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History, sourcing and styling womens shell suit fashions

June 24, 2019

Everything you ever wanted to know about the backstory of womens shell suit outfits, where to buy them and how to rock them for fancy dress parties or everyday life.


Read on for the history of womens shell suit costumes, all the best places online and on the street to find your shell suit, and all the ways to style this iconic outfit for your next 1980s fancy dress party or incorporate it into your modern everyday wardrobe from office to street wear.

Womens shell suit jacket

Womens shell suit jacket

Womens shell suit history


The 1980s and 1990s shell suit originated from the 1960s and 1970s track suit and both men’s and women’s shell suit fashions evolved as neon-bright versions of the track suit, now in man-made fabrications like nylon and other waterproof materials and adopted far beyond the realm of functional sportswear.


There was a period in the 1980s and 1990s when the shell suit was the height of fashion and the emblem of cool street style, very popular with break dancers, hip-hop and rap stars and, in some variations of the womens shell suit, with soccer moms everywhere!


Also, in the 1980s and 1990s, the shell suit became the “uniform” of choice of Liverpool trendsetters, known as the Scouser generation, with such celebrities as David Icke wearing the shell suit for TV shows and public speaking events.


The women’s shell suit was styled with bubble perms, brightly coloured headbands and neon coloured accessories by the women of Liverpool, who exported their style statements to the rest of the fashion-forward world.


In the 1990s, womens shell suit fashion was on the wane, now only worn by a niche market who continued to wear their shell suits as statements of style rebellion and stand-out-from-the-crowd emblems.

 women’s shell suit fancy dress costume

Women’s shell suit fancy dress costume

Womens shell suit as fancy dress costume


A womens shell suit fancy dress costume is a great idea for your next 1980s or 1990s themed event.


You can buy a fancy dress shell suit from a great selection of online and brick-and-mortar market places, offering you a vast array of style choices and price points to fit every budget.


  • Start at eBay and find a huge selection of women’s shell suit options, all the way from bargain priced current spins on the iconic outfit but made with today’s fabrics and labour, to high-end original shell suits from the 1980s and 1990s, even designer brands like Gucci and Nike.


Then really amplify your womens shell suit fancy dress costume by getting the perfect accessories to go with it, also available on eBay, like a bubble perm wig, white or coloured high-top runners, a neon-bright headband and reflector sunnies!


Pick runners with colourful stripes on the sides or, if you want to make the investment, look for authentic Nike or Reebok retro sneakers to really elevate your womens shell suit look.

Women's shell suit accessorized with 80s wide elasticated belt

Women’s shell suit with 80s elasticated belt

Retro accessories for shell suits

Other retro accessories for shell suits include chunky chains draped around your womens shell suit jacket and brightly-colored beaded bracelets – pick whatever speaks to your personal style and go all out for that fancy dress party!


  • Or check out what Etsy has on offer for shell suits as fancy dress costumes. This virtual market place offers you womens shell suit options that range from authentic one-of-a-kind suits to budget-friendly modern spins, perfect for that one-use only costume. Browse through their shell suit collection to see what’s available.


  • Head on over to Amazon for another great place to source your womens shell suit fancy dress outfit. Amazon offers you a massive inventory of shell suits to choose from, ranging from designer brands to fast fashion options, something to suit every taste and style persona.


  • Another cool virtual market place for your fancy dress costume is Smiffys, where you will find a curated selection of womens shell suit choices of good quality and at reasonable prices.


Scouser Trends

Explore shell suits fashioned after the original Scouser trends from back in the 1980s, made out of authentic shell suits fabrics like nylon, which gives the suit its iconic shiny look. Then add a fancy dress wig to go with your womens shell suit and finish your head-to-toe look all at the same site. Check out your choices at Smiffy’s fancy dress pages.


  • Before you pick your womens shell suit fancy dress costume, head on over to Party Delights or Red Fancy Dress as your last stop.  Not only do they have a great selection of shell suits, you can also find all your accessories here, from wigs to shoes to jewellery, perfect for completing your fancy dress look from head to toe. Even if you don’t end up buying, you’ll get lots of inspiration from Party delights – guaranteed!

Women's 1980s shell suit from Blue17 vintage

Women’s 1980s shell suit

Thrift stores

In addition to all the great online global market places listed above for your womens shell suit, don’t forget about your local thrift stores, which will have authentic 1980s shell suits at ridiculously low prices and the fun of trying them on and making your purchase then and there.


Pick a one-of-a-kind retro womens shell suit to rock at that fancy dress party, then check out the store’s shoes and accessories sections to find fun and cheap fancy dress add-ons like headbands, bracelets and sneakers.


Or go check out the consignment stores in your city – these places offer high-end, high-quality womens shell suit outfits that will be worth your investment dollars since they curate only the best items especially for customers like you.


Expect to find shell suits in heavy, durable fabrications built to last, and in neutral high-class colours like black, navy or grey. Embellishments are likely to be understated, so that you can mix-and-match your womens shell suit pieces with everything else in your closet, maximizing your usage options.

Re-imagined Womens shell suit

Re-imagined Womens shell suit

Womens shell suit re-imagined for today

While shell suits may have been the height of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s, they are having a moment today, re-imagined on catwalks from Europe to the U.S. of A, given their alignment with the ever-popular athleisure trend and a global interest in sports wear for every day wear.


High-end designers like Alessandro Michele and the fashion house of Gucci have included these spins on shell suits in their recent Summer and Spring collections, with Michele’s collection bringing the retro with huge shoulder pads, belt bags and high-tops taking the spotlight on the catwalk.


Re-imagined womens shell suit current trends are now in pastels rather than the retro brights, with contrasting zipper details, logo embellishments and, in some versions, major artwork on sleeves like crystal flames.


Other designers like Prada are offering their shell suits in classic and timeless dark colourations like navy or black, raising the profile of these jacket and trouser combinations to very wearable, go-with-anything pieces.


Then there is the Valentino womens shell suit, done in solid primary colours like green and red, and also a throwback shade of candy pink, perfect for standing out from the crowd yet still looking very chic.


Rock your womens shell suit pieces today!


Don’t restrict your womens shell suit to fancy dress costume – take the jacket and trousers apart or wear together for a retro-modern mashup that refreshes your current wardrobe.

Women’s shell suit jacket

Women’s shell suit jacket

Womens shell suit jacket styling


Looking for some ideas to style your jackets? Well, here are a few suggestions:


  • Pair your womens shell suit jacket in either a solid bright or a classic neutral with your favourite T-shirt. If going with a primary coloured jacket, wear a plain white tee. If your jacket is neutral in navy, tan or black, elevate your style with a printed T-shirt.


  • Then finish your look with either dark wash skinny jeans, chinos or khakis – the styling options are open to your personal interpretation. Add classic white sneakers and you have a casual-chic outfit for weekends and evenings.


  • Shell suits also lend themselves to business-casual styling, by combining your womens shell suit jacket with a crisp white button-down tucked into a classic black, grey or tan pencil skirt.    Finish this look with a chunky metal link long necklace and high-heeled pumps.


  • Other cool ways to rock your womens shell suit jacket include layering it over a pretty floral summer dress, adding some edginess to a girly look. Finish with flats or sneakers for a throwback homage to the Pink Ladies of “Grease” uniform.


  • Or wear your womens shell suit jacket over your favourite jumpsuit when the evenings are chilly and that sleeveless jumpsuit needs an extra layer for style and comfort.


  • Another spin on the womens shell suit jacket is to wear it as top, zipped up all the way and over a flirty full skirt, with the jacket sleeves pushed up for a 50s fit-and-flare look. Or wear it over skinny pale wash jeans for a 1980s Madonna-style outfit, with a brightly coloured bow in your hair.

Women’s shell suit trousers

Women’s shell suit trousers

Womens shell suit trouser styling


And now that you’ve got those jackets all sorted out, it’s time to do some trouser-styling:


  • For the trousers of your womens shell suit outfit, styling ideas are equally versatile. Wear the trousers with a sleek sleeveless turtleneck in warmer weather, and wear your pant cuffs rolled up to show off your classic white stiletto pumps.


  • In cooler weather, replace the top with a long-sleeved turtleneck in black and pair the outfit with ankle boots for timeless style.


  • A casual spin on your womens shell suit trousers mashes them up with an oversized chunky cable-knit sweater and doc martins for winter months, or with a loose T-shirt over top and white sneakers for summer evening cool.


  • Other styling options for your womens shell suit bottoms including glamming them up with a pretty satin and lace camisole tucked in at the waist, and strappy high-heeled sandals for a night out on the town. Add some pearls draped around your neck and encircling your wrist to finish the fancy look.


  • Or, if you really want to be bold, go all out with your womens shell suit adventures by wearing the full suit top-to-bottom, over a plain T-shirt or turtleneck sweater to let the suit have the spotlight, or with a contrasting coloured top for a colour-block spin.


Womens shell suit power


Now you know the backstory of the womens shell suit, the best places online and on the street to find and buy your next womens shell suit, whether as a one-off fancy dress costume or as an investment piece to refresh your current wardrobe


You also have all the inspiration you need on the countless ways you can rock that womens shell suit for day-to-night wear, office to weekend, casual to glam. So, go find yourself the perfect womens shell suit to mesh with your personal style and taste and take this iconic throwback trend for a spin down the catwalk of your everyday life!


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