Fashion Crimes of the 80s – a list

They may have been acceptable in the 80s, but they sure as hell aren’t acceptable now. They’re the five biggest fashion crimes of the 80s – which was itself just one long crime against fashion, from beginning to end. Anyone who was alive during the late 1980s will surely remember it as one of the worst-dressed decades ever – unless, of course, you’ve managed to repress the memory, in which case, good for you, and I wish I could. Here’s our round-up of the worst of 80s fashion.

pink and green Shell suit 1. Shell suits
Perhaps the biggest fashion crime EVER, never mind just the 80s, the shell suit will go down in history as the sartorial equivalent of that dodgy one-night-stand you still can’t quite believe you let yourself in for. Why did  people wear them? Why did no one ever take a long hard look in the mirror one day and say, “Hey! I look like a complete tool! The hell with this!” Well, maybe they did, who knows. Of all of the things there are to hate about shell suits (and there are lots of things to hate about shell suits) perhaps the most inexplicable was the fact that the gaudier and uglier they were, the more coveted they would become.  We were a nation of lunatics, all competing to own the fugliest shellsuit in all the land. What happened to us?!

Acid washed denim 2. Acid wash denim

I think the picture says it all, no? This was a decade in which  the “double denim” look wasn’t just acceptable – it was actually encouraged. And whether you went for the “denim jacket and jeans” look or the “denim jacket and denim skirt” version, it mattered not – all that mattered was the denim in question had to be acid-washed. They called it Acieeeed, and they loved it. In fact, they loved it so much that they wore it from head to toe, day in, day day out. Bonus points if your acid wash jeans had little fiddly zips on the bottom or – in the case of younger members of society – cartoons painted on the legs. For reasons that still elude me to this day, Flintstones motifs were the most popular. Why? I have no idea – and given that people were walking around in shell suits, I think the Flintstones are probably the least of our worries here, don’t you?

Neon ankle socks 3. Neon ankle socks
Neon ankle socks arrived around 1988/1989 and only the brightest, most obnoxious neon colours would do.  Snot green. Puke yellow. Basically, if it was a colour so bright is was guarenteed to go with absolutely NOTHING (and trust me, that applied to all of the neon sock colours), why, you would wear it on your feet, of course! Here’s the thing, though: it wasn’t enough to wear just one colour of sock. No, you had to wear TWO DIFFERENT COLOURS at once – one on each foot. So you’d have a green sock and a yellow sock, or – if you really wanted to clash – a pink sock and an orange sock. You’d wear these with your acid wash jeans, which you’d roll up just far enough to look stupid, and to reveal those all-important socks which would flash jauntily in and out of your line of vision as you walked. You’d be wild and kerrazy, and the envy of all your friends. Except, not really.

joan collins Shoulder pads 4. Huge shoulder pads
Part of the power-dressing trend (which in itself just sounds all kinds of wrong, doesn’t it?), huge shoulder pads were considered the very epitome of 80s chic, but then, given the kind of things they were up against, that’s not really much of an accolade. Worn on everything from jackets to dresses and from shirts to t-shirts (gotta power-dress at the gym too, you know) they were popularised by TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty and made everyone look like a football player in drag. They’re rumoured to be making a comeback, too – watch this space.
5. Pre-creased shirts

I couldn’t find a picture of one of these, but I’m  guessing you can probably all imagine a really badly creased shirt, right? Now imagine wearing it, and thinking you looked cool. That was the 80s for ya…

Were you alive in the 80s? What fashion crimes do you remember?

Related: 80’s fashion: a guide | 80’s Fashion Accessories


  • September 26, 2007


    Oh my God, I love acid-washed denim! I used to love it a lot more when I was more into punk rock but I definitely haven’t owned a pair at least since I was a child, if ever. I don’t know if you have Urban Outfitters over there, but they’re bringing it back so you may want to employ constant vigilance at this time.
    I’m sort of glad that shoulder pads are coming back, not because I intend on wearing them, but I’m a slightly broad-shouldered girl and I’d love it if every other girl was walking around looking like they were getting ready for a game of powderpuff football (that’s an American thing where the cheerleaders play football, I have no idea why).

  • September 26, 2007


    I’m technically a child of the 80s (born in 82), but I gotta say…even though I didn’t participate in most of these trends to a large scale…I wanted to. I think that’s worse.
    Also, I think poodle perms deserve an honorable mention. I attempted a perm in the 7th grade, but it didn’t take well (not sure if it was my hair being so long, or what). I ended up with very awkward waves. Bangs and all.
    Yeah, those pictures are BURIED.

  • September 26, 2007


    Oh. my. god. I actually had that VERY shellsuit! I have a lovely picture of me in it on a swing at the local garden centre, waggling my thumb against my nose and looking not unlike a muppet… Which just goes to prove the ill-effects a shellsuit can have on an otherwise elegant young lady (ahem).

  • September 26, 2007


    And P.S. my favourite trend were the neon spiral laces to be worn in your chunky shoes or hi-tops with the neon socks – and preferably in two further clashing colours.

  • September 26, 2007

    The Fashion Police

    Caroline – oh God, I remember those laces! They were all the rage back then, and yes, particularly desirable with the neon socks/hi-tops combo! I can’t believe you had that very shellsuit! (Mine was silver. I was way cool.)

  • September 26, 2007


    I had Flintstone jeans!!! Never a shell suit though. My sister did. And she had the neon socks (I’d forgotten you had to wear 2 colours), and I think she had the spiral laces too.

  • September 26, 2007

    Special K

    I will warn that I saw tapered legged with ankle zipper acid wash jeans in at least three Toronto stores this past week. I felt compelled to make the sign of the cross and throw holy water on the hideous things lest they rise from the table and attack me.

  • September 27, 2007


    i remember the swirly shoelaces! and my shellsuit (although i have never heard it called that, it was a plain ol tracksuit to me.. or ‘zoot’ when i was very young) was a very similar colour scheme to that one! my mum had the jeans, hers had calvin & hobbes comics on the pockets. luckily any 80s trends i took part in were adapted for childrenswear so its slightly more forgivable when you’re a kid!

  • September 27, 2007


    I think the list would be shorter if we were listing what WASN’T a fashion crime in the 80s! I remember leg warmers and VERY colourful HUGE knitted jumpers (sweaters) with the above mentioned poodle perm. Eeww

  • October 4, 2007


    I am embarrassed to admit that I still have a pair of acid washed denim jeans in the back of my closet. Hey they looked so good on me I have always hoped that they would come back in style.

  • January 9, 2008


    heheh. i lohv every thing here. i lohv a girl who can rock this style now

  • March 30, 2008


    People are always going on how bad 80’s fashion yet the 90’s was just as bad. Blossom(tv show) is one example how fugly 90’s fashion was.
    Floral dresses with Doc Martins, hats with stupid big flowers, flat wedge platforms, overalls and the list goes on.

  • August 21, 2008


    neon ankle socks are back. i have seen them all over the place lately.

  • October 27, 2008


    Why does everyone make fun of 80s fashion? Was it really any worse than the hideous earth tones or tacky disco outfits of the 70s, or the sloppiness of the 90s, or the backside-baring low-rise pants of today?
    Every decade has had its fashion blunders, some of which were truly awful. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit it.

  • April 23, 2009


    I remember
    – sweaters with a deeeeep v-neckline that were usually worn with a narrow belt
    – clochard-jeans: shapeless jeans (not really baggy) with an only slightly dropped crotch that were much too wide at the waist, so you had to use a belt to keep them from falling off you. Looked horrible at the waist, especially given the then-common habit of tucking your tops into your pants.
    – jeans with white fabric-stripes down the outside of the leg and/or across one upper thigh.
    – denim sweatshirts. (Yes, I had one. Don’t ask.)
    – the colour combinations: pink with yellow, pink with green, blue with purple,… and everything was bright. Nobody wore black or grey.
    – neon colours in general. It wasn’t just socks, it was also jackets, and shoelaces, hair accessories, scarves, nail polish, … you name it.
    – Smileys everywhere (late 80s). Here in Germany we didn’t have the Flintstones, we had smileys on or jeans. And shirts. And everything.
    80s fashion I actually miss:
    – slim stretch jeans. The skinny jeans from 20 years ago that even I would fit into. (And still do. I’ve kept a pair and it still fits.)
    – plain white high top sneakers. Call me a criminal, but I liked them.

  • April 24, 2009


    The more I think of it, the more crimes come to the surface:
    – headbands in general. No poodle perm or spiky punk hairdo was complete without a thick braided headband. Boys preferred those made of towelling cloth.
    – I don’t know what exactly they were called, but one winter we had some kind of wide knitted tubes that you used as scarves, but could also pull up over your head to have some kind of hood. They were often fastened with the abovementioned headbands. It’s a true blessing that they only lasted for about one season.
    – Shiny colour-changing satin blouses with woven-in patterns.
    – Plastic-rimmed glasses the size of saucers. I got my first glasses in 1983, when I was 9 years old, and they are 3x the size of my current glasses. Go figure!

  • April 26, 2009


    I am also a product of 1982 and I am truly fascinated that the later fashion of the 80s (88/89) are back. Lately, I see the younger kids wearing neons and of course, colored skinny jeans with high tops. I really flipped out when I saw the Reebok Pumps. I just bought a pair of oversized purple sunglasses… but the ones with the tint of dark to light. Cazells.
    For years, I thought none of this would ever be seen again but fashion somehow does repeat itself every 20 years. Plus, the 17 year olds never wore such things so it’s new to them.
    In the meantime, I am loving and have embraced this “comeback of 88/89”.
    However, I am in NYC and have seen quite a bit of girls wearing African print leggings which I am not ready to accept.

  • June 22, 2009


    Chanel- “…how fugly 90’s fashion was. Floral dresses with Doc Martins…”
    Thats a British classic! x

  • June 22, 2009


    Chanel- “…how fugly 90’s fashion was. Floral dresses with Doc Martins…”
    Thats a British classic! x

  • October 30, 2009


    The scarf that could also be pulled up into a hood was called a “snood” in the UK if I remember right.

  • November 11, 2009


    You forgot…stiletto heels? Stilettos made a huge comeback in the ’80’s. And, with the thinnest, deadliest heels yet seen since the 1950’s– perhaps we should rename them “rapier heels,” and class them as deadly weapons at law? in the 80’s a new style of stiletto heel first made its appearance in the US in the trendy shops on Melrose Blvd., W. Hollywood: metal heels. The lower half of each heel was of gold- or silver-anodized steel, that tapered to a 3-4mm point. This style was soon being mass-produced in China and Europe. They proved to be irresistible– neither fancy parquet floors, nor the tops of other people’s shoes (not to mention their feet) had a prayer. Metal heels never lost popularity; no 20-year cycle for them.

    Speaking of cheap imports from China, we were also flooded with “stealth” heels. Why wait for cheap plastic stiletto heel tips to wear down to the nails? These had small, hardened steel pins straight through the plastic to the bottom. Goodbye mellow, eye-pleasing wood tones in public places; no one with any sense builds a public building today out of materials less hard than concrete, with a character to match. Hello feet that are even more sore and tired after a day out shopping, having pounded on stone and concrete floors for hours. Trainers, anyone?

  • March 1, 2010


    Wonder what everyone will be thinking one day in the not so distant future and look back and remember the men/boys with the ass cracks and the crotch of their very big and baggy jeans hanging down to their knees and inhibiting movement ( kind of like a kid who’s crapped their drawers)- now THAT is mindless fashion crimes! So COOL aren’t they?

  • March 29, 2010



  • March 29, 2010


    Yeah, but the shell suits were comfy weren’t they, lol. Other 80s fashion disasters:

    Leg warmers over your jeans (like the kids from Fame) even when you weren’t going to the roller disco. Shoes with a watch on them. Oh, and grey or black slip on shoes with little tassels on – especially with white socks like Jacko (this was my school look in the early 80s). Bright diamond jumpers – preferably Fred Perry or Lacoste. Any white t-shirt with ‘Frankie Says’ written on it. Those see thru PVC jackets that all the girls wore, even when it wasn’t raining. White canvas trainers (called plimsols back then) that you had to paint white with a special pen everytime they got dirty. T – shirts with iron on logos that would peel off after each wash.

    Oh, and in my late teens (late 80s) we wore those black nylon flight jackets with the orange lining – we thought it made us look like RUN DMC.

    My mum wore some terrible clothes too. Lots of awful baggy mohair jumpers in bright colours, or even worse – cotton jumpsuits in colours like aqua or pink.

  • May 2, 2010


    Ahahaha you forget the whole sweater huge enough to fall off one shoulder, enough aquanet to blow up a stadium (god cheerleaders still do this T_T, at least some of them do), and the rather dubious “bun warmers”. My friend had some of those, but she only wore them under jeans in winter. They were basically knitted leggings. Fringe on every bloody thing and it’s mother, and laces on shoes in three to six colors (you remember those Paula Abdul shoes), and stacked socks. Two colors was common, but people aimed for anywhere from 2 to 5 colors, as long as they could still get their shoes on. >_>

    • May 14, 2010


      Oh yeah, who can forget girls with so much hairspray that their hair was actually crispy! Mind you, most of us guys put almost a pot of hair gel on our head when going out.

      Another short lived look was the whole brown leather flying jacket (often with a logo painted on the back – like ‘flying tigers’ or something) matched with chinos. We thought it made us look like Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’, but actually we looked like some kind of naff extra from ‘Pearl Harbour’.

      What about;

      Hawian shirts (we knew all the girls at school had a crush on Thomas Magnum, so we figured that they’d fancy us in the same shirt).

      Jackets with sleeves rolled up (just like in Miami Vice).

      Pastel coloured ski jackets with jeans.

      Guys haircuts, where the back was left long behind the ears and the top was cut spikey.

      Girls haircuts where the back was shaved into the neck and the fringe was down to the chin.

  • July 29, 2010


    You’re years out with the neon sock thing – that was the EARLY eighties. I still have my fluorescent pink ones! My best friend wore one pink, one lime green with black cropped jeans with zips at the ankles.

    Also, it was NOT cool to smile in the eighties – the mean and moody look ruled. When Haircut 100 entered the charts, he freaked us all out with his SMILING.

    What about sayings? “Are you looking at me or chewing a brick?” And (if someone irritating was staring at you) “Are you gettin’ cheapies, or what?” !!!

  • […] just as our youth will certainly declare, one day soon, that big-hair and other hideous retro-80s fashion have become trés chic, so we witness today the return of economic conditions resembling those […]

  • March 1, 2012


    This is great … doing rehersals in a play sat the day John Lennon was shot.. set in New York and have to find costume … ahh leg warmers .. converse trainers .. i have curly hair .. didn’t stop me having perm .. i look at photos and think omg .. but we had fun !

  • February 10, 2013

    Sock hunter

    I remember the neon socks very clearly around ’83/84. By ’88/89 we were lurching into LA rock ‘cool’ – Appetite for Destruction stylee. Leather jackets with tassels anyone? Baaaaad!

  • […] We unfortunately missed the end of headline act, The Wonder Stuff, thus missing ‘Dizzy’! But we did hear ‘size of a cow’ and I’ve been humming ever since (takes me back to being 8 and my glorious purple and green shell suit much like this one!). […]