranging from overcoats and skinny jeans to mini skirts, fishnet stockings, and other goth clothing pieces.

The 80s goth fashion movement was fueled by trailblazing figures such as Siouxsie Sioux, Strawberry Switchblade, The Cure, and Nick Cave.

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9. 80s Black Fashion

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The 1980s black fashion – also known as African-American style was led by the decade’s celebrities.

Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson made wearing overalls while fastening only one strap a desired carefree look of the 80s for black women.

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For men, popular black 80s fashion styles were characterized by leather jackets and acid-washed denim – often sported by Michael Jackson and Prince.

Yet, psychedelic print shirts, oversized clothes, gold chains, bamboo earrings, floppy hats, and Adidas sneakers were also popular amongst black celebrities such as Rapper Kid, Prince, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, and MC Hammer.

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10. 80s Beach Fashion

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Some of the most popular beach styles of the 80s decade comprised denim shorts, cropped tops, wide-brim hats, Rah-Rah skirts, huarache shoes, Ray-Ban Wayfarers, scrunchies, and spandex swimming suits in neon colors.

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11. Women’s Skater Fashion

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The skateboarding culture of the 1980s reflected the countercultural movements of the time.

The skaters of the era were more concerned with the freedom of expression through their sport and less concerned with the fashion that accompanied it.

However, the films and documentaries that captured the skateboarding scene, such as “Thrashin’,” “Gleaming the Cube,” and the Bones Brigade, provide a fascinating glimpse into the unique fashion styles of the skaters of the 80s.

Some of the most iconic 80s skater trends still relevant today include classic sneakers like Chuck Taylors and Vans paired with white socks, graphic tees and sleeveless tops, baggy, colorful pants, and carefree hairstyles.

Other garments embodying the rebellious spirit of the 80s skateboarding culture were:

  • The bright neon skater skirts.
  • Denim jackets without sleeves.
  • Levi’s jeans and jackets with patchwork designs.
  • Thrasher brand t-shirts.
  • Baja hoodies.

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12. 80s Mom Fashion

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The most popular 80s mom fashion style comprised high-waisted pants (or “mom” jeans) with a blouse or a sweater tucked in.

Other popular 80s mom fashion styles included power-dressing suits with big shoulders, sequined outfits, ruffled dresses, off-the-shoulder tops and dresses in striking colors, and oversized earrings.

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Other popular 80s clothes for mothers, especially fitness-driven ones, were spandex gym outfits, Lycra tights, and leg warmers in bright neon colors.

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13. Sloane Ranger Fashion

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The Sloane Ranger fashion of the 1980s was a British preppy style associated with young, upper-class women who lived in or near London’s exclusive Chelsea neighborhood.

The style comprised a mix of classic and traditional elements, such as tweed jackets, pearls, and polo shirts, combined with a more laid-back and casual approach to dressing.

This look was popularized by the bestselling book “The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook” and became a defining trend of the decade.

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14. Women’s Office Fashion

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Some of the most famous women’s 80s office outfits revolved around power dressing, a style characterized by sharp, tailored suits with large shoulder pads to confer a feeling of authority.

Another iconic 80s office look was the “Working Girl” style, featuring pencil skirts, blazers, and high heels.

The power suit and working girl styles were matched with silk blouses, pump shoes, oversized eyewear, and pearl accessories.

80s office fashion for men included suit jackets, dress shirts, neckties, and formal shoes, accessorized with opulent cufflinks, tie pins, and statement briefcases.

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Women’s 80s Fashion FAQs

What Did Ladies Wear in the 80s?

Popular clothing for ladies in the 80s included sweaters, turtlenecks, crew necks, and v-necks. Fur-lined puffer jackets, tunics, faux-fur coats, velvet blazers, and trench coats made from fake or real leather were also in vogue.

Crop tops, tube tops, knee-length skirts, loose and flowy knee-length dresses with high or low-cut necklines, and various sleeve lengths made of cotton, silk, satin, and polyester were also popular.

High-waisted loose pants, embroidered jeans, leather pants, and designer jeans were also fashionable, but by 1982 flared jeans had been replaced by straight-leg trousers while cropped pants, pedal-pushers, and Capri pants, popularized during the late 1970s, were still in fashion.

How to Dress Like The 80s Female?

To dress like a female of the 80s with everyday clothes, you’ll have to use some of the decades’ staple styles:

  • Clothes in bright neon colors with leg warmers
  • Suit jackets and blazers with oversized shoulders – or bulky sweaters
  • Off-the-shoulder tops with mini skirts and fingerless gloves
  • Acid-washed ripped jeans with denim jackets
  • Tight-to-the-body spandex and lycra athletic clothes
  • Tracksuits with large chains and hats to create an 80s hip-hop style

What Was Popular Fashion In The 80s?

There were several popular clothing styles in the 1980s, and these are the decade’s most popular fashion styles:

  • Power dressing: Strong, boxy blazers with exaggerated shoulder pads and high-waisted trousers.
  • Neon colors: Clothes in bright and bold neon colors, such as pink, green, yellow, and orange.
  • Leg warmers: Leg warmers paired with mini skirts and short Dolphin shorts.
  • Acid-washed denim: jackets, shorts, and skirts.
  • Mini skirts: Mini skirts worn with tights, leggings, fishnets, and fingerless gloves.
  • Tracksuits: Colorful tracksuits with sneakers, large chains, and brimmed hats.

Conclusion

In conclusion, women’s fashion in the 80s comprised a beautiful mixture of freedom and rebellious choices, intending to create a statement and stand out.

Most women’s fashion looks in the 80s were characterized by Power Dressing styles in masculine cuts and oversized shoulders.

The Rocker Chick look – defined by distressed jeans and biker jackets with short skirts and bright neon hues – was also super popular.

Moreover, all 80s fashion styles for women were heavily accessorized with chunky jewelry, oversized sunglasses, scrunchies, leg warmers in bright colors, fishnet tights, studs, and chains.

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And, while you should feel free to mix and match patterns, colors, and accessories, remember to use this 80s fashion guide for women as a critical stylistic reference.

With the right attitude and inspiration, you can quickly become an 80s fashion icon!

And remember to share your 80s fashion looks with us on social media; we can’t wait to see your 80s fashion outfits.

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Now it’s your turn…

Which one of these women’s 80s fashion looks is your favorite and why?

Which 80s fashion style for women do you think we’ve missed and should include in our next article update?

Please leave your comments below; we always appreciate them and use them to learn, improve, and update these articles.

Mandy Meyer

After years of managing hundreds of fashion brands from London's office of a global retailer, Mandy has ventured into freelancing. Connected with several fashion retailers and media platforms in the US, Australia, and the UK, Mandy uses her expertise to consult for emerging fashion brands create top-notch content as an editorial strategist for several online publications.

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