The 1980s birthed more fashion icons than any other decade, hands down, and this is why...
Let’s talk 1980s fashion: it was one of the most experimental periods in fashion history, with enduring style icons from Princess Diana to Madonna, Joan Collins to Boy George. Clothes were used to define personalities and make big statements. Shoulders were padded up to your ears courtesy of Lady Diana and the Dynasty cast. Meanwhile Boy George and the Blitz club crew were giving peacock punk a whirl.
With electro foil fabrics and power shoulders dominating as AW16 trends, we’re taking a look back at the people who started the trends in the first place…
80s Fashion Icons
Her Madge-sty burst onto the pop scene in 1983, working haute scrunchies, leathers and tutus like we’d never seen before. We fell in love (naturally) and the queen of pop reigned on for the rest of the decade, breaking style boundaries with her incredible physique and conical bras.
Lady Diana Spencer
It’s silly of us to even try to sum up Princess Diana’s impact on fashion and culture in one short paragraph, but if we had to, we would say this: she was the trendsetter of a generation, a champion of the power shoulder and that sooo 80s wedding dress has literally gone down as one of the biggest in history.
This jacket is exactly what the 80s were all about. Shall we call it eye-catching? The power jacket became a Michael Jackson style signature and one of the most copied cuts of the decade. The iconic piece went on to sell for $1.8million at auction in 2011, described by its new owner as ‘the greatest piece of rock memorabilia ever’.
The leader of London’s peacock punks, Boy George saw 1980s fashion as art. With his gang of ‘Blitz kids’ including Leigh Bowery and Stephen Jones, he turned the club scene into a colourful catwalk, dressing as though their lives depended on it and partying so hard it made headlines. The only styling rule for this lot? Anything goes.
Ahhh Joan Collins. The queen of 80s TV show Dynasty inspired thousands of big hair ‘dos and heavy make-up statements throughout the decade. Her character, the soap’s villain Alexis Colby, had a wardrobe of puff shoulder dresses and trophy jackets that was so bad, it was so so good.
If the 80s were all about making style statements, then no one did it more literally than designer Katharine Hamnett. The inventor of the slogan tee, she used her design powers for good, conveying oh so subtle political messages and encouraging people to use their voices.
We couldn’t do an ode to 1980s fashion without mentioning the original queen of keep fit, Jane Fonda. The award-winning actress was the first major star to do an exercise video, making leg-warmers and Lycra as important to the decade as the power shoulders.
The hair bows, the pedal pushers, the slogan tees! This 1986 snap of Bananarama, aka Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward, was everything our school disco dreams were made of.
From The Breakfast Club to Pretty In Pink, the Brat Pack dominated the decade’s teen movies, with one idol always stealing the show as the prettiest, most popular girl in school. Oh come on, don’t pretend you didn’t want to be her.
New Romantic style and guyliner are two of our very favourite things to come out of the 1980s fashion scene. Adam Ant mixed punk, military, dandy and pirate references in fantastic effects – just look at that trophy jacket.
The First Supermodels
Lauren Hutton! Janice Dickinson! Iman! The 1980s heralded the first wave of truly super supermodels as demand for the very best models increased tenfold and contract fees began to spiral towards the giant figures stars can command today. Chanel signed their first ‘exclusive’ booking, Debbie Parsons, in 1981 and everyone from Brooke Shields to Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson started to endorse household products. Iman (1987) is officially our new season jewellery icon.
80s Fashion Scene
Of course, we couldn’t discuss the people of the 80s without looking back on where 80s fashion scene really came to life. In the 80s, London clubs became the place young people could experiment with fashion and it very much became a social scene where anything went. From the exotic styles favoured by the Blitz club crowd to the clever customisation of Taboo club-goers and the distressed styles of Hard Times’ regulars, the clubs were a melting pot of creativity. As fashion designer Stevie Stewart of Bodymap said: ‘Each group of people, whether they were fashion designers, musicians or dancers, filmmakers or whatever, living together, going out together and at the same clubs… had a passion then for creating something new… that was almost infectious.’
Image: At Subway, 1986. By Derek Ridgers
Performance artist and designer Leigh Bowery was another key icon of that time (he sadly died aged 33). The clothes and accessories he wore had to be seen to be believed and he became the king of the Taboo clubnights. His friend, Sue Tilley, told the Guardian: ‘If you had never seen Leigh, you wouldn’t believe he existed. One day he’d wear a pleated kilt and a Chanel-style jacket, the next a one-piece in PVC. When we first started going out to Taboo, it didn’t take him long to get ready. Then he started doing things like glueing down one eye. He drunk a lot of vodka because what he wore was so uncomfortable.’
Image: Leigh Bowery and Gerlinde Costiff at Taboo, 1985. By Michael Costiff
80s Fashion Magazines
The magazines of the time – The Face, i-D and Blitz – all helped spread the London club culture to a wider audience, with The Face especially considered the style bible of the decade.
Image credit: Eamonn Mccabe
Any trend that’s big among the hip set now, probably has roots in the 80s club scene. It was a decade unparalleled for creativity and experimentation, which continues to inspire designers and fashion lovers today.