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Clothing style comeback: Resurgence of 80s shell suit tops

March 16, 2017

Back when everyone clamored to be fashionable in sportswear, 80s shell suit tops were born. Even if you weren’t particularly “sporty”, chances are that you owned a shell suit top – just to keep up with your friends. In fact, sporting one of those suits, it made you look like you worked out – even though you never really did!

Our love for casual wear and sporty comfort has fueled the growing popularity of 80s shell suit tops

When the 80s happened, shell tops and suits were the rave. From sports fans and professional sports teams, to celebrities and “cool kids” – everybody had to own one! But there came a time, in the late 1990’s and the 2000’s, when you had to put yours away, because it was no longer “hip” to be seen wearing one of those.

Guess what? They’re back…and making a splash!

80s shell suit tops – More than track suits

80s green & black shell suit top

80s green & black shell suit top


Typically, the original 80s suit was a 2-piece ensemble, popularly made from nylon, polyester or a combination thereof. A popular choice for sports lovers (though others embraced all too eagerly as well!), the shell suit was a more elaborate spin on the track suit. Fashioned out of a different material (than the traditional track suit), it substituted the thick-top jersey for a lighter outer shell – hence it was appropriately named “shell top”.


Today, the world of athletic wear is seeing the revival of shell suit tops. Leading designers, such as Alexander Wang, are collaborating with renowned brands like Adidas and others, to bring 80s shell suit tops into the 2000s.  All across the UK, retailers are jumping on the bandwagon of fashion-inspired sportswear.


What used to be seen as “fringe wear” just a few years ago, has turned into a global trend worth $270bn (£204bn)and has quickly ballooned into a £7bn market in the UK. Some of the most reputable of high-street chains are jumping in on the action.


An icon of an active lifestyle back in the 1980s, today’s resurgence of shell suit tops and other vintage wear, means men and women are equally likely to be seen wearing them at home and the grocery, as they are at the office.

80s shell suit tops – Make your own splash

80s purple chevron shell suit top

80s purple chevron shell suit top


No longer is going back to the 80s a fashion faux pas! Many an 80’s fashion accessory, including vintage tops and suits are making a dramatic comeback. Some of those fashions of yore are even inspiring newer-gen fashion designers to create vintage-themed designer lines of their own.


Wearing your 80s shell suit tops to nostalgic events, like 80s balls or costume parties, can really turn back the clock – and many heads too! Timelessly appealing, wearing a suit with any vintage top would make an amazing combo seem even more glamorous!


But these ageless beauties aren’t just for the occasional nostalgic soiree. “Yummy mummies” are frequently seen in their pastel colour suits, dropping off their kids off at school gates. They are making a statement of their own: After this…it’s off to the gym!


Even Jeremy Corbyn, who would seem like an unlikely fashion icon by today’s standards, has embraced his 80s shell suit tops like they were still very much in vogue today.  As he and his wife cycle around in their grey shell top suits, it would seem like they were ahead of the fashion revolution this time – making waves of their own!


Popular TV-talk, chat and gossip shows, like Loose Women, are jumping on the resurgence of the vintage top and stripped pants, and it seems like the comeback is taking root.


The “fashion meets work” message from the 80s is now a theme that many of today’s designers are embracing. Brands like Paul Smith and Rapha have been targeting men who prefer to be seen wearing the same clothes while socializing as when they were exercising. This style, of “bar meets boardroom” was the theme that drove the 80s jacket top and suits into prominence.

Dress sense

80s Blue red & white shell suit top

80s Blue red & white shell suit top


The shell’s comeback to modern day fashion relevance is as significant as its move into mainstream fashion was back in the 80’s. Lined either in thin knitted fabric, self lined or lined with silky toweling, these suits were married with almost any combo of outer or inner accessory to make them more fashionable and “dressy”.


As the past revisits the present, it’s all about function just as it is about fashion. And revisiting your 80s shell suit tops can make you “hip” and “cool” once again – but you need to jump into them with the same dress sense of yesteryear’s, or else they may look just a tad bit out of place on you. Even superstars like Madonna are proving to us that all that’s “Shiny” can also be “Stylish” – even today!


As a general rule:


  • choose a suit that’s slightly larger than your “normal” size


  • don’t wear them overly snug, otherwise you’ll miss out on that truly vintage look. The more puffier the suit, the better


  • while there are pieces with Velcro closings; a full-frontal zip design was what really gave these vintage suits character


  • make sure those stretchy ankle elastic bands stopped just short enough to expose your snow white socks


  • your iPhone, with either a traditional ear bud headphones, or a Bluetooth enabled headset would make a perfect accessory – just as the Walkerman’s used to back in the day!


Now, simply dawn on a pair of slightly oversized Reebok’s or Nike’s…and your back to the 80’s look is complete!


What about colour, pattern and tone? Well, if you truly want to embrace the 80s in all its glory, then your wardrobe should have not just a lone, but multiple 80s shell suit tops. While pastel colours were preferred, you can wear yours in any shade or hue that makes you feel comfortable.


Mix and match – if you will. Wear that plain pastel top from one suit, with the printed pants from another. Completely out of sync with today’s fashion philosophy? Do they make you stand out and clash? Great…after all, that’s what the 80’s was all about!

Browse the shell suit range in-store and online



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