1980s dress expressed the cult of achievement and became truly international, with Britain once again regarded as a serious fashion creator. Punk and sportswear continued to influence high fashion, which also became playful and ironic, reviving many hybrid, historical styles. The ideal eighties woman was sporty, slim, muscular and ambitious, successful in work, relationships and leisure. Fitness training became part of women’s lives; the trainer became the universal item of footwear for most occasions. The television series ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ created the ‘power woman’ Alexis, who wore clothes that emphasised strength – tight skirts and sharply tailored jackets with broad, masculine shoulders. For evening, women wore strapless bodices with low necklines, or skin-tight dresses with seductive slits. In contrast, over-wide separates were also worn, in natural, comfortable fabrics.
26a Wide-shouldered ensemble, 1987
A short-waisted boxy jacket, which owes a little to Chanel but features big shoulder pads, (a typical eighties style from the ‘power dressing’ concept). The skirt is made of brushed cotton, long and straight with a short centre split. The outfit is carefully co-ordinated in toning pastels.
Reproduced from an original photograph
26b Smart dress, polyester, ‘thirties’ retro print, c.1987
This Laura Ashley dress is in 100% viscose rayon (which the company started using in the eighties in contrast to their earlier printed cottons). The design is a thirties style floral print but the shape of the dress is pure Dynasty ‘power woman’, with padded shoulders and a straight, short skirt. It incorporates a side drape feature reminiscent of couture in the late 1940s. This dress could have been worn at a semi-formal wedding reception and would probably have teamed up with a thirties style straw hat with a wide brim, coloured to match the dress.
Purchased for the Costume Collections
26c ‘Glamour’ bra, red satin and feathers, c.1982
Women’s adoption of pseudo-masculine suits on top led to an interest in super-sexy underwear beneath, or just for bedroom playtime. This was the era of Janet Reger’s covetable underwear in silk and ‘antique’ lace and the renewed popularity of Gossard’s impressive Wonderbra, (still a best seller in 2001). This boldly vulgar red satin bra, trimmed with imitation red marabou plumage, is unwashable and pure fun – a naughty Valentine’s Day gift?
Purchased for the Museum Collections
26d Suspender belt, emerald satin, black lace, c.1982
Little changed in design and construction from our 1930s example, this belt was bought at Army and Navy, Maidstone as a surprise Christmas gift (and never worn by the recipient – it was too small!). A typical man’s gift to a woman, it has a slightly jokey image, but emphasises that tights (by this date universally worn) were not considered erotic, yet old fashioned ‘stockings-and-suspenders’ were.
Given anonymously, early 1980s
26e Tote bag, canvas, 1950s style, early 1980s
The eighties power suit had a sharp, exaggerated 1950s look and accessories, even for casual clothes, tended to reflect this image. This lightweight, beige canvas tote bag, trimmed with imitation tan leather, has a completely different feel to the ‘ethnic’ accessories, which were now considered ‘out’ and suitable for die-hard hippies only.
26f Court shoes, grey pigskin, early 1980s
Around this time many young women abandoned tights and wore bare legs, even with ‘formal’ shoe styles. These smart grey shoes are early 1950s in feel, but have an eighties rocket shape heel. They are typical of the ‘ironic’, retrospective styles that were popular during this decade.
Given by Graham Hunter of Maidstone, in 1983
1980s – What’s New?
This is an example of accessories becoming fashion items. A combination of ‘Swiss’ and ‘Watch’, Swatch presents over 200 new designs a year, in their Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections.