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Greatest Fashion Trends of the 80s and 90s

Fashion has a funny way of being simultaneously important and absurd to society. Each decade brings new trends that seem chic and innovative at the time, yet we almost always look back and cringe at ourselves for thinking we actually looked good.

We've compiled some of the biggest fashion trends from the 80s and 90s which should serve as both a nostalgic blast from the past and a friendly reminder that most of these trends went extinct for a reason.

Greatest Fashion Trends from the 1980s

1. Shoulder Pads and Power Suits

Fashion Trends - Shoulder Pads and Power Suits

Nothing screamed “money” and “power” in the 80s like having massive shoulders, and since shoulder implants weren't the norm, people opted to pad their clothing. Men rocked the power suit in hopes of looking like they stepped off the set of Wall Street, and women overlooked the oxymoronic notion of trying to look feminine in sweaters and business attire that gave them linebacker shoulders.

2. Dance Wear 

Fashion Trends - Dance Wear

Women loved to rock the Jane Fonda look in the 80s, and the release of Flashdance in 1983 further cemented the three l's (leotards, leggings, and leg warmers) into every fashion-conscious female's closet. Throw in a baggy, off-the-shoulder sweater and you could be mistaken for Jennifer Beals herself without having to lean back and douse yourself with water. Dance wear has made somewhat of a comeback in today's fashion, but their neon hues seem to have (thankfully) been left behind.

3. Miniskirts and Lace

Fashion Trends - Miniskirts and Lace

The tighter and shorter the skirt, the better. Lycra crossed over from the sporting goods world and into high fashion, making miniskirts snug and stretchy. Combine that with some frilly fabric and you've got a look that would make the most die-hard Madonna fan jealous. Lace and tight fits weren't just for underwear anymore; in fact, many women even began to adopt the “underwear as outerwear” look and flaunted themselves in lacy bustiers to emulate the Material Girl.

4. Jelly Shoes 

Fashion Trends - Jelly Shoes

Only the 80s could make a shoe made of PVC plastic fashionable. Their main appeal was how cheap they were and the various colors they came in, which made for a diverse and inexpensive (albeit tacky-looking) wardrobe.

5. Doc Martens

Fashion Trends - Doc Martens

The punk and New Wave crowd popularized Dr. Martens in the late 80s, rocking the military look combined with bright yellow stitching. Generation X continued to wear them in the 90s as Grunge ushered in an era of flannel and apathy. But these shoes enjoyed their first surge of popularity back when The Cure was huge and Nirvana was still years away.

6. Ray-Ban

Fashion Trends - Ray-Ban

Thank Tom Cruise for twice ushering Ray-Ban into mainstream fashion, first with his underwear-clad slide across the floor while wearing Wayfarers in Risky Business, and secondly with his cocky, Aviator-sporting pilot role in Top Gun. Thanks to numerous product placement deals in various blockbuster movies, Ray-Ban went from forgettable in the 1970s to absolutely necessary throughout the 80s.

7. The Miami Vice Look

Fashion Trends - Miami Vice Look

Despite the fact that Don Johnson would have almost certainly ruined his clothes by sweating through them in the sweltering Florida humidity, his “t-shirt under a designer sport coat” look from Miami Vice sparked a huge fashion trend among men who now had an excuse for not shaving (“Um, it's called designer stubble”). Throw on a pair of linen pants and some loafers (sans socks, of course) and you've got yourself a look that can only be improved with synth music. 

8. Members Only

Fashion Trends - Members Only

These jackets have gone from a fashion staple to a punchline over the past couple decades, but back in the 80s they were serious business. Adorned with shoulder straps and manufactured in a variety of colors, the jacket was so hip that even its tagline assured you that “when you put it on, something happens.”

Greatest Fashion Trends from the 1990s

1. Parachute Pants / Zubaz 

Fashion Trends - Parachute Pants

These baggy pants spilled over from the late 80s and into the early 90s, having been popularized by MC Hammer and given the nickname “Hammer Pants.” Break dancers and folks who thought of themselves as being 2 legit 2 quit were the only ones who seemed to take them seriously; to everyone else, they looked a bit like a genie with a full diaper. Zubaz pants were more favored by “athletes,” although they were little more than garish sweatpants adorned in unfortunate colors and patterns.

2. Hypercolor 

Fashion Trends - Hypercolor

Hypercolor may have been a fad, but it was a lucrative one. Between February and May 1991, over 50 million dollars of Hypercolor merchandise was sold. The appeal was simple: clothing that changed between two colors based on temperature. It was like wearing a t-shirt made out of mood rings... but that got ruined if you washed it too hot or ironed it.  

3. Reebok Pumps

Fashion Trends - Reebok Pumps

These famous basketball high-tops were considered to be quite technologically savvy when they debuted, offering up a pump that you could squeeze to tighten the fit. (Apparently laces alone weren't cutting it.) Although many different substitutions emerged (including competing products from LA Gear and Nike), Reebok is the original gangsta when it comes to shoe pumping technology.   

4. Slap Bracelets 

Fashion Trends - Slap Bracelets

Popularized in the late 80s - early 90s, slap bracelets were both a fashion staple and an easy way to annoy your classmates (to the point where they were banned from some schools). Straighten them out, then hold out your wrist and slap 'em right on as a quick and fun accessory. The metal spring bands were replaced with plastic versions after some people complained about injuries, but no matter which one you slapped on your wrist, these bracelets were a definite fashion phenomenon.  

5. Non-Blue Blue Jeans 

Fashion Trends - Jeans

Acid and stone-washed jeans have been around since the 70s and 80s, but colored denim joined them throughout the 90s. Apparently people grew tired of boring ol' blue, because soon enough, jeans of all colors were being flaunted by men, women, and children who were either colorblind or delusional enough to think that purple denim was a good idea. 

6. Overalls

Fashion Trends - Overalls

Some farmer must have gotten fed up with being the only one sporting these over-the-shoulder threads, so he launched a fashion campaign that brainwashed millions of men and women into thinking these looked good in situations other than cow milking and field tending. You still see overalls occasionally pop up on the runway, but they don't seem to have re-invaded our closets like they did in the mid-90s.  

7. Raver Pants

Fashion Trends - Raver Pants

These pants were like elephant leg jeans on crack. Also known as “phat pants,” these were favored among rave kids and the resident burn out kid at your high school. They were so wide that they'd completely cover up the shoe and probably fully conceal a six-foot party sub.   

8. Wallet Chains

Fashion Trends - Wallet Chains

Nothing protected your wallet better than a chain hooked from it to your belt loop. Initially popularized by bikers, this accessory morphed from “don't mess with me, I'm a biker” to “I like punk” in the 70s and 80s to “I like grunge and heavy metal” in the 90s. The trend reached its apex when it was featured in the 1996 film Swingers, and just like the phrase “You’re so money,” wallet chains have long since worn out their welcome.

What current fashion trends are your kids into? Which will they be laughing at in twenty years?

Topic(s): Kids and Family

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