Women's Clothes of the 80s in the United States

Written by laura scott
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Women's Clothes of the 80s in the United States
Heavy boots with mini skirts was a popular '80s look. (fashion flair image by Brenda Carson from Fotolia.com)

The '80s were a decade of materialism and excess, and fashion reflected the mood of the country. Designers tossed aside subtle looks and began producing clothing that allowed women to flaunt their bodies and their bank accounts. Styles were driven by television shows such as "Dynasty" and "Dallas" that featured women dressed in opulence. Public figures such as Princess Diana and Nancy Reagan made designer labels a common aspiration. And performers such as Madonna grabbed attention by taking personal style to an extreme.

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Power Dressing

During the '80s, women began assuming leadership roles in the corporate world, and "power dressing" reflected their new success. Jackets and blouses with padded shoulders created a smoother, stronger silhouette.The boxy jackets were often worn with bold-coloured silk blouses and pencil skirts. Many women flaunted financial success with expensive jewellery. Silk scarves and shawls were also popular accessories. During the '80s, the trend of designer handbags flourished and spawned the equally successful trend of designer handbag knock-offs.


Cocktail parties, elegant dinners and high-profile night spots returned during the '80s. People wanted to be noticed. Fashion responded to the demand for evening wear by bringing back the shift dress, a simple, straight design that hung from the shoulders without any gathering at the waist. Designers updated the shift for the '80s with bright colours, brocaded fabrics, elaborate beading and ultra short hemlines.


In the early '80s, new-wave rockers such as Adam Ant and Duran Duran inspired a style steeped in romance and glamour. Often described as a reaction to the stark uniformity of the punk rock movement, the romantic style popularised blouses with puffy sleeves, ruffled collars and cuffs. Hussar-style jackets were also part of the look. Diana, Princess of Wales, embraced the romantic look and fuelled the trend. Her fairy-tale wedding dress had enormous puffed sleeves and a ruffled neckline, and other famous Diana gowns incorporated similar elements. Women who emulated Diana's style raised the bar for quality in women's clothing. Synthetic fabrics gave way to cottons, silks and wools, and designer labels became more important than price tags.


Madonna revamped the romantic look, mixing and layering lace tank tops and satin corsets with mesh vests and leather jackets. An iconic Madonna outfit combined an elegant black mini cocktail dress with a worn denim jacket, fingerless gloves and lace-up Doc Martin boots. Madonna created a look that included bare midriffs, wide belts with rhinestone buckles and skirts worn over tight Capri pants. While older women adopted bits and pieces of Madonna's look, it was a dominant style among 12- and 13-year-old girls throughout the '80s.

Casual Wear

Physical fitness was an obsession during the '80s, and women flocked to health clubs and aerobics classes. Exercise clothes such as spandex body suits and tights worn with legwarmers were so popular they became casual street wear. Baggy off-the-shoulder sweat shirts and tops over spandex tights, stirrup trousers or skin-tight acid-wash jeans were popular with single young professionals and suburban moms. Headbands were worn over hair that was cut, layered and moussed to achieve maximum volume.

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