The Best Red Carpet Moments of the '80s

There were major style innovators—and some fashion fails, too.

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The '80s were, in brief, a wild time. The idea of "red carpet drama" was becoming a thing (whether you were bringing your baby, your new boyfriend, or both), but celebrity was still a weirdly amorphous thing. We had innovators like Cher and Madonna giving us edgy looks that wouldn't be appreciated until decades later...and we also had the very flouncy yet still iconic style of Princess Diana and Liberace. We had new music, new movies, and new stars—and some of the celebrity couples that got together when they were young will probably surprise you. In short, it was a weird, wacky, wonderful decade, and the red carpet photos are an incredible encapsulation of that era.

Below, 32 photos from '80s red carpet that prove it really was a wilder time than you remember.

Princess Diana at 'The Living Daylights' Premiere, 1987

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Princess Diana's outfits were obsessed over everywhere she went—and this, a James Bond film, was no exception. This dress designed by the Emanuels was referred to as "the fairytale gown," and it drew comparisons to her huge wedding dress. By now, Diana had been married for several years and accustomed to royal life (to a point, anyways), and she enjoyed a royal rewear. She first wore this in 1986 and broke it out again the following year. She was beginning to experiment will sleeker silhouettes, too, but this is a gown fit for a princess.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith, 1989

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In case you missed it, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (consisting of Will Smith and Jeff Townes) was a rap duo that was the third rap group ever to go platinum. They also won the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1989, meaning here they're making history. The duo would split not long after in the '90s, with Smith going on to pursue acting full-time—with obviously impressive results. Still, if you missed out on these early musical offerings, they're worth checking out if only because they're an interesting throwback.

Drew Barrymore at 'E.T.,' 1982

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Drew Barrymore would go on to become a famous actor and media personality, but the role that launched her career came out when she was just a young child. Steven Spielberg would go on to say that he tried to protect Barrymore during the filming of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and vocalized his fears that Barrymore was being forced into adulthood by child stardom. Barrymore would later go on to say, "[He was] the only person in my life to this day that ever was a parental figure." So this iconic red carpet image is both important and sad in equal measure.

Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton at the Motion Picture & Television Week: Press Conference for 'Turk 182!'

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Did you know that apparently Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton used to date?? (A lot of my red carpet images could also be filed under "celebrities you didn't know dated, but here's a picture of them.") I don't have many details around this (reported) relationship, other than that it happened in 1984, and the two met while filming Turk 182! if you're unfamiliar with the movie, just know it was pretty universally panned. Hutton would later go on to date celebs including Angelina Jolie and Uma Thurman.

Meryl Streep at the Academy Awards, 1983

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Believe it or not, this is actually Meryl Streep's second Oscar win (the first for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980, and this for Sophie's Choice in 1983). Streep has gotten a lot of love from the Academy, and this was her first Best Actress win. True to form, she's in a great gown—coincidence that she looks like her Oscars statue? Probably, but I love it anyways—and there are some fun photos of her just sitting at the base of a life-size Oscars replica. This would be the start of a long number of years winning awards.

Dianna Ross at the Grammys, 1988

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This was an important year for Ross, in which she returned to the Motown label and was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Supremes. Nevertheless, she wasn't nominated for a Grammy and wouldn't win until 2012 (for a Lifetime Achievement Award). Of the modern music industry, she said on the press stage, "I'm not crazy about it myself...I just feel like there's a lot of artists getting lost because of the big machinery that's happening...I feel like a lot of things have been lost because of the bigness of it all."

Courtney Love and Jim Jarmusch at the 'Sid and Nancy' Film Party, 1986

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Before she became lead singer of Hole (she founded the band in 1989, if you're curious about the chronology), Courtney Love acted in a number of projects, notably the gritty and intense film Sid and Nancy (she played Nancy). Here she poses with Jim Jarmusch (the two would later costar in 1987's Straight to Hell); it's a fun throwback of what the alternative rocker looked like back in the day, and a fun reminder that movie premieres used to be way, way more casual than they are today.

Whitney Houston at the Grammys, 1988

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Whitney Houston's second album, Whitney, was a massive cultural and commercial hit. In fact, she won her second Grammy in 1988 (Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, for "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)")—the first time she won in that category was in 1986 for "Saving All My Love For You." Houston, who also performed during the ceremony, gave a simple speech thanking God and her family. This was just one of many, many record-breaking moments for the iconic singer.

Liberace at the Academy Awards, 1982

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Somewhat later in his career, Liberace was at the 1982 Oscars to introduce (and play) the five best songs up for an Academy Award that year. It was a tumultuous time for the singer, who was facing media reports about homosexuality, would be sued for palimony, and would later in the decade be secretly diagnosed with HIV. But the performance showed just how talented he still was despite all the horrible, homophobic backlash—if you've never seen the performance, he plays songs from (among others) Chariots of Fire and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Carrie Fisher at the ABC Entertainment Center, 1983

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Carrie Fisher, who by now had become a megastar thanks to Star Wars and was married to Paul Simon (they divorced in 1984), is giving "candid" vibes and taking them to new levels here; The actor ended the photo series by laying down on the ground. She later admitted that she struggled with addiction during the '80s. "I liked legal drugs, so I liked medicine. I liked the philosophy of it, 'You're going to feel better if you take two—or eight—of these.' And I always wanted to feel better," she told Larry King.

Eurythmics at the Grammys, 1984

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Yes, that is Annie Lenox pioneering a more masculine look, dressed as a man at the 1984 Grammys. The band was already famous by that point, winning VMA for Best New Artist, but the look was still considered very avant-garde (and controversial) at the time. Explains Dave Stewart, "All of these discussions about gender [are happening now] even though in 1984 we were coming on the Grammys with Annie with side burns like Elvis and watching the audience just about have a panic attack as we did 'Sweet Dreams.' We were sort of playing with all that back then."

Grace Jones at the Grammys, 1983

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Grace Jones was always unabashedly herself, and when the model and singer was selected to present at the Grammys in 1983, she showed up in this magnificent leather and woven ensemble (fellow presenter Rick James had to duck underneath her huge headpiece, lol). If you're unfamiliar, she was a top model during this decade and also delved into acting, most notably in the Bond film A View to a Kill. Why did she decide to go so extra at the awards ceremony, you may ask? We ask: why not??

Kiefer and Donald Sutherland at the Oscars, 1989

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Did you know that Kiefer Sutherland is Donald Sutherland's son?? They never actually worked together until 2016's Forsaken, but here the two are here presenting an Honorary Award to the National Film Board of Canada (they are both Canadian). If you're wondering, the two were not close when Kiefer was young. "I wasn't present much as a father when Kiefer was young," Donald said in 2001. But the two became closer in adulthood. "He even looks like me—only shorter—but I am very proud of him and I always will be," Donald added.

Tina Turner at the MTV VMAs, 1985

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Tina Turner actually won for Female Video at the 1985 VMAs (and looks incredible in leather and her trademark short hair) but was also nominated in Choreography and Best Stage Performance. This was only the second VMAs ever, but the producers clearly knew what they were doing: She also apparently debuted her new song "One of the Living" from the Mad Max movie she starred in during the ceremony. Turner was by now an absolute icon, so the VMAs centering her was a smart choice to legitimize the awards ceremony.

Audrey Hepburn at the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Arts, 1988

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Audrey Hepburn had retired from acting by the '80s, but she came out to support her friend Hubert du Givenchy as he was about to win the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Arts award. According to the L.A. Times, "She will be wearing a 'fabulous red dress' that the designer took time to deliver—via taxi—on Wednesday. 'He’s sweet and thoughtful and not the least bit pompous,' marveled Hepburn." This is that fabulous red dress, and it was a rare but wonderful look at the retired actor.

Cyndi Lauper at the 1988 MTV Awards

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If you're unfamiliar, Cyndi Lauper had some of the most unique style of the '80s (or, frankly, ever): Her spikey blonde hair tousled every which way, matching messy eyeliner, thin brows, crazy layers—check out the visible silver bra—and so many sparkles. This is probably the coolest, chicest version of her look (she often accessorized with tons of jewelry and went in for random colors everywhere), and it's not hard to see how a whole generation of people wanted to emulate her incredibly unique look.

Dolly Parton And Sylvester Stallone Attend 'Rhinestone,' 1984

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Go figure: Two unlikely celebrity pals, Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone, actually became best of friends. They met while filming the movie Rhinestone (which flopped at the box office), and Stallone later said it was the most fun he'd ever had on a film. “When I met him, I loved him instantly,” Parton said in 1984. “I think we just struck up a wonderful lasting friendship. I loved his energy and his personality. He was very protective of me." She later added, “He had me laughing, I couldn’t even do my scenes."

Christie Brinkley & Brooke Shields at 'The Inquiry' Premiere, 1987

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Picture it: The two biggest up-and-coming models of the '80s, just goofing off. It was an instantly iconic because the two, who were sultry and serious (and highly paid because of it) were clearly just having a blast as pals (red carpets really were a lot more casual back in the day). Later in life, the two recreated this iconic photo."Reprising our famous pose from over 30 years ago… Yep we still got it !" Brinkley wroteon her Facebook. "Lets see if You can still move YOUR face muscles like this? Lol!!!!!"

Rob Lowe and Winona Ryder at the Golden Globes, 1988

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In case you missed it, there were several '80s couples who fall into the category of "wait, they dated??" These two, Rob Lowe and Winona Ryder, are rumored to have been a thing before they became huge stars. They met on the movie Square Dance and attended the Golden Globes together in 1988. Aaaand that's about as much as we know! (Celebrity couples could keep a lot more private in the age before social media.) Ryder also reportedly dated costar Christian Slater, Johnny Depp, and Matt Damon.

Demi Moore and Bruce Willis at the Emmy, 1987

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The it couple of the late '80s and '90s, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis really popularized the idea of a) being a power celebrity couple whose coupling made both of them more popular, and b) bringing your significant other to the red carpet. It's wild to think that the couple were divorced by 2000, because it really felt like they were everywhere—and tabloids loved reporting on their relationship. The two remained close and in each other's lives, but we did miss the days where they were turning up everywhere together.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. at the 'Slam Dance' Premiere, 1987

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Yes!! Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr. dated before they were mega-famous! They were young when they met (18 years old). They both admitted that Downey's substance abuse led to the dissolution of their relationship; Parker said she was afraid for his welfare if she left him. Downey went even further, saying, "I liked to drink, and I had a drug problem, and that didn’t jibe with Sarah Jessica, because it is the furthest thing from what she is. She provided me a home and understanding. She tried to help me. She was so miffed when I didn’t get my act together."

Heather Locklear and Tom Cruise at the "Entertainment Tonight" Celebrates Its 100th Taping Event, 1982

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"Wait, what??" I hear you saying. Yes, Heather Locklear and Tom Cruise briefly dated—and when I say briefly, I mean very, very briefly. According to Locklear, they went out to a club, and he did the Risky Business dance that he was known for at the time (lol). When he did the splits, Locklear told Chelsea Handler that she was hilariously mystified. "You just kind of stand there and don’t know what to do...Do you dance around him? So, I was like, ‘I’ll just sit down and you can..." And that was apparently the end of it!

Christina Applegate and Brad Pitt

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Did you know that these two dated?? Because before making this list, I surely didn't. The two don't really discuss it, but they got together when they were both very young actors (Christina Applegate was the child of people in the industry, and apparently Brad Pitt and Jason Priestly would just stop by for dinner...which, honestly, sounds like the dream life). We know very little beyond that except for the dramatic finish: Applegate later admitted to Andy Cohen that she ditched Pitt at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards for someone else(!).

Molly Ringwald at the Oscars, 1987

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It's hard to overstate how popular Molly Ringwald was in the '80s (thanks to a back-to-back run of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink). Her look was a really important part of her appeal—and extremely emulatable to girls and women at the time—particularly her short '80s style red hair, pale skin, and red lip. Here, attending the Oscars with then-boyfriend, Beastie Boys member Adam Horovitz, she later wrote in a throwback photo, "He wanted to show up with a boombox on his shoulder but I (regrettably) wouldn't let him. We skipped the Governor's ball and went to Pioneer Chicken instead. I'm wearing Chanel."

Julia Roberts at the "Miss Firecracker" New York City Premiere, 1989

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Julia Roberts was an up-and-comer in the '80s (she did Mystic Pizza in 1988, but Pretty Woman wouldn't come out until 1990—and her sweet, silly, devastating performance instantaneously made her a huge star). Still, people were beginning to talk and wonder about the beautiful redhead who was starting to show up in movies, premieres, and parties. It's fun to see the young adult actor before she became a household name, in her more casual oversized style, natural waves, and goofy grin.

Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze at the Premiere of 'Dirty Dancing,' 1987

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It might shock you to hear this, but Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze—who had off-the-charts chemistry in the hit movie Dirty Dancing—didn't like each other very much. They both had different styles of acting, and the two clashed on set (and they clashed while working on Red Dawn too). Grey later shared with People, "I feel like if I could say anything to him now I would say, 'I'm so sorry that I couldn't just appreciate and luxuriate in who you were, instead of me wishing you were more like what I wanted you to be.'"

Lisa Bonet, Zoë Kravitz, and Lenny Kravitz at an 'Our Common Future' Press Conference, 1989

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Speaking of it couples in the '80s, Lisa Bonet (who started out as a child actor but matured into an adult actor and style maven) and Lenny Kravitz were absolutely iconic. They dressed in similar outfits and went to red carpets "twinning." They had Zoë Kravitz—yes, the actor!—in 1988 and brought her in on their stylish vibes early on. The couple would go on to split in 1991 when Zoë was only two years old, but they remained close. We still have this epic photo to remember them by, though.

Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards, 1984

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There was no bigger innovator than Madonna in the 1980s. This was the first MTV VMAs, and of course she didn't disappoint. She performed "Like a Virgin" (helping the song reach the top of the charts not long after) and fans and critics alike immediately zeroed in on her eclectic and button-pushing look. Short curly hair, very blingy and feminine jewelry (including a cross necklace), tulle, lace, patent heels, and a "boy toy" necklace (lol): Her cool, edgy aesthetic was being born in this photo.

Prince at the Academy Awards, 1985

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Prince, who was ever the iconoclast, showed up at the typically conservative Oscars red carpet in a gorgeous purple cape. Even better? He won the statuette that year for Purple Rain in the (now defunct) Best Original Song Score category. Prince was in head to toe sparkles, with chunky jewelry and high heels. His speech was short and simple, but to show up with his trademark look and go on to win the most prestigious award in Hollywood was what all his fans were hoping to see. It was iconic.

Cher at the 1988 Oscars

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For the year she won an Oscar for Moonstruck, Cher showed up in a sheer black gown. She had already shown up in an over-the-top black creation in 1986, but this was just as edgy for the time (the Oscars is usually an event to break out your best gowns, and this was a pretty landmark occurrence to have a gown so sheer). In a bid to outdo herself, she wore this beautiful Bob Mackie design; Mackie would later explain to Vanity Fair that it was “like a beautiful period dress—except there was no underwear.”

Cher at the Oscars, 1986

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Cher has called this one of her "favorite, favorite" outfits, and its not hard to see why. Technically, this is a form of revenge dressing; She had been snubbed for a nomination, so she decided to flout the typically buttoned-up dress code. “She was pissed off, because she didn’t get nominated for Mask,” the designer of the dress, Bob Mackie, later said. “There were a lot of people who said, ‘That’s not fashion!’ And I said, ‘Of course it’s not fashion. It’s a crazy getup for attention.’ And it did get attention—people talk about it still.”

The Royal Wedding, 1987

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I admit that this is not a red carpet event per se, even though the carpet for the royal wedding between Princess Diana and then-Prince Charles was red. But there was no bigger event than the 1981 ceremony—particularly because Diana's wedding dress was fit for the occasion, with a 25-foot-long train and 153-yard(!) veil. The wedding gown inspired copies and basically influenced wedding culture as a whole for years to come. Even though the union would prove to be an unhappy one, millions of people watched with joy and envy as Diana married her prince.

Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.