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What Are the Different Types of Vintage '80s Clothing?

By Nicole Etolen
Updated May 21, 2024
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The 1980s is often referred to as the decade of self-discovery, when young people were trying to find their own identity and create their own unique personas. Vintage '80s clothing reflects that theory. The main fashion trends were inspired primarily by the rise of several different forms of music, including punk rock, heavy metal, and new wave. Young professionals created the more conservative trends, including the polo shirt and shoulder pads.

The rise in punk rock actually began in 1977, but reached the height of its popularity in the decade that followed. Punk-inspired vintage '80s clothing trends include leather jackets covered in metallic studs or spikes, ripped jeans, and leather mini-skirts for the women. Combat boots, often covered with metal spikes, chains, or other accessories, were a common site on both men and women. Men often shaved their heads, leaving only a small amount behind, and women often used bright colored hair sprays to paint their hair various different colors.

The popularity of the movie Flashdance inspired numerous vintage '80s clothing trends, including leg warmers, sweatshirts with the neck cut off and draping off one shoulder, and sweatpants with the legs cut off halfway down. Many women wore brightly colored high heel shoes and giant barrettes in their hair to accessorize this look. Stirrup pants were also popular during this decade. These pants were typically lightweight leggings, although some were made of thicker material, with a band of elastic that looped beneath the foot to hold them in place. Oversized socks and leg warmers were often paired with stirrup pants.

Several popular vintage '80s clothing trends were made famous by the female pop singers of the decade. Such trends include fishnet stocking and gloves with the fingertips cut off, oversized headbands or bandanas, and ruffled skirts paired with tank tops. Gel, or “jelly,” bracelets and large bangle-style bracelets, usually worn by the dozens, completed the look.

The 1980s also gave rise to the young urban professional, commonly referred to by the slang name “yuppie.” This group fell into the complete opposite end of the fashion spectrum than those inspired primarily by artists and musicians did. Common “yuppie” vintage '80s clothing included polo shirts, freshly ironed pants, and brown loafer shoes. Women trying to make their way into the corporate world often dressed in monochromatic three-piece suits. Thick pads were sewn into the shoulders of suit jackets, blouses, and other women’s tops, effectively hiding the woman’s smaller, more rounded shoulders and psychologically placing her on more even keel with the men in the workplace.

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Discussion Comments
By chivebasil — On Jun 09, 2012

It seems like it is really easy to find 80s women's clothes but I have a lot of trouble finding men's clothes from this eara. Where are all the power ties and the parachute pants and the ridiculous patterned shirts? Did people just collectively decide that all of this stuff was so ugly they had to burn it after the 90s started?

By tigers88 — On Jun 09, 2012

@summing - You're right, they are. And you don't have to rely on any store to find them. Some of the best 80s vintage clothes I have found have come from garage sales and estate sales.

A lot of these clothes are sitting in closets, unused and forgotten. When people go to get rid of old stuff, or they die, these amazing old clothes are often offered up for sale for amazingly low prices. And they tend to be in good shape too. That is where I would start looking if I was you.

By summing — On Jun 08, 2012

What are the best places to buy vintage 80s clothes for women? I find items in thrift stores every once in a while and of course there are vintage stores that will charge you outrageous prices for what is essentially old worn out clothes. I feel like there must be a middle ground, a better path. The 80s were not all that long ago and those clothes have to be sitting out there somewhere.

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