The Essentials of 1980s Men’s Fashion

The Costume Rag is reader-supported. We may receive a commission from these links.

Depending on who you ask, it was either the best of times or the worst of times when it comes to 1980s fashion trends and their overall impact on the industry. 

Let’s face it: 1980s fashion is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition and most of us have left it behind but, for a certain select number of styles, everything old is new again. 

The truth of it is that most people don’t even know what 80s fashion for men even means. 

Sure, you have a few out there that can reference neons and the whole “yuppie” subculture. 

And, of course, the movies from the era always help as a guide. Yet there are some essential elements of 80s men’s fashion that are still with us even today. Think bomber jackets and high top sneakers, for starters. 

The thing about it is in 80s fashion, men got to try out some new things in their styling like highlights or even piercings and that was a pretty big deal at the time. 

Given how expansive 1980s fashion is, we’ve broken it down into 15 core elements that you can still identify and purchase today. 

Whether you’re attempting to bring back 1980s fashion trends or you just want to know more about sartorial history, here are 15 1980s fashion trends essentials that your retro wardrobe can’t do without:

15. Hairstyles Like the Mullet

It’s nearly impossible to separate 1980s men’s fashion from the hairstyles and looks that defined the era as well. For those of you that were fans of Full House and Uncle Jesse’s hair, you know what we’re talking about. 

Whether it was a full-on mullet or a feathered, long-haired look, men’s hairstyles have never been bolder. From hair metal bands to everyday yuppies, everyone was rocking this look and no 1980s outfit for men is complete without it.

14. Bomber Jackets

Bomber jackets have never really gone out of style but they’ve also never quite enjoyed the renaissance they did during the 1980s.

This was the must-have jacket for men and it’s no mystery as to why. They’re stylish, comfortable, and functional – basically everything you could want in a staple wardrobe item. Adding this item to your closet won’t break your bank, either, and you have more options than they ever had in the 1980s. 

So, while a bomber jacket is definitely from the 1980s in terms of trends, it could really be from any era since. Just something to keep in mind when you’re putting together your 1980s ensemble. 

13. Hawaiian Shirts

28 Palms Men’s Standard-Fit 100% Cotton Tropical Hawaiian Shirt

Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville might do it big but it is the 1980s that gave the crooner the inspiration behind his iconic look. Hawaiian shirts and moustaches as well as decadent beach gear were all the rage in 1980s fashion trends. 

Loud prints in bold colors, Hawaiian shirts often are anything but subtle. They’re also impossible to pair with anything and look like a serious person. 

Part of the 1980s love for anything tongue-in-cheek rebellious, Hawaiian shirts don’t scream 1980s exclusively but, like Bomber jackets, it is nearly impossible to extricate the fashion trends of the era from them. 

12. Denim Everything

If there is one thing that most people can put their finger on when it comes to 80s men’s fashion trends, it is the use of denim for everything. Denim jeans, of course, but also shirts, shorts, jackets, and anything else that could be possibly made out of the durable material. 

The iconic “double denim” look of jean jacket and jeans is so 1980s it still hurts to this day and is perhaps the single easiest way to put together a look that is 1980s and easy to achieve given today’s fashion trends. 

11. Tracksuits

adidas Essentials Men’s 3-Stripes Tricot Track Jacket

Almost as 1980s as denim itself, tracksuits are the full-body activewear that so many people loved in the 1980s and, if truth be told, is probably not really that out of style. 

Now, the bold among us will go for the windbreaker look but the more pragmatic out there will aim for the activewear look that could blend in at today’s gym just like it wouldn’t stand out on the streets in 1980s New York City. 

As far as 80s men’s fashion goes, this is a winner in our books and one that needs to make a comeback.

10. Baggy Jumper Sweaters

This trend might be as puzzling as it is simple to accomplish. In its purest sense, a baggy jumper is simply an oversized sweater that typically arrived in bold colors and prints. 

One of the tougher trends to pull off in the modern era, the baggy jumper’s sheer size tends to make the wearer look either emaciated or overweight; hence, the baggy jumper is unlikely to enjoy renewed popularity. 

Still, for a quintessentially 1980s look, a baggy jumper really seals the deal for a man.

9. Gold Rings

You know the old buckle rings and sovereign rings that men liked to rock on their hands in the 1980s? 

Well, if you want to recreate that look, you should get some of this era-appropriate jewelry. 

The rings were either as bold or as muted as the wearer wanted and the popular sovereign rings that featured a portrait of the UK monarch are particularly in high demand today. 

8. Oversized Prints

Much like the complex graphical prints that dominated in the late 00s and early 2010s, 1980s men’s fashion also enjoyed oversized, bold graphical prints on their shirts. 

One thing you didn’t see as much of then as you do now is the reference to pop culture characters and things like that so, if you’re going for a 1980s style print, you need to try to pick out something that doesn’t directly reference pop culture. 

Think woodland prints and other quirky designs if you want to truly capture the 1980s fashion spirit. 

7. Power Suits

The movie Wall Street might have launched this look into the popular consciousness but it is the suit’s actual association with the street of the same name that gives it its yuppie cred. 

Power suits might not be the rage now: Made from lighter fabrics in bolder cuts, power suits aren’t as tailored as what most people prefer to wear today and that pretty much disqualifies them for most modern businessmen. 

Books like John Molloy’s Dress for Success introduced the business world to the concept of power dressing, and in the 1988 movie Working Girl, women got to see a secretary turn herself into a business executive after she cut off her “big hair” and donned a power suit.

The epitome of the 1980s power suit for men was a designer suit in a dark color such as navy blue, black, or charcoal gray. The suit was usually solid, or had a very subtle pattern such as a narrow pinstripe.

Even so, there’s no single garment that screams 1980s yuppie decadence quite like a black power suit. If you’re going for the Gordon Gekko look, a power suit paired with a French cuffed dress shirt is the route to take. 

6. Benetton Polo

Benetton has not forgotten the 1980s, and the 80s have not forgotten Benetton. Their polos were a must-have sartorial item and people clamored for them. 

Even so, the polo look isn’t explicitly 1980s now because it has morphed and been appropriated by so many other styles since. 

5. Leather Jackets

Leather was all the rage in the 1980s. That’s probably because it was still a luxury item compared to now where you have more fast-fashion options than you can possibly count. 

Whether it is a biker jacket, bomber jacket, or some kind of fusion of both, leather goods had a real epic moment in the 1980s and are often associated with punk and hair metal sub-cultures.

4. High Top Sneakers

Converse Unisex Adults’ Chuck Taylor All Star Ii Reflective Camo Hi-Top Sneakers

Reebok and Nike made this sneaker type a requirement for most men and nothing screams 1980s fashionista like pairing some high tops with baggy denim “Hammer pants.” 

3. Fluorescents

When people think of 1980s fashion trends, neon colors are often the first thing that comes to mind. 

These fluorescent hues often came in bold combinations, many of which made no sense whatsoever. 

Probably the easiest sleight of hand to signal to people that your outfit is from the 1980s, fluorescents are harder to come by than you might think. 

That’s because few designers now are gunning for Pepto Bismol pink and highlighter yellow but, if you find them, pick them up as those are essential staples of the 1980s look. 

2. Highlights 

Highlights in your hair isn’t necessarily a fashion item but it is something that you can do to give yourself that 80s vibe you’re going for in your outfit. 

Like we said, 1980s men’s fashion was a time of bold experimentation and appropriation. 

Things that had never been popular before – or even tried – were becoming commonplace. 

A trip to the salon was not only a requirement for the 1980s man, but a highlighted look said to the world that he took his appearance very, very seriously. 

1. Logo Tees

Coca-Cola Men’s Coke Classic Vintage Logo T-shirt

Logo tees really came into their own in the 1980s but in a way that might be more akin to the hipster appropriation than the mass marketing availability of these items we have today. 

In the 1980s, obtaining these types of tee shirts often meant going to a promotional event – such as a concert – or knowing someone who actually worked for “Coca Cola” or some other company. 

That made them a somewhat rare item since you couldn’t just walk into a store and slap a generic company tee on your back. 

The only problem with this is that it doesn’t immediately say “1980s style” but has a lot of use outside of the most immediate application.