Fashion Police Glossary: Shell suits

Shell-suits

When we posted about the UK's Worst Fashion Crimes yesterday, a couple of you said you weren't sure what "shell suits" were – and, of course, you wouldn't as these were mostly a British phenomenon, with the US being mercifully spared the worst of it, as far as we're aware.

The Shell Suit came to fashion prominence in- when else? – the 80s and is so far one of the few trends from that decade that has yet to be revived by over-enthusiastic fashion designers. This is something we're really, really glad about, because as the image above shows, Shell Suits were nylon-coated track pants and zip up tops, usually designed in the most garish colours possible (this one is actually quite tame) – well, it was the 80s, after all.

(Note: the image above is actually fancy dress costume, which tells you all you need to know about shell suits. The suit itself is an accurate representation of what they looked like, though.)

Although technically "leisure wear", shell suits were worn for more or less everything during the 80s, ideally with neon mismatched socks and, if you were female, a pony tail placed right on the very top of your head. Sometimes as ysterday's survey indicated, they were tucked into socks. No matter where you went, you'd see gangs of people walking around in nylon suits: they were like the Crocs of the 80s, and they were almost breathtaking in their ugliest, but, like Crocs, that didn't stop lots of people buying and wearing them.

It's been a long time now since shell suits were a common sight on the streets of Britain, and long may it remain that way. We can only assume thaht their presence in the "Top 10 Fashin Crimes" list is an indication of how deep the scars left by these items still run. Try not to have nightmares, folks…

12 Comments

  • June 11, 2009

    Ella

    I don’t know. I seem to recall the Glaswegian neds wearing these out in force, though typically in a more refined red or white. Terrible crimes of fashion, yes, but also useful social indicators.

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  • June 12, 2009

    Steph

    Argh… such awful memories. I used to wear shellsuits but, in my defence, I was very very young at the time. One of my shellsuits was bright pink. I am deeply shamed.

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  • June 12, 2009

    Riali

    They were certainly a presence in my little slice of North America in the 80’s, it’s just that we didn’t call them shell suits. I think of them as “Nylon Tracksuits” or “Windbreaker Suits”. (I believe I had a pink one and a red one, but they were strictly rainy/slushy/windy/muddy weather gear. Even at seven I refused to wear them to school.)
    They are still beloved of many physically active senior citizens, and often come in matching his and hers pairs in this demographic.

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  • June 12, 2009

    gokarm

    SENIOR CITIZENS…so true. That’s exactly who wears it in the states. My mom was forever looking at the track suits when they were in fashion and I always told her “no, mom, no. You’ll look 20 years older”. I guess they’re comfortable and to an older person, “snazzy”.

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  • June 12, 2009

    gelliott

    lol these were definitely prominent in the U.S. and not just in the 80’s. I’m a 90’s kid and I’m positive I had this hideous orange and black windbreaker suit. I also see old ladies wearing these all the time at the mall early in the morning when they’re there to exercise.

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  • June 12, 2009

    Katie

    We just call them “tracksuits” here. My mom had a Pittsburgh Steelers one, I remember. (This was in the mid-90’s.)

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  • June 12, 2009

    Ms. Unique Luvs U

    *HORROR MOVIE SCREAM*

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  • June 13, 2009

    Lauren

    There seemed to be a revival around 2003-2006 of shell/track suits in and around the Glasgow area…

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  • June 13, 2009

    Carissa

    In south US, we called them simply “wind-suits”
    and until I started following the FP I never knew that they were a crime of fashion.(I’m a young adult, too) Don’t arrest me, but I honestly don’t see what’s so bad about them. I see them often and on all ages where I live.

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  • June 15, 2009

    Miranda

    The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture was Vicky Pollard from “Little Britain.” 🙂

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  • July 11, 2009

    sue

    I am proud to say that i have never worn a shellsuit in my life. (walks of feeling very smug)

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  • January 17, 2012

    Madi

    i’m pretty sure i had a purple and green one of these when i was, what… 5? and another till like mid 2000s. then i got my own sense of fashion… most of which this site would probably hate but whatever. XD

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