How Did Kids Dress in the 80s?

Updated April 17, 2017

In the 1980s, rock groups were the dominant influences in kids' fashion, with their big hair, bright colours, black concert T-shirts and unorthodox clothing combinations. Traditionally, the United States looked to Europe for inspiration, but the growing rock and pop culture, and its affect on kids' fashions, switched the dynamic in the 1980s.


Boys fashions weren't quite as diverse as girls' styles in the 1980s. The end of the decade was the first time many boys and men wore earrings. Boys along the U.S. West Coast, particularly in California, wore Ocean Pacific shorts. Many kids in the East Coast eventually picked up on the style that many American boys had previously criticised for being mainly for little boys.


Girls wore a variety of skirt lengths, silhouette and fabrics. Rugby-like stripped shirts, jogging trousers with running shorts over them were a hit. Girls wore long tube socks, but pushed them to their calf when wearing them with shorts. Clothes didn't have to match. Tight trousers with a distressed T-shirt, a gossamer bustle, black rubber trousers and rhinestone suspenders were popularised by singer Cher.


The dominant fashion among both genders was torn or frayed blue jeans. The ripped jean look took off in 1987 and was picked up on by manufacturers who produced jeans that were already ripped. Although that look died down in the 1990s and into the 2000s, the ripped look was still common among people in following decade. The "punk look" was popularised by bands who wore chains, lace, bright colours and lots of jewellery. Michael Jackson set trends with his red leather jackets adorned with zippers and pockets. Trousers that were just short enough to show his white socks also became popular.

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The decade marks the beginning of the "latch-key" generation of children. As clothing companies became more efficient at marketing to the younger generation, and as the demand from the kids grew stronger from this influence in movies and music, pre-teens and teenagers had to work to earn enough money to keep up with the trends. Also, as more couples divorced, kids would have to work to help single-parent families support themselves. This new parent-child dynamic undermined the parent's authority, according to the website Historical Boys' Clothing.

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About the Author

Phillip Chappell has been a professional writer in Canada since 2008. He began his work as a freelancer for "Senior Living Magazine" before being hired at the "Merritt News" in British Columbia, where he wrote mostly about civic affairs. He is a temporary reporter for the "Rocky Mountain Outlook." Chappell holds a Bachelor of Journalism in computer programming from University College of the Cariboo.