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They’re back – 80s dresses that no one can forget even today

May 11, 2018

You can try as hard as you like, but some 80s dresses took the world by storm and left their indelible mark in the annals of 80s fashion history like nothing else has!


History buff’s will testify to the fact that there are many iconic 80s dresses that have captured their imagination like none others. Some of those dresses even inspire modern-day designers.

80s dresses that time never forget

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The 80s was affectionately dubbed an era where fashion sense had been pushed to the back-burner. Some fashion historians even say it was a decade that fashionable taste forgot! Whatever else might be said about that decade – the pumped-up shoulder pads, the neon-coloured outfits – many 80s dresses have defied what the historians have to say about that decade.

Dressing up in 80s womens outfits

Dressing up in the 80s was often a controversial affair. One day you’d be adorned in “MC Hammer” style baggy pants, and the next day your 80s dresses outfit would comprise of one-shouldered tops and skin-tight jeans! What a contradiction that was. It’s no wonder that in the annals of vintage clothing, the 80s is an era that is often seen as an anomaly!


But amazingly, time has not erased the memory of some of the 80s fashion creations, and some of those vintage creations have even gone on to inspire famous designers and models over several post-80s decades. It’s true that to some, the “80s” doesn’t even qualify as vintage – because it’s just slightly over two decades ago. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that 80s dresses, pants and tops are still a popular hit amongst vintage clothing lovers.


So, let’s take a closer look at a few of those 80s dresses and fashion ideas that are popular even today.

80s dresses that still rock today

Before we start our 80s fashion countdown, let’s be absolutely clear: We’re not ranking these gorgeous (and sometimes outrageous!) outfits in any particular sequence. That’s because each of the ideas listed here depends on personal taste. While one of these 80s dresses might rank a distant #5 for you, it could rate a high #1 for someone sitting right next to you!


Fashion in the 80s was all about perception, and that’s why we love every one of the dresses and outfits listed here. They encourage personal choice, but they were fashion breakthroughs of their generation.

  • 80s dresses – The cut-out shoulders look


An evening dress by Thierry Mugler at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

An evening dress by Thierry Mugler at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.. ellenm1, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


We did say that some 80s dresses were outrageous, right? Well, it turns out that a bit of skin-flashing (a lot, in some cases!) was actually considered a good thing back in the 80s! And flash they did – from tiny bits of cut-outs over the shoulders, to rather revealing pieces missing from the chest area of some 80s dresses. Anyone that was a fan of those one-shoulder garments may even remember the bare look on their forearms and elbows, where cut-outs were strategically designed to show a bit of skin.


Today, many thrift shops in the UK have capitalised on that one-shoulder look. Some of them have even gone the DIY route, taking their full-shouldered 80s dresses, and creating their own versions of 80s-vintage fashion by cutting off the shoulders or elbows. And guess what: some of those “DIY creations” are being given away for a steal!


  • Perky Peplums


Jodie Foster peplum dress, 1989.

Jodie Foster peplum dress. photo by Alan Light, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


And while they were a rage back in the 60s and 70s, Peplums really came of age as 80s dresses that made heads turn!  Anyone that saw a woman in a Peplum for the first time wondered what that perky look was all about? Was it a tiny skirt on top of a longer skirt? Or was it a larger dress worn underneath a tiny skirt?


So why would these daring 80s dresses deliberately add extra bits of flaring fabric around the hips? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of wearing a skirt – to show off a slim waist? Peplums went the other way, accentuating the waist line, making it bulge out more than it should. But that’s exactly why this little eighties-style dress was such a hit!


If you had extra-slim hips, the Peplum was the 80s answer to making you look just a bit fuller than you were. And for those rather full-bodied or bulgier than usual women, 80s dresses like the Peplum were a creative way to distract attention away from the bulge, be it on your waist or your bosom – and focus instead on the flair of the dress. Well designed Peplums created an illusion of well-proportioned hourglass figures. And that’s why they are making such a comeback today at fashion outlets like Forever 21!


  • 80s dresses – Stonewash Style


Motley Crue Sydney Entertainment Centre Sydney

Motley Crue Sydney Entertainment Centre Sydney. Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What started as a rebellion against early-eighties fashion, became a hallmark for many famous 80s fashion ideas. We’re talking about stonewashed jeans, jackets, skirts and dresses. Bangers and rockers, including names like AC/DC and Motely Crue, deliberately bleached their denim trousers and jackets, as a mark of protest over what they saw as “traditional” eighties fashion.


Designers of 80s dresses saw that as an opening to cater to the needs of individuals that wanted to join in on the craze. Stonewashed dresses, skirts and tops soon became the rave of the 1980s, as everyone with any fashion sense wanted to own something stonewashed.


Today, many 80s vintage stores and thrift shops have entire sections where you can buy 80s dresses with a stonewashed theme. From flaring skirts and minis, you’ll find them all under one roof. Pick the one that best defines you, and pair with something else from the 80s – like a leather jacket or pumps.


  • Batting a Thousand!


Many of the 80s dresses depended upon paired tops to give them the desired effect. Tops with Batwing sleeves were just such an add-on!


Worn as oversized garments – like sweaters, jackers or button-less shirts, these tops loosely clung to the body, with lots of fabric hanging down between the armpits. When spread high, the sleeves resembled the wings of a bat – hence the clever name “Batwing sleeves”.


Typically, 80s dresses worn with batwing-sleeved tops were plain, albeit of darker shades – like blue or black. Today however, there’s a new twist to that age-old classical look. Many of today’s designers have created a more modern look to the batwing, pairing polka-dotted winged-tops and more slender pencil skirts. It doesn’t matter how tall or short you are. And no matter how large or slim your hips are – this new look on vintage 80s dresses just seems to fit!


  • Black is Beautiful


party outfits

80s evening dress


Of the many classical 80s dresses that’s making a comeback, is the black dress of that era. It’s true, the 80s black dress was an emulation of it’s predecessors from the 60s and 70s. But 80s fashion designers were non-conformists. They gave their black creations a unique eighties look, with more flashing skin, and bolder body-hugging designs.


Many of those 80s dresses have made a revival of late. Just one look at some glamour events, like at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), have seen the LBD (Little Black Dress) make quite a splash. A noticeable twist was the addition of side slits, instead of frontal slits. The icing on the cake for these more modern-day 80s dresses is the sequined shoulders that were not present back in the eighties.


Available in more than just black, the LBD of today comes in various shades – from deep purple and burgundy, to blue and even blood-red. And if you spend just a little time at your neighbourhood thrift shop, you may find several versions of these 80s dresses that could complement existing pieces from your contemporary wardrobe.

80s dresses – Looks that live on


80s polkadot & floral print dresses

80s polkadot & floral print dresses


The eighties are popularly known for high-piled hairdos, neon-coloured track suits, jelly shoes and punk fashion. But many of the 80s dresses still rock on today, despite being creations from an era that was supposed to have “lost its fashion sense!”.


While massively over-done shoulders (thanks to cleverly designed shoulder pads!), shocking miniskirts, colourful leg-warmers, over-sized earrings and torso-hugging leather stretch pants are remembered as a legacy of the 80s, many of the 80s dresses discussed here were very much part of that decade. And while other fashion styles from the 1980s, like Parachute Pants and finger-less gloves, have survived, many of the dresses reviewed here have also thrived over many post-80s decades.


The beauty of many of the 80s dresses that we listed here is that, no matter what your existing wardrobe contains. No matter how you are built – small, tall, large, petite – there’s always an eighties outfit that’ll make the perfect complement to your existing outfits.


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