What’s old in fashion inevitably becomes new again, often as a reflection of social or cultural shifts that nod to a similar sensibility. As shoppers begin to leave their homes and see family and friends for the first time this summer, maximalist ‘80s outfits are popping up on the runways and on Instagram alike. The bold silhouettes, bright colors, and zany prints of the decade are here to fulfill the post-lockdown desire for fashion that is fun, full of energy, and entirely optimistic.
“I think the pandemic created the platform for bringing creativity back in a big way,” Travis Hamilton, creative director and founder of Negris Lebrum tells TZR. The brand recently debuted an ‘80s-inspired capsule with polka dots at its center, a celebration of the decade’s bold graphics and what Hamilton calls the prepster moxie. “The era was more about creative individuality and [the current times have] set the stage for a fashion reset.”
During the ‘80s, as more women entered the corporate workforce, there came a fascination with broad, sharp silhouettes meant to symbolize power. On the flip side, undoubtedly with the help of actor Jane Fonda’s workout videos, fashion was also having a love affair with fitness attire — neon leg warmers and Spandex leotards were the uniform. “I think there was a fetishization of the muscular and athletic body during this period, reflected in the beginnings of activewear as we know it now,” Vejas Kruszewski, creative director and founder behind Vejas tells TZR. “The exaggerated and body-conscious silhouettes suggest some idea of mastery and control over ourselves and our bodies, which I can sense is desirable given the general complete uncertainty and anxieties of the moment today.”
When designers take to reference the “more is more” era today, a modern perspective means avoiding a full look that feels dated, but finding ways to interpret past trends in a new way. Recreating a look from the ‘80s may feel intimidating at first glance, but start with adding color or volume as a way to ease into things. Because who’s not ready to play dress-up again? Here are nine outfit ideas to try ahead as a starting point to channeling all the nostalgic feels.
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Return To The Stirrup
Aerobics came to the forefront of fashion in the ‘80s, with one of the most notable (and controversial) trends being stirrup leggings. It wasn’t uncommon then to see them paired with other exercise garments such as leotards, or with the quintessential off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. Today, designers update the pants with cutouts or ribbed textures, styling them with minimalist staples like modernized bodysuits or oversized blazers. To really channel those nostalgic vibes, wear your stirrups with an oversized tunic and try cinching the waist with a chunky belt.
Raise Your Shoulders
You may have Schiaparelli’s 1931 Fall/Winter collection to thank for the introduction of shoulder pads to womenswear, but they’re most recognized as the hero element of ‘80s power dressing. For summer, recreate the look by pairing an oversized blazer with a mini dress, or try a padded polo or T-shirt for a more casual take that you can wear outside the office.
Accessorize The Waist
While some accessories have yet to make a substantial comeback (hello, leg warmers), statement belts are one style worth revisiting. To add an ‘80s twist on any ensemble, grab virtually any chunky and layered gold chain belt (bonus points for pearl embellishments), or wide waist belt (points yet again for gold accents) and layer it at the mid-waist instead of threading through belt loops. To fully commit to the look, you may even pair it with a padded-shoulder dress or acid wash jeans.
Break Out Bike Shorts
Biker shorts are another byproduct of the ‘80s exercise fashion craze, with Princess Diana’s effortless styling still referenced today. David Koma, creative director and founder of his namesake label, says the royal figure was an inspiration for his Spring/Summer 2021 collection, pulling from her off-duty looks, which often featured the garment paired with an oversized crew neck, chunky socks, and sneakers. Nowadays, the relaxed style is good for more than casual errands. “Outfits that are both stylish and comfortable are likely to be the key to our post lockdown wardrobes,” Koma says. “Cycling shorts are on the comfortable side, but pairing them with a statement jacket will create a very elevated look.”
Go Big With Voluminous Sleeves
As a time known for its experimentation with oversized silhouettes and especially its emphasis on the shoulders, cloud-like sleeves were an ‘80s favorite. More inherently feminine than boxy shoulder pads, puffed sleeves were often accompanied by ladylike details such as ruffles, peplums, and satin fabrics. A return to nights out on the town welcomes the opportunity for a ruched mini dress or a metallic-finish top complete with voluminous sleeves, while puff sleeve iterations of the classic button down can take you to brunch and beyond.
Dot Your Tees (And Everything Else)
As fashion is forever referencing itself, polka dots in the 1980s were, in part, a look back to the 1950s. However, like everything else at the time, it arrived bigger and bolder, often coupled with punk pop references like leather jackets and stacked jewelry. More wearable takes included incorporating the print in skirt suits, prairie dresses, and midi dresses. To modernize, start with a polka top or dress and couple it with a colorful mule and a structured bag.
Liven Up Your Denim
If you’ve got the confidence to wear acid wash, you’re in luck as designers continue to send new iterations down the runway year after year, decades after its ‘80s reign. The Canadian tuxedo is often one of the best ways to go, as it’s a true-to-the-moment ensemble. Alternatively, you can pair acid wash jeans with a cropped blazer, or with a lace bustier to tie in an ultra feminine element. As far as accessorizing, though there’s never any hard rules, a splash of color against the speckled wash will never not do the trick.
Add A Little Sparkle
Though the ‘80s remain synonymous with glitz and glamour, sequins and sparkles are often overlooked when recounting the decade’s trends. There’s only so much you can tone down the shimmer of rhinestones or sequins (who’s complaining?), but there are ways to nail the aesthetic with a less ostentatious approach. Pair with laid-back neural pieces to balance out your ensemble — jeans, a fitted tank, or even sneakers will do the trick.
Dabble In Loud Hues
Following the economic recession of the 1970s came a sense of optimism reflected in the neon wardrobes of the next decade. While bold color was another trend with a foundation in aerobics — think neon leggings layered under shorts, paired with sporty headbands — it still crossed over into going-out style by way of color-blocked mini dresses and pointed pumps. Go for a sharp-shouldered, highlighter yellow dress for your debut return to events, or liven up your workout uniform with bold leggings.