Elegant 80s Outfits for Women
Elegant 80s Outfits for Women
Written by Hannah Mae Webster
The 1980s showcased incredibly wild and colorful fashion in which maximalism was key, but elegant, bold styles were equally as powerful. Extraordinary style icons popularized countless trends from power suits to preppy fashion, with the 80s having an undeniable impact on modern styles.
Whilst Princess Diana’s 90s style is regularly used as inspiration, she had some exceptional 80s style moments. She embraced the maximalism of the 1980s yet retained a sense of elegance amongst the wild styles.
Some of Diana’s best 80s style moments included:
Wedding dress, 1981
Princess Diana’s wedding dress was designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel and featured bold puffed sleeves, an iconic 80s trend. The gown was embellished with sequins, lace, and 10,000 pearls. This extravagant bridal look was the perfect symbol of 80s maximalism, but Diana embraced it with elegance and grace. Although too flouncy and heavy for most modern brides, the 1981 wedding gown remains a subtle source of inspiration for many.
Shoulder pad dress, 1984
This dress was worn by Princess Diana in 1984 when attending a film premiere. The sleek dress featured shoulder pads, a blazer-like shape, and a dropped waist. She accessorized the gown with a twisted pearl necklace. Diana was pregnant in this photograph, proving her bold style remained through maternity.
Puffed shoulders, 1983
Diana also embraced puffed shoulders, another iconic 80s trend, as photographed in 1983. The bold monochrome blouse was styled with a black tied leather belt and is not far from today’s styles as the puff shoulder has made a major comeback in both dresses and tops. Although this look leant into to dramatic 80s styles, the simple monochrome palette and lack of accessories kept it classic and elegant.
Red Polka Dots, 1986
This striking red polka dot ensemble is arguably one of Diana’s greatest looks from the 1980s. The highly feminine look featured a puffed sleeve knee length dress and a matching tilted hat. The sharp look perfectly accentuated Diana’s figure as she effortlessly accessorized with a pearl necklace.
“There are loads of movie stars and celebrities but there will only be one Diana.”
Love Princess Diana’s 80s style? Check out our Diana Vintage Dress for the perfect vintage inspired piece.
Madonna ruled the 80s with her unforgettable and unique style. Her music career allowed her to experiment with bold outfits and performance attire that in turn popularized enduring trends.
She pushed the boundaries between feminine and masculine styles and experimented with maximalism.
Some of Madonna’s top 80s style moments included:
Madonna wore this sheer tulle gown when attending and performing at the MTV VMAs in 1984. The highly feminine dress featured a bustier and statement belt and was styled with fingerless gloves and heavy jewelry. Madonna helped to popularize the trend of fingerless gloves in the 80s.
American Music Awards, 1985
Madonna wore this highly edgy look to the 1985 music awards and expertly embraced this grungy yet glamourous look showing off another 80s trend through her heavy layered jewelry.
Marilyn Monroe inspired, 1985
Madonna gave a nod to Marilyn Monroe’s iconic 1953 performance of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend’ from the movie ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, in her 1985 music video for ‘Material Girl’. The hot pink gown was styled nearly identically to Marilyn with matching long gloves, a cinched waist, giant bow on the back of the gown, and similar jewelry. This extravagant historical inspired gown made a bold statement that fit the aesthetic and tone of her musical performance.
“I’m a role model for those who dare to be different.
For those who dare to take a stand in their life and have an opinion"
Did you know?
Traditionally masculine elements were present in 80s women’s fashion through power dressing. Power dressing saw the introduction of shoulder pads, a style that was popularized through the television show ‘Dynasty’. it reflected the changing career positions for women in which they were achieving more high-powered positions. Bold accessorizing was also a key feature of power dressing therefore keeping individuality whilst appearing highly professional.
Known for androgynous power suits, striking shoulder pads, and disrupting the gender line in fashion, Grace Jones was unlike most 80s fashion icons due to her unique and unconventional style.
Grace Jones was recognized for her sharp features and equally as sharp 80s style that featured highly revealing body-hugging pieces as well as unexpected masculine ensembles.
“I believe in individuality, that everybody is special, and it's up to them to find that quality and let it live.”
American actress and model Brooke Shields’s 80s fashion consisted of trend-embracing flouncy outfits, sleek evening wear, and chic trouser looks.
Some of Brooke Shield’s best 80s fashion moments included:
Sleek and modern, 1981
This stunningly modern look was worn by a young Brooke Shields to a 1981 fundraiser. Although the 80s was a time of maximalism, Brooke Shields embraced a sleek look that seems to have taken inspiration from the disco styles of the 70s with a modern injection.
Oversized suit, 1983
This oversized lightly pinstriped suit would fit perfectly into the modern fashion trends of today. Brooke Shields styled the suit with a cut-out top underneath. Although a matching suit, the slouchy fit made this look feel very relaxed and casual.
Feminine ruffles, 1981
Brooke Shields wore this delicate, ruffly dress in 1981 in a polka dot print. She wore her hair in a bouncy, voluminous, perm, a signature 80s hairstyle.
Other 80s fashion icons included:
- Kim Basinger
- Jerry Hall
- Joan Collins
- Michelle Pfeiffer
- Debbie Harry
- Lisa Bonet
Top 1980s fashion trends
Popular 1980s fashion trends included:
- Shoulder pads: popularized by style icons such as Joan Collins and Grace Jones. They increased in popularity after being featured in the 80s television series ‘Dynasty’. They were key in power dressing.
- Power suits: included peplum suits, silky dresses and blouses.
- Ankle boots
- Leggings: colorful leggings were worn with leg warmers and oversized tops. Bold leggings were very popular athleticwear.
- Leg warmers
- One shoulder styles
- Baggy tops: cinched in with a belt.
- Oversized blazers
- High waisted jeans: pastel colors were popular.
- Athletic wear
- Off the shoulder styles
- Acid wash jeans
- Denim jackets
- Leather jackets
- Mom jeans
- Hoop earrings
- Puff sleeves
- Ballet flats
- Wide belts
Ralph Lauren surged in popularity during the 1980s and became popular with hip-hop and preppy subcultures. In 1989, Ralph Lauren released one of his most iconic pieces, the American Flag sweatshirt. Throughout the 1980s, Ralph Lauren released classic and timeless basics including sharp blazers, sweaters, and skirts that were considered to be elegant and in keeping with preppy fashion trends of the decade. These classic pieces have clearly withstood time as Ralph Lauren clothing, such as the American flag sweater, has made a modern comeback.
"Personal style has to do with your own confidence. And the sense of knowing what looks good on you, and a way of expressing your individuality. Putting yourself together in an individual statement is what I most admire. And when you have confidence, I think it shows."
Jean Paul Gaultier
During the 80s, Jean Paul Gaultier made some revolutionary changes as he transformed the women’s skirt into a unisex piece. In the late 80s, he released iconic corset runway looks featuring a conical bra structure, a look that would later inspire Madonna’s jaw-dropping corset worn for her 1990 ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour. Jean Paul Gaultier was inspired by the conical bras or ‘bullet bras’ of the 1950s as his designs focused on accentuating and sharpening the female form.
“For me, difference is beautiful, there is not only one beauty, and in a collection I always like to show mixed directions. When you look at people or things, there are all these codes and standards that come into play around what is considered ugly or beautiful, and I've always questioned that. When you're a kid, you're not conditioned, you don't see perversity, there's a state of innocence where everything is beautiful, you see differently....I am lucky because I am doing now what I dreamt of doing as a child, and I like to think that I've retained a childlike state of mind.”
Jean Paul Gaultier
Thierry Mugler was known for his bizarre and hyper-feminine runway looks and the 1980s was a key part of his unforgettable legacy. He embraced fantasy-inspired, theatrical looks and was one of the leading designers in ‘power dressing’, releasing bold, exaggerated designs such as jackets with large shoulders.
“Why would anyone only want fashion? There are the costumes, but there’s also the environment, the lights, the moment. Now I’m a photographer, too, and I love music. Fashion was very easy for me, so I said, “I have the power to make big shows.” The music, the sets, the light, the attitudes—it all helped to tell my story.”
Japanese fashion designer, Issey Miyake, introduced an interesting and unusual method into 1980s fashion. He took influence from the traditional Japanese art form origami, which involves repeated folding of paper. Miyake introduced pleated designs in the 80s that incorporated this method and aesthetic, a unique take on 1980s texture trends. His signature 80s style was oversized and loose-fitting garments.
“From the beginning I thought about working with the body in movement, the space between the body and clothes. I wanted the clothes to move when people moved. The clothes are also for people to dance or laugh.”
Calvin Klein was a key fashion designer that defined the 1980s. He found success through his minimalistic, clean designs in a sea of wild 80s extravagance.
Other leading 80s fashion designers included:
- Christian Lacroix
- Karl Lagerfeld
- Donna Karan
- Gianni Versace
- Giorgio Armani
- John Galliano
- Franco Moschino
Bold accessories were key to achieving the 80s look,
consequently many new trends were introduced including:
- Hoop earrings
- Leg warmers
- Fingerless gloves
- Plastic jewelry
- Pearl necklaces.
- Wide belts
- Bold jewelry
- Bold bangles
- Large earrings
- Studded belts
- Pearl accessories
Did you know?
In the 1980s, television was a primary source of inspiration for fashion as there was not the access to the internet as we have today, therefore there was a fairly narrow source of fashion inspiration due to limited television channels. Of course, movies were greatly influential but in terms of daily exposure to fashion trends, magazines, television, adverts, and books were the main sources.
Key footwear styles in the 1980s included:
- Trainers: white trainers were a popular choice as well as colorful styles. Trainer brands included Nike, New Balance, and Reebok. White trainers were a popular look when leaning into the ‘athleisure’ aesthetic of the 80s.
- Classic pumps: including ballet flats, sandals, slingbacks, cut-outs, and jelly flats.
- Peep-toe heels
- Low heels
- Heels with bows
- Strappy heels
- Wedge sandals
- Canvas shoes were also popular in pastel shades from brands Converse or Keds.
- Lace up boots
- Doc Martens
- Cowboy boots
- Scrunched boots
Gym wear and Jane Fonda
Known for her 80s exercises, Jane Fonda was the stylish workout queen of the decade, influencing many activewear and gym wear trends. She popularized brightly colored leotards with matching leg warmers, belts, colored leggings, and metallic styles. Her aerobic workout tapes of the 80s featured her bold outfits, giving a new sense of fun to exercise.
“In retrospect, I think a lot of '80s fashion shoots are the ones that look the most modern. The fitness-based ones that are really minimal. It's clean, healthy, t-shirt, beach hair... it's athleisure.”
The iconic 80s television series ‘Dynasty’ highly influenced trends, especially power dressing styles. From shoulder pads to pearls, the outfits featured were truly the definition of 80s power.
Top ‘Dynasty’ fashion moments:
This photograph shows Joan Collins wearing an elegant wide hat, bold statement earrings, and a subtly padded shoulder. The successful fashion moments were due to the perfect balance of 80s trends and classic pieces. ‘Dynasty’ was the go-to source of inspiration for dressing boldly.
Here is another stunning Joan Collins look from ‘Dynasty’. This striking red, V-neck gown featured large, puffed shoulders. The figure-hugging shape of the dress accentuated the dramatic shoulders and the look was accessorized with bold jewelry with pieces of red, typical of 80s jewelry styles.
This group shot from Dynasty shows the extent of different 80s styles featured. The photograph shows sharp shoulder pads, furs, statement earrings, bangles, necklaces, belts, and shirring.
This photo is the perfect example of power dressing as seen in ‘Dynasty’. Joan Collins is wearing a bright purple peplum skirt suit with a wide belt, colored tights, bold earrings, and brooches. Linda Evans can be seen wearing a coral, quilted crop jacket with monochrome details, shoulder pads, and a black skirt.
The importance of dressing well in a working environment grew for women in the 80s as they were gaining a greater sense of career power and autonomy, something that ‘Dynasty’ celebrated and inspired with powerful styles.
“The clothes were a huge part of what made 'Dynasty' fun.”
Other cinematic influences included:
- ‘The Breakfast Club’
Popular colors and prints
Popular colors in 80s fashion included:
- Neon colors
Popular prints in 80s fashion included:
- Animal print
- Polka dot
- Geometric prints
What should I wear to an 80s party?
Party style ideas:
- You could choose to embrace the wild and extravagant trends of the 80s such as fingerless gloves, leg warmers, heavy jewelry, and permed hair.
- For a chic, more cohesive party look, create an outfit inspired by the iconic television show ‘Dynasty’. Channel Joan Collins’s power dressing with shoulder pads, bold earrings, and maybe even a peplum skirt suit.
- Get inspired by Jane Fonda’s fun workout style. Style a bright leotard with colorful leggings, leg warmers, a sweatband, and even a colored belt.
- Style a sharp power suit inspired by androgynous 80s icon Grace Jones.
How to dress like an 80s woman?
- For more casual wear, try a pair of high waisted mom jeans with a puffed shoulder blouse. Accessorize with gold hoops or even a statement necklace. Style hair to emphasize volume or even add some simple waves for the ultimate 80s look.
- Distressed denim is a great way to inject some 80s style into an outfit.
- You could also experiment with preppy style and try a collared shirt and sweatshirt paired with a skirt or some jeans. Add white trainers for a great 80s inspired look. Check out Ralph Lauren in the 80s for more inspiration.
- Finding a style icon is a great tip. Research more and read about 80s fashion icons to figure out who inspires you. Whether that be Grace Jones, Brooke Shields, or Madonna, this is a great place to start when switching up your style.
What are the five biggest elegant fashion trends of the 80s?
- Shoulder pads
- Puffed shoulders
- Power dressing
- Mom jeans
- Bold accessories
What dress style was popular in the 80s?
Popular 80s dresses included:
- Button down shirtdress
- Wrap dress
- Puffed sleeve dress
- Off the shoulder dress
- One shoulder dress
- Collared dress
- Chemise dress
- Peplum dress
- Ruched dress
- Lace dress
- Strapless dress
To summarize, the 80s was an unforgettable style decade. Whether in favor of the wild maximalist styles or elegantly powerful ensembles, the decade offered endless creative possibilities, encouraging women to experiment with their self expression. It was an empowering time for women as they had started to gain momentum in the workforce, something that directly affected fashion trends and triggered the art of power dressing. Although many styles and trends of the 1980s are now considered to be ‘fads’, a certain beauty can be found in witnessing these experimental styles develop.
“It is your choice to decide what looks good on you. What world you fit in. What do you feel about that. And don’t be afraid of having to be one look. Be anything you want to be. And be many things.”