15 Fashions People Were Rocking in 1983

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Urban Bush Babes

Last week, we took a sartorial stroll down memory lane—one littered with flannel shirts and babydoll dresses worn with Doc Martens—to recall, in pictures, the biggest back-to-school fashion trends of 1993. You liked it and we like that you liked it. So we decided to step into our fashionable time machine yet again (it’s a DeLorean, of course) to go back in time an additional 10 years and recall—with mild horror—the most popular looks of the early 1980s.

1. Off-the-Shoulder Sweatshirts

You didn’t need to know how to weld or work a stripper pole in order to get into the comfy casual slouchy sweatshirt look popularized by Jennifer Beals in 1983’s Flashdance (top). And since it really was just a sweatshirt, it worked for fashionistas of all ages. And it still works today (spend an afternoon crafting one at home).

2. Members Only Jackets

Photo courtesy of Filmyr

The cost of membership into the legion of kids wearing these utterly plain coats—which proudly displayed your Members Only status on the chest—was just a few sawbucks. Introduced to America in 1980, the coats were produced in a variety of colors and materials (leather was the crème de la crème) and promised in their ads that “when you put it on, something happens.”

3. Hawaiian Shirts

Photo courtesy of Among Men

Young boys and old men had man-crushes on Tom Selleck, who played Hawaii’s sexiest private investigator, Thomas Magnum, a.k.a. Magnum P.I., from 1980 to 1988. While his sweet Ferrari was out of financial reach for most of the decade’s youth, two of Magnum’s looks were rather easy—and inexpensive—to emulate: that iconic mustache (check out these tips for growing your own) and a bright red Hawaiian shirt. Sales of the beachwear staple skyrocketed during the show’s run, with Magnum’s original “Jungle Bird” Aloha Shirt widely considered the holy grail of Selleck-inspired button-downs. 

4. Big Shoulders

Photo courtesy of Sophie Grumble

From no shoulders to big shoulders! On shows like Dallas and Dynasty, a woman’s power could be measured by the height of her shoulder pads. Translation: the bigger the better. Dynasty stars Joan Collins and Linda Evans were the poster women for the trend, which was popular in both high schools and boardrooms. The most versatile of padded shirts and blazers were equipped with a Velcro strip on the inside of the shoulder, which allowed women to swap out the size of the pad, depending on the day and/or occasion. 

5. Popped Collars

Photo courtesy of DVDActive

In the 1980s, collars were meant to be turned upward. Particularly if that collar belonged to a preppy wearing a polo shirt. Stripes were in, particularly those of the candy-colored variety, and an Izod alligator emblem was the epitome of high style; it even received a shout-out in Lisa Birnbach’s now-classic The Official Preppy Handbook

6. Baracuta Jackets

Photo courtesy of J. Crew

Eagle-eyed viewers of the “Popped Collars” photo above (a still from 1983’s Valley Girl) may have spotted what was Members Only’s fiercest competitor in the 1980s: Baracuta. Imported from England, the Baracuta G9—whose solid colored exteriors belied the plaid madness happening in the lining—was first popularized by Elvis Presley in the late 1950s, when he wore one in King Creole. Ryan O’Neal wore one on Peyton Place as did Christopher Reeve in Superman; Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra, and 1980s preppies were fans, too. Earlier this month, Baracuta introduced a new website dedicated to the jacket’s history of cool (with options to buy, of course). 

7. Exercise Gear

Photo courtesy of Wendi Aarons

Jennifer Beals and Olivia Newton-John weren’t the only ’80s trendsetters turning exercise gear into streetwear. Fashion-forward gals were taking attire typically reserved for aerobics and dance classes into classrooms, malls, and even the workplace. Among the “Let’s Get Physical”-inspired accoutrements were headbands, leg warmers, spandex, slouchy socks, and leotards with matching tights (the shinier the better).

8. Guess Jeans

The designer jean trend is still raging on, and we owe that to the 1980s, when Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Jordache were among the biggest names in denim. But no logo defined 1983 better than the Guess triangle, sewn firmly into the back right pocket. (And yes, occasionally that was sewn firmly into the back right pocket of a pair of stone-washed jeans.)

9. Parachute Pants

Photo courtesy of Regalo.com

If you were breakdancing in the ’80s, you probably noticed that your backspins and windmills were much improved when you were wearing a pair of parachute pants. Not to be confused with the parachute pants of the late 1980s (the balloon-like variety preferred by M.C. Hammer), the earlier incarnation was made of nylon (ripstop nylon was particularly popular), often brightly colored, and littered with zippers.

10. Jellies

Photo courtesy of Pip Pip Hooray

Don’t be alarmed if you have a pair of jelly shoes in your closet right now, because they’ve made a comeback in recent years. (Even BuzzFeed says so.) But it’s impossible to talk about fashions of the decade and not make mention of these PVC shoes, which came in rainbow of colors and cutout patterns, some of them heeled, some of the filled with glitter, and many of them retailing for $1 or less. (Nope, that’s not a typo—one dollar!) 

11. Lace With an Edge

Photo courtesy of Mirror80

It’s hard to know where to begin with the number of trends for which Madonna is singlehandedly responsible: Crop tops, big ribbon hairbands, mesh shirts, crop tops, and lace gloves are just a few of the now-iconic looks she debuted in her videos for “Holiday” and “Lucky Star” in 1983. Fortunately, it would be a while before her Boy Toy belt buckle became a thing. 

12. Swatches

Photo courtesy of Swatch

Swiss timepieces took a turn for the brightly-colored and slightly cheesy when Swatch debuted its line of plastic watches (the name Swatch is a contraction of “second watch,” referring to their somewhat disposable nature) in 1983. Their fun styles and inexpensive price tags led many fans of the brand to wear several of them at once.

13. Ray-Ban Sunglasses

Photo courtesy of TomCruise.com

Ray-Ban owes a huge debt of gratitude to Tom Cruise, who made their Wayfarers the sunglasses of choice for other wannabe teen pimps following 1983’s Risky Business. Two years later, he donned their Aviator shades for Top Gun… and sales jumped 40 percent.

14. Calvin Klein Underwear

Photo courtesy of Esquire

Calvin Klein has been the first name in men’s underwear for more than 30 years for a reason: He was the first designer to want to make guys care about what came between them and their Calvins. He launched an ad campaign that could not be ignored, as this billboard attests. Even today, men’s underwear still makes up a large percentage of the company’s annual income. 

15. Kangol Hats

Photo courtesy of The Fashion Bomb

A signature chapeau of the hip-hop industry, Kangol hats are most often associated with Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G., but Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were some of the brand’s earliest adopters, as evidenced by the cover image of their hit single, “The Message.”

September 23, 2013 - 12:00pm
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