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How To Dress Like The 80’s

Dude, listen… the golden rule of dressing up for any occasion is to have fun and be creative. But we here at Abracadabra are gravely concerned about growing misconceptions of decade aesthetics with our 80’s costumes! The conflation of disco, hippie, and even Y2K styles with 1980’s fashion is understandable, but admit it- your kid sister’s “80’s inspired” makeup tutorials make you feel a kind of way. Cut crease eyeshadow and barely-there blush? So 2015.

Now, to be fair to later generations, aesthetic inspiration and historical accuracy are two totally different things. If you throw some bangle bracelets on an everyday outfit and say it’s 80’s inspired, it is! So, this article will focus more on how to emulate 80’s fashion trends as closely as possible. At the very least, you’ll totally thank us after your next bar trivia night!

Let’s Get Categorical: The Early 80’s

Unless you ever watched Freaks and Geeks, one thing you may not guess about the early 1980’s from TV is that it saw a lot of brown and tan. Not just in clothing, either. Interior design, vehicles, and marketing campaigns basically created a real life sepia filter. Until the conscious rejection of the 70’s warm toned “groovy” aesthetic, earth tones dominated 80’s fashion. V-neck and turtleneck sweaters and straight-leg pants were common for men and women; usually in shades of burgundy, dark green, and brown. Women’s accessories, such as bracelets, necklaces, and belts, were thin and understated. Clothing in general was low-maintenance and low-profile, until the mid 80’s…

A New Wave Of Fashion: The Mid 80’s

By 1983, everyday clothing reflected the unique trends that we commonly associate with the era. Everyone was big on big hair, for one- perms, quiffs, updo’s, and high ponytails were popular with nearly every age group. The widespread aerobics trend contributed to the rising popularity of athletic wear, particularly sneakers, leg warmers, and tracksuits.

Michael Jackson and Madonna were massively influential on young men and women, respectively: Guys wore large leather jackets and sunglasses while women sported fishnets, miniskirts, and tons of beaded jewelry. By this point, color block patterns, shoulder pads, spandex, and leather were staples in just about every American wardrobe.

Makeup experienced an equally dramatic shift. While 1970’s makeup favored nude colors, thin brows, and a glowing complexion, 1980’s makeup sought to be as un-natural and excessive as possible. Bushy eyebrows, full coverage foundation, and super sculpted features replaced the au naturale look. Neon eyeshadows were blended all the way out to the temple, contrasted by pitch black lashes and eyeliner. Hot pink had a serious moment, as it was a common choice for lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow. One trend that did carry over from the 70’s was glamorous makeup worn by male musicians, but it would be another 20 years before the general population embraced “guyliner”.

Sub-Culture Club: The Late 80’s

80’s New Romantic inspired makeup.

By the end of the decade, the hair and shoulder pads began to shrink, and a number of distinct fashion movements had emerged from the music scenes prevalent at the time. In the United States, this included punk, hip hop, and preppy styles, to name a few. With the exception of 1950’s inspired preppy clothing, most of these looks evolved out of a conscious desire to deviate from the norm and in some cases, from each other.

The motifs of these subcultures are usually a big part of what people envision when they think of 80’s fashion, so here’s a little cheat sheet for putting together authentic 80’s ensembles that don’t require shoulder pads…

PunkNew RomanticSkaterHip HopHeavy Metal
ClothesBand shirts, skinny jeans, and denim/leather jackets. The more ripped, the better.Ruffled shirts, tight pants, corsets, and anything crushed velvet.Baggy shirts, baggy shorts, baseball caps. A red plaid shirt tied around your waist will really sell it.Bucket hats or bandanas, oversized shirts and/or jackets, basketball shorts, and calf-high white socks.Acid wash denim jackets/pants, and basically anything made of black leather. Bandana optional.
HairShort and spiky, bright colors are optional. Or a mohawk, if you’re brave enough.LOTS of teasing, and/or bangs slicked straight over half of your face.Leave it alone. Extra Credit: Skip shampoo for a few days prior.Usually super short. If your hair’s long, a ponytail or braid will do.As big and teased as humanly possible. Grab a can of Aqua Net and don’t stop spraying until it feels light.
A little black eyeliner, and as many buttons and patches as you can fit on your jacket.Graphic eye makeup, heavy blush, and lipstick. Mostly pinks and purples, but literally any color is cool here.Shoes are pretty important; stick to Converse or Vans. Maybe draw some tattoos on if you don’t already have.Shoes are VERY important. Adidas, Puma, or Fila, usually. Lots of gold jewelry.Either a little black eyeliner, or a whole mess of it. Blush and lipstick optional, but recommended. Leather cuffs are a must, bonus points if they’re studded/spiked.
For inspo, thinkThe Ramones, The RunawaysAdam and the Ants, Boy George, Annie LennoxNOFX, The Descendents,
Run DMC, Salt-N-PepaMotley Crue, Judas Priest, Guns ‘N Roses
*ok, they formed in 1992, but any photo of them from the 90’s is a prime example of what you’re going for.

We’ve Got The Look!

No time to DIY before the costume party? Bummer, but we hear ya. Browse Abracadabra’s online selection of 80’s costumes for authentic looking decade ensembles, as well as costumes inspired by 80’s movies and musicians!