Putting Together Cute 80s Outfits

Naima T. Fleming
Stylish Woman with Afro Hair

There are some great fashion aspects that have emerged from the 1980s, a few of which are widely seen today. The key to incorporating any fashions from decades past is to slowly integrate them into your wardrobe. In the case of the 80s, less is best when going for a modern look.

80s Outfit Essentials

Before you dive headfirst into the waters of 80s fashion, you need to know the basic garments that populated the decade. Since the 1980s were the decade of excess, everything was done on an extreme level. From colors and fabrics to jewelry, hair, and layers, in the 80s more was, well, more. Some fashion staples included:

  • Neon colors
  • Shoulder pads
  • Layered clothing
  • Tulle
  • Candy-colored heels
  • Stonewashed denim
  • Zippers/belts/buckles

All About Neons

If there is one 80s trend that many are fearful of is the overabundance of neon-colored fabric. However, there are cute, modern ways to incorporate it into your wardrobe. When wearing bright colors, it's important to pick one area to showcase it to avoid overkill.

Try a pink, neon-colored oversized top with black jeggings or skinny jeans. Accessorize with a black round-toe platform pump and a clutch in a multicolored pattern or solid gold. Finish your 80s outfit off with tons of bracelets stacked on each arm. Be sure to include bracelets that have the same neon pink color as your shirt. For a true 80s vibe, you could also add pink legwarmers.

1980's neon

Big Shoulders, Big Style

The appearance of power was big in the 80s and one of the most popular ways to convey that message was to wear clothing that had big, defined shoulders. From suits and jackets to blouses and dresses, shoulder pads were everywhere in the 1980s.

While the shoulder pad era has long since passed, defined shoulders still manage to make their way into modern designs. There are a few cute outfit tips to rock shoulder pads with updated flair:

  • Try a form-fitting dress in a solid shade with pronounced shoulders, pair with booties or pumps in fun colors and prints. Complete the look with an oversized cocktail ring.
  • Another outfit option to display 80s-style shoulder pads is to wear a military-inspired jacket. The jacket should be the focal point, so pairing with simple slacks, skinny jeans or jeggings and an understated boot or bootie is the way to go. Jewelry should be kept minimal as the hardware on the jacket is enough. (If your shirt is simple, you can pull off a necklace, but skip the earrings and bracelets to keep the focus on the jacket).
    Big shoulder style

Layers All Around

One trend that was popularized in the 80s is still very much a fashion essential, and that happens to be the art of layering clothing. In the 1980s, this was done with oversized sweaters, legwarmers, socks and tank tops. The good thing is most of these items are current wardrobe staples and can easily be transformed into a cute outfit.

Instead of a bulky sweater, try a loose boyfriend cardigan or an oversized knit top layered over one or two tank tops. Seek out socks in bold prints/patterns and layer on top of each other and complete with a combat or flat boot. Finish off the outfit with leggings, a multi-chain necklace, and a hobo bag.

Oversized sweater

Every Girl Needs a Little Tulle

There were so many style icons of the 1980s that it's hard to keep track, but arguably two of the most prolific were pop provocateur Madonna and fun-loving singer Cyndi Lauper. These ladies wore several styles that were essential to the 80's, but one of the most popular was tulle skirts and dresses. This is a look that should only be worn on nights out or other special occasions because it would be too much like a costume for daily wear.

The purpose of wearing tulle is to have fun with it, so look for dresses and skirts that feature flirty, feminine designs, bold colors or pretty pastels. Keep things modern and understated by limiting accessories. For a tulle dress, pair with a bootie and with a tulle skirt step into your favorite pumps or strappy sandals.

Wild outfit

Bright Shoe Indulgence

Color was practically everywhere in the 1980s, and high heels weren't excluded. The candy-colored heel phenomenon took off in the 80's and recently regained favor amongst the fashion set. As with neon, bright-colored heels should be the focal point of your outfit, so keep the remainder of your ensemble understated.

The best way to showcase bright color is to wear it against a solid backdrop, think black or white. Try a stylish LBD (little black dress), a black pencil skirt and a matching tee or black skinny jeans, jeggings or leggings with a motorcycle jacket and white tank. Opt for heels in candy-coated shades like hot pink, bright yellow, cobalt blue, lipstick red and purple.

Girl in Red High Heels

Eye-Catching Denim

Denim is one fashion staple that is relevant and popular in every decade since its creation. However, the 80s added a little flair to it's denim style. This was of course, courtesy of stonewashed or acid washed denim. The faded, worn look that this particular denim had in the 1980s was hugely popular and recently made a comeback.

For a modern outfit, wear stonewashed denim in jackets, jeggings and skinny jeans. Since the pattern of the denim is so eye-catching, be sure to keep your corresponding garments minimal to avoid overkill. Try these modern 80s looks:

  • A stonewashed denim jacket with a form-fitting dress and pumps is equally cute and stylish.
  • An off-the-shoulder knit top with a tank underneath and booties perfectly complement stonewashed skinny jeans or jeggings.
    Woman in denim jacket

Zip It, Belt It, Buckle It

The noted presence of large amounts of zippers, belts, and buckles in 80s clothing probably has a lot to do with Michael Jackson and his iconic Thriller jacket. But, the trend inevitably trickled down to various forms of fashion garments such as pants, blouses, skirts and dresses. As with any trend, the 80s included, wear it sparingly to avoid looking like you're wearing a costume.

If you opt for a moto-inspired jacket that has zippers, belts or buckles or a combination thereof, keep every other element of your wardrobe simple. The same goes for skirts, dresses, and tops because the hardware on the garment acts in the place of jewelry, so the only other area of concentration should be shoes. Try shoes in metal tones like gold or silver, but the best bet is to wear black because it isn't overpowered by the hardware on the clothing.

Do 80s Fashion Your Way

Whether you opt to rummage around in a relative's old clothing, scour vintage stores to select the 80s finds or decide to shop modern stores to piece together a retro look, there are dozens of ways to wear the 80s today. Here are a few helpful sites that will have you bringing back the 1980s in no time:

  • H&M has a new designer collection every few months, and the retro finds are plentiful.
  • Forever 21 is a popular place to shop to create a modernized version of a vintage look without breaking the bank.
  • Zappos is a one-stop shop for shoes and accessories
  • Get ready to bid and purchase with the best of them on eBay.
    White skinny jeans and leggings

80s Flair With a Modern Twist

The 80s allowed for mixing and matching, so it's one of the few eras where you can take just one piece and mix it in with your modern wardrobe to have just a bit of retro flair. Choosing a few key items can help you create a cute and modern 80s outfit that showcases your unique style.

Putting Together Cute 80s Outfits