Eighties Fashion In Film

When it comes to fashion, movies from the 1980s are the most striking thanks to the decade’s often quirky, outlandish and individualistic approach to personal image. Here’s some iconic examples of eighties fashion in film…

1980s fashion in film

Featured films above: (clockwise from left to right): Working Girl, Valley Girl, American Psycho, Risky Business

One of the many reasons cinema is so wonderfully enchanting is how, amid the drama, adventure, tragedy and laughs, it can capture a period in time and preserve it for us to enjoy and revisit. Perhaps no decade has been as aesthetically striking as the 1980s, thanks to individual expression through some of the most outlandish popular dress sense known to man. From the hairstyles to the outfits, the 1980s is such a recognisable period in American film history.

With J.C. Chandor’s 1980s-set A Most Violent Year arriving on DVD, Blu-ray and digital platforms in May, in which Jessica Chastain showcases an incredible array of eighties era Armani, Top 10 Films got to thinking about the decade’s fashion and how it has been captured on film.

The Wedding Singer (1998)

Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler,This wonderfully offbeat rom-com united Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore for the first time, recounting the lives and loves of wedding singer Robbie Hart (Sandler) in 1985. When his fiancé leaves him at the altar, he’s left heartbroken, and seeks solace in his new friendship with cocktail waitress Julia Sullivan (Barrymore), who needs help planning her own wedding to the insufferable Glen (Matthew Glave). However, the ensuing planning only brings them closer together, leading to an inevitable showdown. Mona May’s costumes are wonderfully outrageous, and include Miami Vice-esque suits, ludicrously over the top perms and an abundance of lace accessories- while Sandler rocks a particularly memorable mullet.

Heathers (1989)

Heathers, Teenage Rebellion, Winona Ryder, Christian SlaterMichael Lehmann’s classic black comedy took the genre of teen movies and well and truly subverted it into something much darker – it’s since become a cult classic, not least due to the incredible 80s fashions showcased throughout the film. Plaid skirts, braces, big shoulders and velvet all take centre stage, and an additional surreal dimension is provided thanks to costume designer Rudy Dillon’s decision to assign each of the main characters a colour – power-hungry red for Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), cowardly yellow for Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) and jealous green for Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty) — with Winona Ryder’s Veronica given a foreboding wardrobe of black and dark blue.

Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Top 10 Films

Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (1988)

Working Girl (1988)

Mike Nichols razor-sharp romantic comedy stars Melanie Griffiths, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford and can take a huge portion of the credit for catapulting the ‘power dressing’ trend into popular culture. Outrageously back-combed hair, eyeshadows in every colour of the rainbow, and shoulder pads take centre stage, with the gradually changing wardrobe of lead Tess (Griffiths) offering a glimpse into her changing attitude and position in the workplace.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

The undisputed king of 80s teen movies, John Hughes’ films live on not just because of the timelessness of his tales of adolescent angst, but because of the incredible fashion showcased in every single film. The Breakfast Club is the obvious choice, as each ‘high-school stereotype’ character models an iconic outfit, including Molly Ringwald’s pristine princess ensemble, rebel Judd Nelson’s leather gloves, outcast Ally Sheedy’s alternative look and Emilio Estevez’s classic letterman jacket.

The Breakfast Club, John Hughes, Brat Pack, High School Films, Teenage Rebellion

Special mention must be made of Hughes’ other two classics – in Pretty in Pink Molly Ringwald wears a stunning array of bright and beautiful dresses and skirts, and Andrew McCarthy showcases the oversized pastel suits and collars of the decade, whereas in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick’s sweater vests/slacks combo and Jennifer Grey’s classic leggings, leg warmers and oversized cardigans take sartorial centre stage.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Desperately Seeking Susan


Madonna and Rosanna Arquette co-star in this comedy about bored housewife Roberta (Arquette), who wakes up with amnesia after an accident, and is mistaken for free-spirited New York City drifter Susan (Madonna). The film showcases several iconic 80s looks, including an oft-cited silk bomber jacket with an embroidered back which causes all manner of mix-ups. Other classic looks featured include perms, oversized hair accessories, lace gloves and harem pants.

Flashdance (1983)

Flashdance, 1980s Fashion in FilmJennifer Beals stars in this romantic drama as Alex Owens, a Pittsburgh steelworker by day, and an exotic dancer by night. Harbouring dreams of a ballet career, she is given financial support her boss and love interest Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri) and moral support by the kind-hearted instructor Hanna Long (Lilia Skala). The film’s signature fashions include dancewear trends of oversized t-shirts, legwarmers and of course, perms, along with masculine-inspired casual wear and an infamous scene involving Alex arriving at a fancy date wearing a man’s tuxedo, minus the shirt.

A Most Violent Year arrived on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms on May 18th courtesy of Icon Film Distribution.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    It certainly is one of my favorite time periods in film for fashion. From Valley Girl, Pretty In Pink and Desperately Seeking Susan all representing the New Wave and Preppy scene. Wall Street representing the Yuppie culture, we had some fantastic films in this decade showcasing the fashion of its time!

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