80s Fashion: Big Hair and Jewel Tones Gave Illusion of Wealth in Reagan Years
After the austerity of the late 1970s, the American public was ready to embrace the materialistic aspects of the American Dream in both politics and in 80s fashion. With President Reagan at the helm, Americans dreamed of oil wealth and a lasting legacy of middle-class prosperity with popular TV programs such as Dallas, Dynasty, and the Cosby Show
Fashions echoed that pipe dream. Bigger, flashier, and brighter were the fashions that typified the 1980s. Big—as in big hair.
With bouffants piled high and shoulder-length cuts cascading curls high and wide, women with thin hair were out of luck this decade, following a 20-year period in which wispy, ironing-board straight hair led the fashion parade. With these huge ‘dos, women balanced their big hair with big jackets—sometimes nearly hip length, and always with huge, padded shoulders.
Gaudy costume jewelry created the illusion of wealth. Huge, clunky baubles made from faux gold covering junk metals competed with sequin-laden tops for shine. Metallic fabrics and leathers came into prominence as women competed for the title of “glitter queen.”
Heavily made-up faces were again in vogue, with huge lips sporting bright reds and eyes dripping with mascara. Truly, big extended all the way to the cosmetic bar as designers competed with each other to produce fragrances designed to evoke the rich aura of the 1980s.
Jewel tones were everywhere in 80s fashion, from formal evening gowns in bright emeralds and sapphires to velour activewear in amethysts and rubies. Even in business apparel, the most conservative women could be seen sporting ruby silk blouses under their two-piece navy skirt suits with bat-wing shoulder pads. Pant suits came into the forefront as well, with wide legs, chunky low kitten heels, and, of course, shoulder pads in any one of the jewel tones or more neutral shades.
Blouson dresses were popular choices for women of the era, tent-like dresses cinched in at the waist with a string belt and then draped over the waistline, hiding any extra pounds around the tummy. Again, the excess fabric—in jewel tones, of course, gave the illusion of wealth and prosperity in these.
In casual wear, puffy sweaters, also padded at the shoulders, kept the big look going. Sequins and metallic yarn added a festive touch all year long, but were especially popular during the winter holidays.
Youth, however, embraced the preppy look, an 80s throwback to the penny loafers, oxford shirts, cardigans, and saddle shoes of the 1950s. Conservatism was in—and even the youth embraced the movement during that decade in rebellion against the previous era’s progressivism. Polo shirts with the maker’s logo emblazoned over the heart emphasized brand awareness, while boys and girls both draped sweaters over their shoulders tied around the neck.
Activewear became a familiar sight on the streets. Velour 2-piece sets in jewel tones were especially popular with the 40-and over crowd. Among the more youthful set, cut-off sweatshirt with unitards or tightly-fitting leggings and tops were among the favorites. Toward the end of the decade, ballooning windbreaker jackets with matching pants were all the rage, topped off with Air Jordans, yet another icon of 80s fashion, whose popularity rose along with the NBA star’s.