Most people remember the 80s as a sartorial wasteland, but that’s hardly a fair assessment.
For guys like your dad, the 1980s were a glorious era, when he still had enough hair to rock a perm and could wear a baggy lime-green suit free from judgement.
The older generation in your office probably secretly pine for Duran Duran, padded jackets, and cell phones that were heavier than a small puppy.
It was a fun time where no one had anything to lose (until they saw the photos 30 years later).
The corporate deregulation of Reaganomics birthed a generation of oily sociopaths that took Wall Street (and most of the worlds money) by storm. Their uniform? Power suits. Seen on the likes of Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman, wide-shouldered and pinstriped suits became synonymous with ruthless financial mismanagement and douchey behaviour in the office. Now seen on the (wannabe) successors of the guy Leo played in the Wolf of Wall Street.
Slicked Back Hair
The executive slickback was key to the 80’s power look that every Wall-Street wannabe aspired to achieve. It was an easy look, for the time-short man. Corporate raiders were too busy committing financial murder to get fades or delicately styled quiffs. No time for games, money to be made.
Suspenders made a huge comeback in the 80s. Not just for finance guys (although they rocked the shit out of them), suspenders became a popular accessory over jeans, in fluoro green, pinks, and other wonderful tones.
The 1980’s started the intersection between technology and fashion. It was where gadgets became fashion accessories in the vein of bags, jewellery, and totally-radical haircuts – even for dudes. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t fit in your pocket, and could probably break a foot if you dropped it.
Not all men went the American Psycho way (thank Christ). Enter a controversial and enduring marker of 80’s fashion excess – the mullet. The style was never intended to be subtle. The longer, the better. Your dad still misses his (but hasn’t given up on upping his dose of rogaine). Your mum says a nightly prayer of thanks for male-pattern baldness.
Contrast Colour Shirting
80’s era power suiting was incomplete without accessories. The scions of 1980’s Wall Street completed their corporate outfits with contrast-colour shirts, which had receded from importance in the male corporate wardrobe. Think Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, during that pivotal scene where he sizes up, and then offers Charlie Sheen a job ripping off blue-collar airline workers.
If you’ve ever watched an 80’s workout video (and you should, they’re awesome), you’ve probably seen a hot-pink headband on the sweaty forehead of some poor bloke suffering on an exercise bike. The Hasselhoff committed to the look in Bail Out, making sweatbands cooler than you ever could.
The 80s were a time when fabric choices became more diverse, and men weren’t afraid to say no to cotton and wool. Velour shirts became a popular casual option for that discerning gent who wanted that plush, velvety texture without wearing a tux jacket.
Activewear became a thing in the 80s. For days lounging about playing NES, or down at the mall, you could find a sweatsuit that was fit for the job. You were especially rad if your mum got you a set with logos.
Aviators have always been cool. You might have a photo of your grandpa wearing a pair in Europe during the war. But it was Top Gun that committed them to our collective consciousness in 1986, and men’s style has never looked back (except to see how much we miss Val Kilmer and pre-scientology Tom Cruise).
Why does everything in the 80s seem to be bigger? Men went for oversized frames for most of the decade, perhaps to balance out the excessive padding on their jackets. Subtlety might have died in the 80s, but maybe symmetry didn’t.
Age Of Fluoro
While the seventies saw brown on just about everything, men’s fashion in the following decade said ‘why not?’ to colour – the fiercer, the better. There’s a potential drinking game for this one – find a family photo album and take a shot every time you find a picture of your parents in something fluoro or brightly coloured. You’ll be sloshed before dinner time.
Printed Silk Shirts
Shirts got progressively wilder as the 80’s got into full swing. Bold prints like Hawaiian, geometric and floral prints became the go-to, instead of boring white or blue. No one escaped printed shirts, no matter how conservative they were. Even Sinatra wore one.
Solid Manly Moustaches
The efforts of Thomas Magnum did not go in vain. For preceding years, men on the ‘straight and narrow’ weren’t allowed facial hair (the hippies don’t count). Magnum PI returned facial hair to the centre of 80’s masculinity. Men could pair their fabulous perms with more than just a five o’clock shadow. Magnum entered the public consciousness in 1983, and men have been trying (and failing, badly) to top his monster mo ever since.
Not Power Suiting
80s suiting wasn’t just a uniform for amoral corporate raiders on Wall Street that Bret Easton Ellis writes about. Ordinary guys had their fun too. Synthetics ruled, and suits became cool. Often paired with a plain tee or printed shirt, 80’s suits were on the looser side, sans tailoring, with fat lapels.
In general, 80’s jackets took a walk on the wider side of life. Never mind fitting through doorways, the worth of a man’s jacket was determined by how many kms/miles there were between the points of his shoulder (80’s = bigger, remember).
Designer Printed Ties
Ties in the eighties took something of a novel turn. Paisley, spots, and stripes; the classic patterns of menswear became synonymous with ‘boring’ and ‘dull’, to amusing results. Ties with piano keys, musical notes, even brand names – nothing was off limits. Have a look in your old man’s tie drawer if you don’t believe me (then wash your hands and forget that ever happened).
Preppy style can never die. While the 80’s led to some interesting style detours, the polo shirt survived the turbulence and elevated preppy style to prominence.
Polo, salmon shots, and boat shoes The finishing touch on that quintessential ‘my dad is a lawyer and will sue you dead’ look 80’s preppy kids had. Paired with a bowl cut for optimal 80’s arch-prep style.
Chuck Taylors have been a staple since forever, but they became a definitive cool-kid item in the 80s. Red and turquoise were crowd favourites, and it wasn’t uncommon for determined fans to have a pair of all three colour choices.
Members Only Jacket
Ascension to the 80’s in-crowd demanded ownership of at least one of these (the more the better though). Kids wore them in teal, tan, and just about any other colour under the sun. You can still find them today, but your cool points won’t accrue quite as fast as they would have, if you wore it in 1983.
Athletic apparel rose to new heights in the 80’s, above the padded outwear and leather-everything. NHL Jerseys were the NBA swingman jerseys of today. (Playing or following hockey was entirely optional).
If you’ve seen an 80’s sitcom, you’ve probably come across one of these – normally with a confronting choice of print. And if you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (of course you have), you’ll remember the leopard print one. You know the one.
Another sitcom classic, the Cosby sweater took ordinary pullovers and gave them a splash of the 80’s with embroidery, prints, and other decorations that have since limited their resale value to country town op shops.
Every teen or college film had at least three guys wearing one. Hipsters, even the ones who don’t play American sports, like to wear them today. Paired with stone wash jeans (and a hot cheerleader missus) for complete 80’s authenticity.
The 1980’s weren’t just lime-green suits and tragic haircuts. The leather jacket became a go-to accessory for bad boys, and those who try to be one. However, no single subculture defined the leather jacket in the 80s. If you don’t believe me, watch Thriller and then a Guns N Roses music video (only one of which is worth your time).
For some 80’s style icons, a leather jacket wasn’t enough. Sure, non-leather pants went for a looser cut. But rockers like Judas Priest and Poison made a pretty brave show of wearing leather pants that were as form fitting as possible. There’s a reason why they never sat down, ever.
The leather thing didn’t stop at jackets and pants (unfortunately). Vests were big too. Extra points for pointy studs and patches on the back. Gloves and gauntlets didn’t escape either. You have to wonder about some of these guys.
Men weren’t limited to a mullet or executive slickback for their hair styling options in the 80’s. They were taking a leaf out of their missus’ book, and perming it up with absolutely no shame. Mainly seen in the 80’s metal scene (it was called hair metal for a reason).
The bandana became a sturdy accessory for front men who were required to find inventive ways to cover their shocking haircuts without becoming skinheads. Not the sole property of metal heads, bandanas were worn by kids around their neck and knees, in what was probably a confusing act of rebellion.
For the hair metal bands that survived the 80’s, bandanas are now a convenient (and tragic) way to disguise baldness for the rockers who can’t just quite let the 80’s go (you know the ones).
Denim On Denim
Denim has never gone out of style, but the 80’s brought it all together. The decade saw the emergence of denim on denim combinations on people that weren’t cowboys. Chuck Norris immortalised the look, in between saving the world and making men look like pussies.
Intentional denim fading became a punk symbol. Soon enough though, everybody wanted a slice, from the girl next door to the popular jock in senior year (much to the rage of Ramones fans).
MC Hammer’s musical career might have started and finished with Can’t Touch This, but his impact on 80’s men’s fashion did not. Hammer pants rose to infamy in the closing days of the 80’s thanks to his wicked moves (even though the pant style was pilfered from traditional dress in Central Asia, go figure).
The 80’s hip hop experience wasn’t complete without a burly rapper weighed down beneath several gold chains. Some had novelty pendants, which were pretty funny. Not that’d you’d ever have the balls to laugh at these guys to their face, or anything.
High Top Sneakers
Although the 90’s is the decade of the sneaker, the 80’s is where it all began. Reebok and Adidas got a headstart producing chunky, often colourful kicks seen on just about every hip hop music video produced during the decade. Space Jam wouldn’t have happened without the 80s.