Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thrifting 101, part 18: Dating vintage clothes by era - the 1980's

Three weeks ago in Thrifting 101, I began exploring the history of fashion from the 1920's to the 1950's  in order to help you determine the age of a garment while thrifting. Two week ago, we focused on the 1960's; last week we delved into the 1970's. This week I'll follow the fashion timeline through the 1980's. Understanding more about the history of modern dressing is a great way to figure out when a garment was made.

Missed any previous parts of the series? Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogs, tips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry, advice for storing vintage and thrifted garments, and advice for shopping for vintage online.

The 1980's

Design in the 1980's can be summed up in one word: exaggeration. Fashion, whether oversized or shrunken, crumpled or tailored, pastel or neon, short or long, sexy or mannish, bare or covered, sophisticated or innocent, was taken to excess. Along with their clothes, women's bodies became, by the end of a decade obsessed with fitness, changed - breasts became bigger and chests broader; arms and legs more muscular; and even faces became silicone-enlarged with plumped pouty full lips and sculpted cheekbones.

The baby-boom generation continued to have great influence over what was produced and purchased. As these men and women transformed themselves from hippies and rebels into yuppies, their tastes became more luxurious and their appetites for new experiences more intense. They found having money more acceptable and pleasurable; they started having families and demanded comfortable living environments; and as they aged they became more fascinated with nostalgia and kitsch.

In fashion, just about every style since the crinoline resurfaced. The decade saw nineteenth century bustles and crinolines; 1920's drop waist chemises and bias-cut silks; World War II large structured shoulders; and sheath dresses and day-glow miniskirts from the 1960's. Revivals from the 1970's included the renewed interest in ethnic fabrics and silhouettes. Despite all of these influences, a number of distinct styles encapsulate 1980's fashion.

Power dressing

As women became a more formidable force in the workplace, they focused their concern on diminishing decorative and alluring dressing and turned towards a more masculine uniform. Across the country, structured blazers with padded shoulders, man-tailored shirts, bow ties and pleated pants were adopted. Many outfits had Velcro on the inside of the shoulder where various sized pads could be attached. Power dressing rested largely on suits but also included straight, simple pencil skirts paired with silk bowed blouses in subdued prints. The look managed to be both masculine and feminine. Bold tailoring and men's fabrics were used in interesting combination. Donna Karen, designing directly for the women executive, was influential by introducing curvier shapes highlighted by wide belts and softer draping. Brighter and more contrasting colors, higher heels, and signature accessories including scarves, eye-catching jewelry, and even lavish underwear became the signature of the self-possessed woman.

Women's fashion and business shoes revisited the pointed toes and spiked heels that were popular in the 1950's and early 1960's. Some stores stocked canvas or satin covered fashion shoes in white and dyed them to the customer's preferred color. While the most popular shoes amongst young women were bright colored high heels, jellies - colorful, transparent plastic flats - become popular as well.

Glamour Dressing

The Dynasty cast

The television shows Dynasty and Dallas, watched by over 250 million viewers around the world in the 1980s, influenced fashion in mainstream America and perhaps most of the Western world. The show influenced women to wear glitzy jewelry as a way of flaunting wealth. Designers such as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Caroline Hererra, Bob Mackie, Scassi, and Victor Costa introduced more formal shapes featuring billowing skirts and trains, elaborate draping, and huge puffed sleeves. Satins, chiffon, and taffeta were utilized, often embellished with rhinestones, silver threads, and sequins. Shorter party dresses, with puffed bubble shirts supported by tulle and taffeta, were embraced by younger women to wear to proms and weddings.


Drew Barrymore in a short, tight Lycra dress

A new obsession with fitness brought the classic leotard back into the gym from the discos of the 1970's. Accompanied by matching tights, legwarmers, and elastic headbands, leotards of the early 1980s boasted bright stripes, polka dots, and even elastic belts. The popularity of aerobics and of dance-themed television shows and movies, such as Fame, and Staying Alive, created a dancewear fashion craze, and leotards, legwarmers, and headbands were soon being worn as street wear. The 1983 film Flashdance popularized ripped sweatshirts that exposed one bare shoulder. Celebrity dancewear inspirations of the era included Olivia Newton John's Physical video and Jane Fonda's line of aerobic videos. 

Betsey Johnson and Norma Kamali introduced spandex clothing into their collections and spawned a number of imitators. Miniskirts, bodycon dresses, leggings, stirrup pants, bicycle shorts, tank tops, and bodysuits were produced in dazzling colors and shimmering Lycras.  Cropped tops exposed toned, bare midriffs. Bright, contrasting colors were utilized in exaggerated prints.


1980's cabbage rose print dress


The solid earth-tones of the 1970's gave way to floral, nature-influenced prints and fabrics. Cabbage roses, paisleys, and even fruit and vegetable prints appeared on dresses. Polka dots, tartans, tweeds, and brocades were accented with decorative tassels, bows, and ribbons, as well as beads. The decade ensembles were accompanied hats and gloves, chosen for fun rather than function. Hair ornaments, scarves, shawls, patterned stockings, whimsical shoes became important. Clothes by Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, Geoffrey Bean, and Anne Klein were worn with complimentary shoes, pocketbooks, and costume jewelry.

The Madonna influence

In the 1980s, rising pop star Madonna became extremely influential to female fashions. She first emerged with what was dubbed her "street urchin" look, consisting of short skirts worn over leggings, necklaces, rubber bracelets, fishnet gloves, hair bows, long layered strings of fake pearls, bleached, untidy hair with dark roots, head bands, and lace ribbons. In her Like a Virgin phase, millions of young girls around the world emulated her lingerie worn as outerwear, huge crucifix jewelery, lace gloves, tulle skirts, and boy toy belts.

Gloves, sometimes lace and/or fingerless, were also popularized by Madonna, as well as fishnet stockings. Short, tight Lycra or leather miniskirts and tubular dresses were also worn, as were cropped, bolero-style jackets.

Punk fashion

A continuation of the 1970's punk movement, punk in the 80's was characterized by towering multi-colored mohawks, ripped skinny jeans, worn band tee-shirts, and jean or leather jackets, it was practiced by people who listened to punk music such as The Sex Pistols and later Guns N' Roses. Jean jackets (which became an identity of the group) were adorned by safety pins, buttons, and patches. Punk fashions eventually evolved into the hair metal and metal head movement.

Long, teased, permed and crimped hair; leather rocker jackets with cut-off denim jackets; tight worn-out jeans, black concert tee shirts (often ripped); black nail polish, spiked bracelets and dog-collars, and all-black outfits, often made of leather or velvet trimmed in lace or fishnet material became signatures of the metal movement.


Conservative college students began to embrace a style that became knows as the prep look. Influenced by tailored, conservative prep-school uniforms, the style included long, camel-hair blazers, plaid miniskirts, pastel-colored polo shirts with turned-up "popped" collars (often made by Lacoste and Ralph Lauren), oxford shirts, bold striped rugby shirts, cuffed pleated khakis and loafers. Madras shorts in mixed plaids and longer, Bermuda-lengths were adopted by teenagers. Wide-wale corduroy pants, often in camel and tan, were worn by both men and women. Simple, subtle jewelry also dominated the look, in the form of thin gold chains, pearl stud earrings, and gold hoops.

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