Remember the ’80s? We sure do! Everything was big, from teased hair to linebacker-worthy shoulder pads. The decade celebrated excess, and any semblance of subtlety or conventional good taste was left at the door. Perhaps you remember piling on the vibrant makeup, hairspray and bold accessories or heading off to work in a Working Girl-like power suit with a dramatic silhouette (with sneakers on and heels in your purse, of course).
Some ’80s trends, like those suits and exaggerated shoulders, harkened back to past decades. Did you know that the history of shoulder pads goes all the way back to the 19th century, and they first became a trend for women in the 1930s? Some of the pastel colors, novelty patterns and full skirts that were popular in the ’80s also took inspiration from the 1950s.
Fashion is truly cyclical, and for much of the 2000s and beyond, everything ’80s has made a comeback…even the aerobics videos! 80s women fashion is bold and playful — which makes it a perfect antidote to dreary, stressful times.
But some of the biggest influencers in fab 80s fashion were the women in music, and they took a completely opposite approach to the line-backer shouldered power suits. They decked themselves in lace, leather, neon and super-sized accessories, and drove the vibrant trends forward — and their legacies are helping revive the looks today for a new generation.
So whether you’re going to an 80s-themed party, a Halloween get-together, or you just want to give your wardrobe a nostalgic burst of energy, we’ve gathered ’80s looks inspired by rock, hip-hop and punk legends that are totally bodacious.
80s women rock fashion
Rock fashion in the ’80s pulled from a wide range of influences, from the underground punk and DIY scene to the hodgepodge offerings of thrift shops.
Women’s rock fashion wasn’t about trying to be like the male musicians of the time, with leather jackets and ripped jeans. Rather, the look of the day was feminine power with a twist — women in rock weren’t afraid to mix sex appeal with creativity, as embodied by Madonna‘s iconic blend of lace bustiers and layered rosary necklaces.
Other stars of the day, like Cyndi Lauper and Pat Benatar, embraced elements of dancewear, including leotards and leggings, used pops of lace, hip-grazing chain belts and sassed things up with jumbles of layered jewelry, inspiring countless fans to have more fun with with their wardrobes.
There was also an anything-goes, magpie spirit as fierce women came to dominate the music charts and all-women bands like The Bangles and The Go-Go’s burst into the mainstream, with a delightful clatter of chunky jewelry, mixing patterns and radiant layers that became the update to conventional every-day looks.
80s hip hop fashion women
In the ’80s, hip-hop made its way from the streets to the mainstream, and while the genre was often thought of as male-dominated, trailblazers like MC Lyte, Queen Latifa and Salt-N-Pepa showed that rap wasn’t just for the guys. Hip-hop style was all about updating streetwear with bright colors, African-influenced patterns and chunky gold jewelry.
Sweatsuits and sneakers were staples of the hip-hop uniform and the looks had a gritty authenticity that stood in contrast to the pop music excess of the time. For instance, Salt-N-Pepa cut a distinctive profile, often wearing matching sports jackets or t-shirts paired with high-waisted jeans or leggings.
No hip-hop outfit was complete without the super-sized gold hoop earrings affectionately known as “door knockers.” While hip-hop style had a tomboy vibe, women of the time added a feminine spin with the bold jewelry they wore, which they mixed with sporty yet stylish elements like crop tops and bright colors.
80s punk fashion women
Punk was a flourishing subculture in the ’70s, and by the ’80s its distinctive style became more mainstream. Punk style was as much about your attitude as what you wore (caring too much about designer clothes isn’t very punk, after all!) and punk women embraced their dark sides with messy black eyeliner, “un-ladylike” leather jackets, dark lipstick and shaggy hair.
Punk icons of the ’70s like Joan Jett and Debbie Harry were still going strong and inspiring a new generation of female musicians in the ’80s, and they held true to their tough, scrappy yet stylish nature. Accessories like studded leather belts, wild colors, baggy tops, chokers or cuff bracelets, and combat boots completed the devil-may-care look.
Rock on 80s women!
While some ’80s trends might make us cringe today — or we remember wearing it as a teenager — there were also many looks that still feel fresh. While you may not go out and strut your stuff in a full-on ’80s outfit (unless you’re feeling really confident or going to an ’80s theme party, that is), the empowered attitude inherent in the rocker, hip-hop and punk styles of the time is definitely worth channeling.
Want more old-school style inspo? Check out our guide to the ’90s trends that have made a comeback!