Power Dressing 1980s Fashion History
1980s fashion history is memorable and quite distinctive. A variety of fashion looks ran parallel to each other in the 1980s. Women
of this era began to feel they that really could at last choose from one of the many contrasting
looks available. The fashion look that was the most powerful over the decade was the wide shoulder.
Fashion history reveals that the 80s fashion look was a tailored look. It was hard to go
anywhere without at least a jacket, but preferably a complete suit. This was
influenced by several movements including media influence on 1980s fashion through the popularity
of TV dramas like 'Dynasty' and 'Dallas'. Costume dramas brought fashion into
real everyday eighties life.
Corporate business suit dressing, Margaret Thatcher in tailored evening
suits, Yuppies and the copying of styles worn by Diana Princess of Wales, all
contributed to stamping the era with a style that now seems to shriek vulgarity
quite simply because Laver's Law is operating.
Power dressing, New Romantics, stretch
dressing and sportswear all lent a significant feeling that a woman could be
anybody she chose to be.
These four looks are predominant in the fashion and costume
history of the 1980s.
'Dynasty' the 1980s television fantasy soap series promoted fashions which enlarged
the shoulder. One of the main characters was played by the naturally broad
shouldered film star Linda Evans.
Nolan Miller, the Dynasty film set costume designer decided to
go with her big shoulders and give slight emphasis to them. Every other actor
had to be shoulder padded, but with more depth to match her shoulders.
In the 1980s 'Dynasty' was watched by a global audience of over 250 million viewers. Many
who watched did so for a look at the 80's fashions which were always over the top and
frankly camp. Throughout the 80s styles did filter to the mass market in watered down versions.
1980s fashion favoured applied decoration on suits and T-shirts and beadwork on clothing
which all pandered
to the ideals of a time of conspicuous consumption. The 1980s was a time of
greed and individuals living a lie that they had everything whether it be
fashion, champagne or property. Many fell into debt as the only way to
acquire an 80's lifestyle for many was via the credit card.
Lavish use of both fine and costume jewellery was worn day and night on the
show and it drifted into mainstream fashion. Big, almost huge gilt fashion earrings
several centimetres across drew attention to faces drowning in shoulder pads.
Stones could be fake or real. Diamante, pearls and gold chains were intended to
tell the rest of
the world you had arrived.
The women in Dynasty wore all the trimmings of jewellery along with a wide
range of lavish covetable underwear and lingerie. In the 80s the all in one body the teddy,
known in some countries as a bodysuit was a favourite outfit for bedroom scenes.
Another 1980s fashion to find favour was the comeback of French knickers and camisoles
lavishly embellished with crusty corded lace.
Big was best and fashion hair styles of the 1980s grew bigger to match the look. Mousse and gel
was essential to create the style. The effects of excess mousse were so
horrifying on waking up that it became normal to wash hair daily. As the
eighties progressed the TV series
'Dallas' created hairstyles that blossomed ever bigger like opening flowers.
Both Dallas and Dynasty heralded the return of the shift dress in strong
colours. Fuchsia pinks, sea greens, purples, royal blue and red shimmered in
silk and polyester foulard copies. Lavish use of fabric in batwing sleeves was
in keeping with the excessive largesse of the era. The 1980s saw the
revival of an old fashion, the batwing sleeve. The batwing style was
translated into two tone sweater knits with cowl collars. Sometimes they were
covered in satin appliqué free forms often worked over a mohair or angora knit. Shoulder pads were essential in knits.
1980s blouses were based on romantic looks of earlier eras in fashion
history. The blouses had intricate stock or cravat effect neck wrappings, deep pleated
shoulder tucks or swathed crossover fabrics. All were made up in silk or
polyester satin foulard or crepe de chine substitutes which softened the
harshness of severe man tailored jackets. Snug fitting jersey knit bodies that
buttoned under the crotch and gave a smooth silhouette also became popular
especially after the mid eighties.
1980s Fashion history shows that as the fashion for female identity in the workplace took hold, so shoulder
width grew. Increasingly large shoulder pads were used to support the wider cut
Right - Big Shoulders of
the 1980s - Quite mannish suits and
appliqué shoulder padded knitwear for women were both softened with ties, bow ties and floppy
scarves tied in artist bows all often worn with long boots.
Women's shoulders had started to actually look like designers had
once drawn them at the start of the 80s decade. Designers had tried to promote wide
shoulders of American footballer dimensions in the early 1980s and although women initially
laughed, eventually shoulder width had a rounded coat hanger effect just like
those early designs and reached dimensions not seen before in the 20th
Left - The big jacket look was also transferred to evening wear. Wide
shouldered, rich jewel shaded brocades or gold lame or lace jackets were made up
following day styles.
To soften the masculine
effect the sleeves of jackets and blouses were worn pushed up or rolled up to
reveal attractive satinised contrast jacket linings which in itself was a way of
The shoulder pad began to act as an accessory for women to stylize a garment. Garments, particularly knitwear, sweatshirts, oversized big shirts and T-shirts
started to appear with detachable Velcro fixing shoulder pads. Women made their
own decisions about whether an item looked the way they wanted it to look.
Designers tried to drop the shoulder pad in the same way they tried to drop
the mini for the maxi in the sixties, but as in the case of the mini the public
stuck to what they wanted and they wanted shoulder pads. By its nature a
shoulder pad creates a smooth line over the natural hollows of the collar bone
area. Women suddenly noticed that shoulder pads smoothed out body postural
imperfections and they liked the effect.
Eventually designers began to get their way. The sleeve inset to shoulder
line began to drop further and further down the arm which meant that the quite
rounded shoulder pads rather than the initial sharply squared off versions began
to hang somewhere between elbow and shoulder point. Visible support of shoulder
padding was seen in garments for over ten years because women liked the way
clothes hung on them.
The concept of executive dressing for women at work was firmly established by
1987 and remained in a much subtler minimalist form in the 1990s. By
1991-3 shoulder pads although still around began to decrease in size and over
the next few years shoulder width gradually became smaller and narrower and pads
slowly began to be left out of knitwear and even lingerie. Women also started to
cut them out of garments as they moved on to newer looks.
Despite everything you may read today about power dressing being dead, it is
still alive and well in the corporate office such as a legal office where a
simple well cut black, taupe or navy trouser suit or pencil skirt and jacket
remain the staple business attire for women who want to be taken seriously.
Accessorizing the suit was important through the 1980s and one item that appeared in the mid
eighties was the large square scarf in fine varuna wool or acrylic imitation
with exotic patterns and rich paisley designs. The richly patterned or dog's
tooth check or solid coloured fringed shawl was draped around just about every
woman's shoulders to give a finished look to an outfit. Leaflets abounded on how
to wear the scarves in a dozen ways.
By the 90s the square shawl worn as a
triangle was ousted by the Pashmina stole.
Costume jewellery saw a great revival and huge gold earrings, or pearl and
gilt earrings that got bigger
as the 80s decade progressed were the final finishing touch. Diamante jewellery and
pearls were worn day and evening without embarrassment. Gilt buttons the size of
earrings were also used on suits and charm bracelets with chunky gold charms
were revived from the sixties.
There were many sought after accessories in the 1980s. The early 80s saw a
vogue for clutch handbags in many colours with matching shoes. But the bags with
style were the quilted Chanel bags or Louis Vuitton luggage. Millions bought
copies of the quilted Chanel shoulder bag with its golden chain. Alternative
street wear day bags were the bum bag and the Prada nylon bag. None would have
been complete though without a Filofax filling it.
Hats of all styles made a comeback in the 1980s. This was due initially to
their popularization by the Princess Of Wales who used them to achieve a colour
coordinated look when she was first finding her fashion style. Colour
coordinated fashion was big throughout the 1980s. Social events
demanded a hat. The veiled pillbox hat was imitated in the cheapest of fabric
making it crude and soon undesirable. Other 1980s hats included the large picture
style Edwardian hat and feather versions.
By the 1980s, patterned tights returned, but now they were spotted or
delicately textured lace, striped or enhanced with embellishment such as a flock
flower, embroidery or diamante at the ankle.
In the mid to late 80s, coloured tights sheer, opaque or solid that toned and
matched coordinated shoes could be seen everywhere. Vaguely Black sheer tights
were worn with power suits through the eighties.
Shoes were both low and high. The Princess Of Wales set a trend for lower
footwear and it became ok to wear whatever height you liked. In summer wedge
shoes and gold or metallic shoes that blended with every outfit made an
appearance about 1987. Doc Martens were still of course popular with urban
trendsetters. Coloured shoes of every hue were available through to the early
In the late 70s young people suddenly adopted Doc Martens sensible laced up
shoes as a fashion accessory to the delight of podiatrists everywhere. Young
girls suddenly took on a different look in their solid Doc Martens footwear and
dainty Laura Ashley fine cotton lawn feminine floral dresses. Right
- Doc Marten shoes a fashion worn by men and women in the
By the 1980s, low pumps were made popular by Diana Princess Of
Wales. The high heel did not totally disappear, but was kept for evening
as more casual footwear such as trainers became important fashion statements for
those who liked them. Their popularity was sealed when New York power dressed
women walked to work in them during a transport strike. There was even a phrase
for the latest most fashionable trainer described as a '3 window trainer' which
meant the shop front window had been smashed three times for a thief to steal a
particular high fashion covetable training shoe.
One thing that was interesting about footwear particularly from the about
1982 to 1992 was the wide availability of coloured shoes and toning clutch bags
in every hue imaginable. From the early to mid nineties there was a fashion for
gold, mixed metallic or pewter footwear with small or wedge heels and an Italian
look of appliqué or plaiting or braiding. The usefulness of the metallic
neutral was that it mixed in with all colour schemes. This fashion for
coloured and metallic footwear and bags was revived in 2003/4
and was a huge fashion colour trend by 2007.
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