Expensive Fashion in the 80s

Written by nancy hayden
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Expensive Fashion in the 80s
Donna Karan designed women's power suits in the '80s. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

During the glamorous age of the late '50s and early '60s, designers such as Givenchy and Oleg Cassini dressed the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy in breathtaking couture gowns. High fashion then took a back seat to casual freedom of style in the late '60s and the '70s. The 1980s dawned as the "Me first" power decade and people again yearned for glamorous fashions and were willing to pay top dollar for them.

Couture Looks

Following the relaxed '70s, high fashion became trendy again in the "dress for success" era of the 1980s. Designers in the fashion houses in New York and Paris began creating outrageous styles and presenting them in dramatic, luxurious shows on the catwalks. Designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix became darlings of the fashion world for creating one-of-a-kind gowns in asymmetrical cuts and bold colours and patterns. Expensive clothes made of sumptuous fabrics were a status symbol in the '80s and wealthy people were eager to own the original designer pieces.

Designer Ready-to-Wear

Other influential designers of the day recognised an opportunity to market to the prospering middle class. Many families had disposable income and were unable to buy couture designer fashions, but were willing to spend more for high-quality clothing in the malls and boutiques of their hometowns. Designers such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren embraced this idea and launched mass-market product lines aimed at the everyman. Nolan Miller designed fashions for the hit TV show "Dynasty" and designers re-created his lavish sequinned, broad-shouldered gowns. These designer items were available to the general public at a higher cost than similar retail clothing, but for much less than couture prices.


The power suit was a wardrobe staple for career-minded men and women in the '80s. Designer Georgio Armani created men's suits made of high-quality wools and shiny silks. They came in conservative, dark tones, but were also popular in brighter colours or patterns such as pinstripes. Donna Karan was the queen of the female power suit in the '80s. Her chic suit jackets had big shoulder pads and wide belts to create a broad-shouldered look with a narrow waist. She paired them with knee-length skirts or with trousers, and used soft colours and fine silks, wools and cottons to create suits that were powerful yet uniquely feminine.

Designer Jeans

Designer jeans caught on in the early '80s and designers such as Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache and Calvin Klein created jeans with their names on them. Girls everywhere paid top dollar to be able to tuck their shirts into their jeans and show off the name on the back.


Fashion leaders such as Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana inspired women to look glamorous from head to toe. People began spending more money on shoes to complete their look. Princess Di made low pump heels trendy and designers crafted expensive leather pumps for women and dress shoes for men. Later in the decade, sneakers became big business. Nike released Air Jordans, named for basketball star Michael Jordan, and soon other shoe companies followed suit with designer versions. Brands such as adidas and Reebok released costly leather sneakers.


Girls loved to wear lots of big, bold jewellery. Some women stacked cheap bangle bracelets on their arms, but others paid top dollar when designers such as Gucci and Chanel began designing gold watches, bracelets and earrings bearing their trademark logos. Expensive handbags with these designer logos also came into vogue.

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