The Most Criminally Underrated '80s Trends

Look closely, and you'll see the seeds of countless contemporary fashion moments.

underrated 80s trends linda naomi christy
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Thanks to its over-the-top fashion, the '80s often gets a bad rap. (Blame the big hair, leg warmers, neon pieces, and, well, everything else.) But if you stop to examine the trends the '80s gifted future generations, you'll see a ton of smart, innovative fashion. From the careless streetwear of '80s supermodels to masculine dressing, you can see the seeds of modern style in '80s fashion trends if you know what to look for.

Introducing: the most underrated '80s trends.


underrated 80s leggings

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First of all, I appreciate a snarky graphic tee (another '80s staple!). But I'm actually referring to the leggings here—popularized by Jane Fonda in the '80s as distinctly athleisure, innovators like Blondie were also taking them and making them an (at the time) avant-garde fashion statement.

Golf Polo Chic

underrated 80s polo

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This certainly wouldn't be the first time that a men's staple (in this case, the golf-ready polo) would be purloined by and tailored for women. But the "preppy '80s" aesthetic wouldn't be complete without one of these casual collared shirts, usually paired with baggy jeans.


underrated 80s patchwork

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While we're probably more familiar with the patchwork quilt style of '80s clothing (which often felt like it was a holdover from the '70s), we also saw a more graphic take on color—a trend that would only get bigger and bolder in the '90s. Color theory never looked so good.

Casual Belts

underrated 80s beverly johnson

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Taking a scarf (or a rope or a long strand of beads) and just throwing it around your waist was a seemingly effortless show of fashion. Beverly Johnson, icon, is doing it better than most, but choosing an alternative to a belt will always feel like a surprising, counterintuitive choice.

Funky Shades

underrated 80s steampunk sunglasses

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I will admit that steampunk, as we see here, is not for everyone (I look like the Tin Man when I try it). But here it's really about the spirit of the thing: when faced with the option to wear a boring, everyday pair of sunglasses and something that really stands out, the latter is more fun, more of the time.


underrated 80s pompadour

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Elvis-esque hairdos were popular again in the '80s, except this time, women were getting in on the trend. Short hairdos were nothing new, but making them a little more "masculine" and slicked back was a fun evolution, especially when paired with menswear like this.

Soft Punk

underrated 80s punk

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While I, myself, could not pull off a long pink mohawk (the sign of true punk fashion in the '80s), I do appreciate a somewhat more subdued punk aesthetic. Think: short cropped hair, dark makeup, graphic tees, some chunky makeup, and more fitted underlayers.


underrated 80s gold top

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Think '70s, but oversized: in an effort to outdo the sparkly bellbottoms of the previous decade, the frills of the '80s were more architectural and striking. This is probably not an everyday look, certainly, but a cool statement piece is actually more evergreen than you might think.

Pattern Mixing

underrated 80s joan jett

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Joan Jett is never a bad fashion inspiration, in part because her outfits feel much more lived-in and casual than other forerunners. Making a smart choice of contrasting patterns (they both share a color—black—so there's some consistency) was one of her trademark moves.

Dueling Plaid

underrated 80s plaid on plaid

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Taking a maximalist look at pattern-mixing, the '80s really just mashed a lot of patterns together and hoped for the best (Cyndi Lauper, who will be on this list, was the queen of haphazard patterns and textures). It didn't always work, but when it did, it was joyful.


underrated 80s stripes

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This style could certainly veer into "clown" territory (and this particular styling is teetering on the edge, thanks to that neck ruff), but the big thick stripe is a smart fashion choice when approached as a big, bold statement. Keeping the rest of the outfit neutral would be easier.

New Neutrals

underrated 80s gray outfits

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We weren't just experimenting with color in this decade—we were finding new ways to play with "neutral" colors like gray. Sometimes that meant patterns, sometimes it meant graphic design, but our daywear and workwear options became a little more fun.


underrated 80s stirrups

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I will admit that the suspenders/overalls trend that was so popular in this decade was not my particular cup of tea the first time round. But there's no denying it adds a fun menswear dimension to the outfit, particularly when the rest of it is so deeply feminine.

Rich Accessories

underrated 80s gloves

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Taking one of the decade's favorite patterns (leopard, in case you missed it) and adding a dash of it in otherwise neutral accessories—gloves, in this case—was a more elevated deployment. There was a time and a place for an over-the-top moment, of course, but a quiet pattern worked equally well.

Neutral Leopard

underrated 80s cyndi lauper

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If you loved leopard, this was the decade to really lean in. Obviously Cyndi here is much, so well, but I particularly appreciate that she matched her jacket and hat to her literal bra. With plenty of yellow throughout the rest of her look to match the more subtle print.


underrated 80s brooke shields

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Baby Brooke Shields is pretty effortlessly chic here in (what looks like) a romper and gold jewelry—like, this is an outfit that wouldn't look out of place today. But the simple white loafers are the standout for me, as a sartorial choice that didn't just have to be limited to a middle school uniform.

Near-Matching Colors

underrated 80s neon orange and yellow

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Color-blocking (and, for that matter, rich colors) is not a new thing, but our collective love of bright neon in the '80s was an enhancement. It's more of a cliche '80s vibe to pick complementary but opposing colors, but I also appreciate choosing two colors right next to each other on the color wheel.


underrated 80s diana

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Princess Diana's style was a source of great joy for many people (and her working royal style was emulated by lots of women in professional jobs), but her casual style was particularly underrated. In addition to the more classic '80s overalls, she also helped popularize a casual tote bag.

Ties as Scarves

underrated 80s tie on a woman

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Oversized, masculine-inspired workwear was a major '80s trend (hello, big shoulder padded blazers!). But not all women took the plunge and wore an actual menswear-inspired tie to the office, which I think is a shame—because it clearly looks awesome. Let's bring it back.


underrated 80s white layers

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One of the things the '80s doesn't always get enough credit for is layering: putting a vest on top of a shirt, for example, or using our outer layers in surprising and fun ways (like leaving it half-unbuttoned, as we see here). We didn't have to use color to make our outfits dimensional.

Soft Sparkles

underrated 80s sequins

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I have indelible images in my brain of Diana Ross, bedecked in colorful sparkles and her natural hair flowing freely behind her, as the image of the '80s. And that look was wonderful, but I also must express appreciation for the use of sequins and glitter in more subtle ways, too.

Oversized Graphics

underrated 80s chanel 5 shirt

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The spiritual sister to the graphic tee, the huge logo (in this case a reference to Chanel No. 5) could still be an elevated, classy affair. Before we had the terminology, walking around with an enormous "5" on your chest would have been a real "if you know, you know" moment.

Contrasting Socks

underrated 80s bananarama

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If you want a lesson in serotonin dressing, take a look back at Bananarama's fashion. (The use of yellow as a pop of color was on the nose in a brilliant way.) There are many elements to draw from here, but my favorite is the contrasting socks that set off the shoes beautifully.

Apres-Ski Fashion

underrated 80s apres ski

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Long before it was a streetwear trend that comes in and out of fashion in the wintry months, apres-ski was just a way to dress when you were hitting the slopes. Technically, this is still street style, and I would probably pass on the Abominable Snowman shoes, but the vibe is still there.

Twee Sweaters

underrated 80s diana

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Obviously, Princess Diana's "black sheep" sweater was resonant on a lot of levels (particularly as she saw herself within the Royal Family), but it's also just a cute sweater in its own right. I particularly like the collared shirt underneath adding a little structure to all that whimsy.


underrated 80s salt-n-pepa

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Salt-N-Pepa don't really get enough credit for how they revolutionized fashion. One of my favorite elements of their all-matching look was their smart use of monogramming—it's easy identification of who they are, but it's also a brilliant matching moment that's stylistically brilliant.


underrated 80s stirrup leggings

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As part of the new wave of comfy, cozy clothes (long before we called it athleisure), we also put stirrups on our pants and leggings to secure them more tightly to our legs. We do a better job of our legging design today, so the stirrup isn't as functional, but it's just as cool-looking as it ever was.

Shoes and Tights

underrated 80s linda evangelista

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Linda Evangelista is giving us some fall-winter fanciness with this outfit, particularly the tights-and-shoes combo she's rocking. Picking a thin, semi-sheer stocking (or knee high) and putting it with a classic shoe—as an alternative to going bare or wearing socks—is still a cool look.


underrated 80s sister sledge

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Sister Sledge did matching outfits before a lot of other groups did (to great effect!). I particularly love that their sweaters are all velvet in complementary colors, but it's not so matchy as to be on the nose. Also, their satin pants are great and I want those gold shoes.

Chunky Earrings

underrated 80s earrings

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Big jewelry in the '80s was bold and eye-catching—but, it didn't have to be quite so bling-y, as we see. I appreciate that these match the scarf (meaning it's not fighting with the rest of the outfit), but still look bright enough to stand alone as a statement piece.

Vintage Watches

underrated 80s watches

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Technically, these weren't vintage at the time, but in the age of digital watches, a pretty, minimal, sleek clockwatch (bonus points if there weren't any numbers on it) was such a fun wrist accessory. And I stand by it: it still looks just as beautiful now.

Rolled-Up Tees

underrated 80s graphic tee

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Taking a plain white tee and rolling up the sleeves (or, alternatively, just getting a muscle tee with angled sleeves, as we see here): classic '80s. That plus the graphic Mickey-Minnie design, dark lip and eyeshadow, and cuffed jeans—the decade's perfect look. You could wear this today!

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.