1980s: Fashion

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1980s: Fashion


By the 1980s, American fashion recovered from polyester leisure suits and hot pants—the strange fashion trends of the 1970s—and became far more tasteful. Leading the way were the nation's president and first lady, Ronald Reagan (1911–) and Nancy Reagan (1921–). Like Jacqueline Kennedy (1929–1994), who set fashion trends in the 1960s as the first lady, the Reagans wore tasteful, expensive clothes. They held lavish parties at the White House, and they made it fashionable to be glamorous again.

The biggest factor pushing America's new love for high fashion in the 1980s was rising prosperity and the tendency of wealthier Americans to want to show off their wealth. Many did so by dressing in the latest styles offered by American and European designers. In America, designers like Donna Karan (1948–) and Ralph Lauren (1939–) offered sophisticated styles for women—including stylish clothes that could be worn to work. For men, the nicely tailored "power suit" came back into style and was the uniform of success for most business men. Late in the decade, however, a new trend toward casual clothes in the workplace emerged. Starting as "casual Fridays," by the 1990s many workplaces permitted casual clothing all the time.

Brand names became increasingly important in the 1980s. High-fashion designers such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein (1942–) offered jeans and casual clothes that could be purchased by middle-class people, who liked wearing a prestige label. Izod polo shirts—with the distinctive alligator on the chest—were one of the hottest single items of the decade. The polo shirt was one of the standard garments in the preppy style, which was most popular among college-age people. On the other hand, exercise clothes—running suits and stretchy spandex tights, for example—also boomed in popularity, helped along by a brief rage for ripped sweatshirts made popular by the movie Flashdance (1983).

Models had always been used to show off women's clothes in fashion shows and magazines. In the 1980s, several of these women became celebrities in their own right—in fact, they became known as super-models. These supermodels became associated with the brands of clothing, perfume, or makeup that they sold. Their salaries and level of public recognition soared.

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1980s: Fashion

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1980s: Fashion