From power suits to perms: Your memories of 80s fashion
PUBLISHED: 09:00 30 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:00 01 October 2017
The 80s are having a bit of a moment right now and with shows like Stranger Things and the Dynasty reboot taking over our television screens, it’s not very hard to see why.
When it comes to 80s fashion, I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a novice. Having not been born until the early 90s, I completely skipped the era of shoulder pads, perms and legwarmers and entered into a time filled with hip-huggers, crop tops and butterfly clips.
The ideas I have of 80s fashion are influenced by photos of my parents, and interestingly, by photos of the late Princess Diana.
My whole life there have been pictures of Diana Spencer splashed all around. The woman was a true fashion icon, up there with the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly.
I’d seen the pictures, but never really given much thought to the people who may have spent hours pouring over them, worshiping her clothes, preparing to copy her outfits.
However when Norwich Castle invited me along to check out some of the Diana-inspired fashions from their extensive archives, I couldn’t deny I was intrigued.
At the castle, Costume and Textiles Curator Ruth Battersby-Tooke dug through a treasure trove of clothes to provide a me with a brief social history of 80s fashion, which included a look at Diana’s christening gown, an early 20th century dress with intricate white work. The gown was given to the castle in 1986 by the Spencer family.
As well as the christening gown, I was also able to see other examples of outfits people would have worn at the time which had been donated. Here’s are five things I learnt from this:
• People really, really loved Charles and Diana (given the hype around Meghan and Harry, this isn’t surprising). In fact, they loved them so much, they even wore sweaters with their names on.
• Clothes were inspired by culinary items, such as pie frills. A pie frill was a piece of fabric used to decorate a pie, which reminded me of a doily. Collars on shirts were often designed in a similar style and were reminiscent of the Edwardian period. Celebrities such as Alexa Chung have been known to wear them.
• The Edwardian style resurgence was pioneered by Laura Ashley – there were lots of high collars, which Queen Alexandra was a big fan of. Diana’s 80s style echoed this.
• Diana has been described as a Sloane Ranger, which was a social phenomenon in the 80s. A Sloane Ranger, or Sloane for short, is a stereotypical young upper-middle class woman who pursues a distinctive fashionable lifestyle. Sloanes may have often been seen wearing items such as rugby shirts and Barbour jackets.
• Sailor dresses were popular in the 80s. Ruth showed me a blue drop waist collared sailor dress similar to one which Diana wore during her pregnancy.
Your 80s fashion memories...
“I was accused of being Deidre Barlow’s doppelganger” Lynne Mortimer, writer EADT
It was in 1987 that I failed my driving test − a deep embarrassment witnessed by the entire readership of the Ipswich Evening Star. I was 32 and often accused of being Deidre Barlow’s doppelganger. I often wondered if I should have sent my details to the Coronation Street producers in case they ever needed a body double. As you can see, I was all glasses and hair. There really wasn’t much else to my face except those enormous spectacle frames and the tendrils of a curly perm. No one thought it was strange at the time but, looking back, I can’t believe I thought that was any sort of fashionable. I am just glad that no picture exists of me in the kingfisher blue, crepe jumpsuit with the diamante detail and huge shoulder pads (I looked like a high-camp American football player) or indeed of me in the stretchy, pink, leopard-print dress that used to create static and stick to my thighs when I wore sheer tights. It truly was the decade fashion forgot... If only I could forget it.
“The era of the new romantic” Jill Roberson, Norfolk
I remember wearing a pair of velvety cord knickerbockers and a white full sleeved frilly fronted blouse from Lady at Lord John, definitely a new romantic.
“Shameless white stilettos and huge shoulder pads” Amanda Millins, Norwich
I had a sleeveless white jump suit with the trouser part cropped to below the knee and a red belt which dropped to a v shape at the front. I wore it with shameless white stilettos too and it had huge shoulder pads in for that all important star trek effect. -
“The decade that style forgot” Steven Downes, Eastern Daily Press
It was the decade that style forgot. Leg warmers, luminous clothes, deely-boppers, white socks, stone-washed jeans, shell suits, golf shoes (when not playing golf), puffball skirts, batwing jumpers, curtain haircuts, perms, mullets with perm at the back.
“Lots of leg warmers” Trena Elsey, Ipswich
My mum used to often dress me in ski pants and oversized jumpers. She also knitted me lots of leg warmers to wear over my pixie boots.
“Let’s hope shell suits, orange nail varnish and Relax T-shirts don’t come back” Liz Nice, Editor of Heaven Magazine
The 80s was the decade that style forgot - or, it forgot me, anyway, as I raced through every new trend with gusto, never mindful of whether or not the look suited me. If it was ‘in’, I just had to have it. So off I’d go to Bury market to pick up the latest ‘trends’. Bury market wasn’t much of a style mecca unfortunately but how was I to know? Anyhow, from pedal pushers to ra-ra skirts (which made me look like a loo roll lady) to luminous leg-warmers, I fancied myself as a ‘Kid from Fame’ and dreamed of going to the New York School and Performing Arts and dancing with Leroy. Sadly, a lack of talent held me back and while the hideous mullet haircut that an elderly hairdresser gave me ‘because it’s quite the thing these days with you young’uns’, annihilated my hopes for good.
Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, glitter, hair gel, hair flicks, orange nail varnish, shell suits, shoulder pads, Relax T-shirts, men with ponytails...don’t come back, for all can never be forgiven.
“I enjoyed the swish of ra ra skirts” Kath Sansom, Cambridgeshire
West One was a popular chain store at the time and sold an array of ra-ra skirts and dresses. I remember proudly going to discos circa 1981/82 wearing a red ra ra dress with gold pin stripes, obligatory black stilettos and enjoying the swish of the ra ra skirt while dancing to Depeche Mode, Visage and Spandeau Ballet.
“Thanks mum” Sally Flint, Norwich I remember wearing lots of pinafore dresses in the 80s, thanks a lot mum.
“Perms, perms, perms” Claire Brooks, Norwich This isn’t strictly fashion, but I can remember everyone getting their hair permed.
80s fashion trends that have made a comeback:
• One-shouldered tops/dresses
Off the shoulder tops and dresses were all the rage this summer. The trend harkens back to versions popularised by the likes of Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals, Lori Singer and Whitney Houston in the 80s.
• All white
What’s that American saying about wearing white after Labour day? This rule didn’t seem to apply in the 80s, a time when people wore white from the tops of their heads down to their toes, with girls even pairing white heels and boots with prom dresses and ra ra skirts. Today this trend has been seen to make a comeback with designers such as Isabel Marant and Céline giving it a go.
The 80s are associated with excess, from excess fabric to excess sparkle. Sequins and all things glitzy have definitely cropped up again in fashion, with festival goers even painting their entire bodies in glitter.
As seen on the Edwardian style blouses by Laura Ashley, ruffles are the epitome of all things girly and despite appearing dated, have never truly gone out of style.
• Power suits
Crisp suits with sharp shoulders were popular in the 80s, especially with the likes of Bianca Jagger and Michelle Pfeiffer.