Ways to Make '80s Trends Work for You

No, really.

80s trends madonna
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Believe it or not, style from the 1980s gave us a lot to love—so long as you know which elements to keep (big jewelry! graphic patterns!) and which ones to leave behind forever (bangs you clearly cut yourself!). If you're intrigued by this story, you're either 1) wondering how on earth '80s style could have any redeeming qualities, or 2) you lived through it like I did and you have nostalgia for this decade of messy, maximalist dressing.

If you're the latter, you'll know: Some elements of the '80s were deeply enjoyable, whether you looked like you were wearing all your clothes and jewelry at the same time or you were experimenting with a color so bright it could melt people's faces off. But the key here is moderation—we want to take elements of what we loved and deploy them strategically, so we don't look like we're wearing a 1980s Halloween costume. Get the balance right, and you might be able to pull out your vintage clothing and stage a re-wear.

Below, 32 ways to make '80s trends work for you—yes, even now!


good 80s trends leg warmers

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I will admit that the suspenders on Cher here are probably a bit much. But a colorful pair of leggings and bodysuit make for a fun workout outfit—and don't forget the leg warmers, because they're back in vogue if you can believe it. If this feels too much, opt for a neutral, all-one-color version.


80s trends joan jett

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I get that this look isn't for everyone (Joan Jett is rocking some effortless rocker chic here, so the spiky hairdo is the cherry on top of her cool look). But the more subtle mullet is back with a vengeance, so talk to a stylist and see if you can make a shaggy, short-long 'do work for you.

Crop Tops

80s trends heather locklear

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This one isn't exactly rocket science—the crop top has just become an ubiquitous part of our culture once icons like Heather Locklear started wearing the style. But the bravest amongst us will really go there with a rib-grazing graphic tee style like this one.

Skirt Suits

80s trends skirt suit

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Back in the day, everyone was channeling Working Girl in a smart (usually heavily shoulder-padded) blazer and matching skirt. Today, this look would be vintage in a fun way, with a few adjustments: Lengthen or shorten the skirt so it doesn't hit at the knee, and make the shoulder pads just a little smaller.

Ripped Jeans

80s trends Salt-N-Pepa

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I mean...Salt-N-Pepa offer good outfit inspo no matter what, but they really impressed fans with their bold, graphic outfits and mega-distressed matching denim. If you don't have an (iconic) logo tee like they do, opt for something graphic on top and jeans with fewer holes on bottom.

Shoulder Pads

80s trends Michelle Pfeiffer

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This might surprise some of you, but shoulder pads aren't the enemy: They got a bad reputation in this decade because they were everywhere (and often huge beyond comprehension), but they can actually add shape and dimension to an otherwise boring shirt.

Cool Sunglasses

80s trends lisa bonet

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Cue the "I wear my sunglasses at night" song. Lisa Bonet is as cool as a person could be, which means she's making this boho-chic outfit work with some trademark panache and a cool pair of shades to top it off. These days, sunnies that contrast with the rest of your outfit add some surprise and dimension.


80s trends neon

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...perhaps not THIS much neon, you know what I mean? But even though head-to-toe brightness is probably best left in the past, this joyful set of colors can be so fun when deployed strategically. Imagine a neon sock, bag, or belt to add to an otherwise tonal look? Call it '80s, but make it fashion!

Graphic Tees

80s trends blondie

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If you loved Blondie, Joan Jett, or even Cyndi Lauper (who also graces this list), a look that's simultaneously feminine, cool, punk, and chic is a deeply emulatable style. A softer haircut and color (see also: Blondie's platinum locks) plus black denim and a black graphic tee is hard to get wrong.

Roller Girl Style

80s trends roller girl

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Roller skates have a time and place, of course, but the short shorts, spaghetti strap tee, and high socks are fun and simple. Swap the wheels with a pair of simple sneakers for something that's a little more everyday, and add a bomber jacket if it's colder.

Tennis Outfits

80s trends cheryl teigs

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The sister to street style and roller girl style, the tennis style—looking like you just came off the court, but without a drop of sweat—was a fun athleisure twist. These days, a matching sweat suit (as Cheryl Teigs is giving us here) or a polo shirt and pleated mini would work just as well.

Denim on Denim

80s trends denim

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The Canadian tuxedo, like a lot of trends on this list, was not an '80s invention—and yet, we loved the style so much that we can absolutely say we popularized the look. The modern denim-on-denim look is a little more basic, with matching or almost-matching pieces treated like a skirt suit.

Big Ballgowns

80s trends bianca jagger

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On the high-fashion end of the spectrum, we've got big statement gowns as popularized by fashion it-girl Bianca Jagger. Even though she's got fashion designer Halston at her left shoulder in this photo, the dress is actually Dior (and still inspires copycats today!).

Retro Patterns

80s trends faye dunaway

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I feel like Faye Dunaway is nailing "effortless street style" way before it was a thing. On its own, the blazer reads a teeny bit dowdy, but with a crisp shirt and pants underneath, plus a stiff white foldover bag, it's actually the perfect contrast to the rest of her work-ready outfit.

Underwear (as Outerwear)

80s trends cyndi lauper

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Ah, Cyndi. We'd be lying if we said we didn't try her spiky hairdo AT LEAST once in our lives, not to mention her wild graphic eyeshadow. But her maximalism can still be quite effective in a modern context: She wore her shirts open so you could see her bra, but keeping everything one color makes things look strategic instead of sloppy.

Big Coats

80s trends red coat

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The statement coat has long been a way to dress up an otherwise simple look. But the '80s really leaned in on color and pattern—and, of course, shoulder pads. As the model does here, keep the rest of the look simple, and let the coat be the standout piece.


80s trends diana ross

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Diana Ross just did sparkles better than the rest of us! Gold (regardless of whether it's "in" or "out") is a classic, ubiquitous hue, both for clothes and jewelry. Start simple if you're trying to dip a toe into the trend with a little chunky pair of earrings. But if it's a color you love, go all out as Ross does here.

Statement Sparkles

80s trends iman

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Make like Iman, and try upgrading your neutrals by picking a sparkly, yet classic outfit. Leopard print is basically a neutral (thanks to its black, brown, and beige tones) and it doesn't feel quite as daunting as, say, neon sparkles everywhere. Opt for just a top or skirt if the whole outfit feels like too much.

Hats Hats Hats

80s trends hats

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Our mantra in the '80s was "the bigger the better," and that's especially true of our hats and hair. While this stiff, wide-brimmed number is probably best-suited for the Kentucky Derby, a more relaxed and slouchy option would work well for an outerwear look.


80s trends brooke shields

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Many of our "80's fails" lists center around the fact that we loved loud colors and patterns back in the day. But enthusiastic color-blocking can still be a fun choice, as we see on Brooke Shields here. Stick with two complementary colors (blue and yellow), with a little pop of a third (red).

Big Hair

80s trends big hair

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Hair volume—whether you've got it naturally or you're relying on a perm or extensions to obtain—is great. While the Joan Collins Dynasty hair may no longer be in vogue (think: tight curls in the shape of a lion's mane), a big, beautiful blowout a la Christie Brinkley can still be chic.

Statement Tees

80s trends jane fonda

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Leave it to Jane Fonda to debut the statement tee before everyone else. In case you missed it, her "Rai$e$ not Roses" tee was the perfect outfit at the Los Angeles Working Women rally. And a sassy, meaningful shirt (that's still deeply feminine—see the matching neckerchief) is never out of style.

Looking Like Molly Ringwald

80s trends cuffed trousers

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I can't overstate how popular Molly Ringwald's style was (particularly from Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club). A masc-femme look with cuffed trousers, loafers, an oversized blazer, and collared shirt (don't forget the short hair!) is tres cool—just add in a few modern details to keep it from looking like a costume.

Graphic Outfits

good 80s trends jerry hall

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Looking like a black and white cookie in your formalwear doesn't have to be dated—just ask Jerry Hall here. We brought our love of striking blazers, hats, and color (plus some maximalist jewelry) to our nicer outfits by keeping the color palette simple and coordinating the whole look to match.


80s trends madonna color

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No one did it better than Madonna! Here, the dozens of bracelets, denim jacket (that I think might be on backwards??), leggings, mini, jeans, and hairband should really just not work at all—and yet here we are, because she's absolutely nailing it. Maybe choose one or two of these elements for inspo that's not too wild.

Bleach Blonde

80s trends annie lenox

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Annie Lenox was a hair innovator with her short 'do and androgynous style (just Google the time she dressed as a man on stage!). This blonde was a nice feminine touch to her very short style—and that's the key, really, if you're dying to hit the peroxide but don't want to look too "girly." Talk to a hairstylist, okay?


80s trends princess diana

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From a fashion perspective, Princess Diana had everyone talking about, and attempting to emulate, her style. One of the most popular sources of inspiration was her casual outdoor outfits—she looked like she was out for a horse ride or a long walk, but she was never disheveled. The dream.

Romantic Patterns

80s trends rose pattern

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Even though the more traditionally '80s patterns are graphic and zany, the less out-there patterns were still a feast for the eyes. Here, the visual interest comes through the contrasting black and white background underneath the roses-and-polka-dots pattern, so it's still got some flair.

Rocker Chic

80s trends joan jett

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I can't help being a Joan Jett fan! Don't fight me! The key for her (and Blondie and other icons of '80s rock) was that she dressed in ways that suited her natural style—which could skew "pretty" and "feminine" with soft colors and stripes. But the mullet and dark eyeshadow made everything a little more "edgy" at the same time.

Blazers With Shoulder Pads

80s trends red blazer

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If you have an old '80s blazer that you can't help loving (or you just want to go all-out in your shoulder pads glory with a new purchase), pick a statement pin or belt to lean in on the drama. Then have every other piece of your outfit complement the blazer—not fighting with it, but not detracting from it either.

Messy Street Style

80s trends sarah jessica parker

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Sarah Jessica Parker has always known the value of a movie or TV show premiere—she makes the red carpet her own in whatever she's wearing. But in the '80s and '90s, she was giving us (what felt like) a natural extension of her casual style, like these cuffed jeans, big blazer coat, and curls for days.

Big Jewelry

good 80s trends blazer

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If there's one trend that the '80s got right (one that has remained in the zeitgeist despite the passage of time) is the big, chunky jewelry trend. Invest in timeless jewelry—so, silver or gold, or a mix of both—that work for a variety of outfits but remain statement-making, eye-catching pieces.

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.