The fashion silhouette of the 1980s was defined by oversized, voluminous gigot (leg of mutton) sleeves and wide padded shoulders which coincided with the fight for women's equal rights. Even eveningwear, which emphasized low-cut necklines and narrow waists, had to have padded shoulders. Hemlines were no longer an issue. Teenagers wore loose mini dresses, but in general skirts extended from below the knee to calf-length. Women wore masculine jackets, short bell-hop jackets or broad-shouldered, box jackets with pants. At the same time, fashion became a sign of prestige and a status symbol, best represented by brand-name labels, and a preference for leather, fur, and gold-colored accessories.
The Japanese avant-garde designers, who attracted a good deal of attention in Europe during the 1980s, stood in sharp contrast to this trend. In the tradition of Japanese clothing, Yohji Yamamoto draped skeins of fabric loosely around the body. In 1981, Rei Kawakubo's fashion company "Comme des Garçons," called the entire Western fashion aesthetic into question. She shredded skirts into fluttering strips, tore material, knotted it together, and layered it crosswise. Black and gray dominated. Issey Miyake was known for his highly experimental use of materials and methods, demonstrated by his rattan bodices inspired by Samurai practice armor in 1982, and his first "Pleats Please" collection of 1989.
In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld became the designer for the haute couture house of Chanel. He reworked the legendary Chanel suit to be new and uncomplicated, and added leather skirts and pants suits. Parisian designers offered a new body consciousness as an alternative to the oversized craze. Thierry Mugler sparkled with corset suits and siren clothes, Jean-Paul Gaultier with skin-tight velvet and grenade bosoms, and Azzedine Alaïa with clinging lace-up clothes.
The American designer style became synonymous with sportswear and clean chic. Ralph Lauren gave tradition a modern face lift with his "country-style" concept. Donna Karan was treasured for her functional "all-day fashion" with jersey bodysuits instead of blouses. Calvin Klein was considered the inventor of designer jeans.
The music scene provided more and more style models. Pop icon Madonna was fascinating as a contemporary Marilyn Monroe. Her appearance in a corset was the impetus of the underwear-as-outerwear craze, featuring bustiers and corsets.
The fitness craze exerted the greatest influence on everyday fashion in the late 1980s. The ballet dancer's leg warmers, the aerobic fan's leggings, and the bicycle racer's pants appeared in everyday fashion. Leggings available in the wildest patterns, the most garish colors, and the shiniest stretchy fabrics, were worn with blazers or long pullover sweaters.
Towards the end of the decade, the long blazer with straight, knee-length skirt and black opaque stockings became the classic women's business outfit. Evening fashion, and the revival of the cocktail dress, was, in contrast, emphatically feminine. Christian Lacroix, whose first haute couture show in 1987 brought a frenzy of color, became the master of cocktail dresses with jaunty, short tutus and balloon skirts.
In response to massive animal rights' campaigns, the wearing of fur became a "question of conscience," making colorful fake furs and quilted down coats fashionable.
Yohji Yamamoto's new men's fashion, with its flowing, collarless jackets, proffered an alternative to the yuppie's conventional shoulder-padded business suit. Giorgio Armani led the rise of Milan menswear, and the German manufacturer, Boss, achieved international recognition for its men's fashions.
In 1982 Calvin Klein revolutionized men's underwear, making simple ribbed men's briefs a designer item by printing his name in the elastic waistband. In 1985, androgyny became a provocative fashion statement; JeanPaul Gaultier created skirts for the body-conscious man.
Was this article helpful?
Rock your personality in a dress you made yourself that reflects who you are, not what a department store thinks you want. Discover The Beginners Guide to Making Your Own Dress. You do not have to wear off the rack dresses any longer. You can make your own fashion statement on the world.