Charting the massive ’80s trend on the runway and red carpet

80s trend fall 2015
Photography by Getty Images

The first tremors were felt on the red carpet: Taylor Swift sported sequined houndstooth parachute pants at the VMAs; Kerry Washington flaunted a brash metal mesh dress with sharp shoulder pads, evocative of Krystle Carrington à la Dynasty, at the Emmys; and Rihanna rocked a bubble-gum pink lace confection for her fragrance launch, RiRi, at Macy’s. Eighties nostalgia has been shaking up pop culture, too: There’s the freshly penned autobiography of new-wave rocker and badass Bond girl Grace Jones; and Jem and the Holograms are back, this time on the big screen, starring ’80s icon Molly Ringwald.

But the epicentre of this throwback came via fall’s runways. While freewheeling bohemian looks of the ’70s dominated daytime dressing, ’80s eveningwear grabbed the after-hours spotlight. Proenza Schouler’s aggressively slashed off-the-shoulder dresses would have looked right at home at New York’s former ’80s hot spot Danceteria; while Peter Copping’s first collection for Oscar de la Renta included strapless, sweetheart-neckline bubble dresses fit for bourgeois gala debutantes à la Bright Lights, Big City. Canadian designers like Mikael D, and Nikki Wirthensohn of Narces also did their part with frothy prom dresses, chopped-up ra-ra skirts and embellished body-con designs that recalled the heady days of yuppie chic. Over in London, J.W. Anderson showed hallmarks of the decade (lamé, leggings, leg-of-mutton sleeves, all whipped up in a Wham!-tastic colour palette) as the song “Goodbye Seventies” played. Buzzy labels like Christopher Kane, Isabel Marant and Topshop Unique embraced eveningwear pieces with an unabashedly ’80s spin alongside more established maisons like Balmain and Versace (the latter tweaked for the 21st-century with hashtags). At Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane all but drove a DeLorean back to ’85, taking key looks of the era—colour, pouf, the general vibe of a decadent, glitzy party without talking Hervé Léger, whose legendary bandage dress was as much a part of the decade as Rick Astley and Madonna. Like the Material Girl, the iconic body-con number, in all its va-va-voom glory, remains as relevant as ever. “Over the years, our customers recognized the consistency of the design,” says creative director Lubov Azria. “Today, they strive to wear clothing that highlights their bodies and makes them stand out.”

Standing out during the holiday season requires killer heels. Enter London-based Nicholas Kirkwood, who commemorated the 10th anniversary of his eponymous footwear line with a new capsule collection inspired by highlights of his Thatcher-era childhood (think Pac-Man, Star Wars and Back to the Future). “The ’80s were garish and vibrant,” he says. “The perms and ruffles—it was all very distinctive. You look back on it now and say, ‘What were they thinking?’ But there were also great moments, and nostalgia made it easy to take elements of the decade, like the neon strip lights and pixelated designs, and reimagine them into heels and crystals to give them a modern feel.” Maria Sole Cecchi, the 28-year-old Florence-bred founder of cult handbag brand Les Petits Joueurs (her Lego-like clutches are carried by Amal Clooney and street-style stars), also regularly riffs on the era. “The ’80s was a time of opulence and growth,” she says. “The inspiration borrowed from the era comes from its mood, colours and ability to communicate, but it’s executed with class and elegance at the same time.”

This appetite for exuberance and excess has been bubbling up for some time, and it’s emblematic of a bigger change going on in fashion. A new generation of designers has emerged, clamouring for yesteryear’s OTT glam. “We all grew up at the same time, around the same trends and influences. It’s no wonder we reference the decade that shaped our childhood,” says Kirkwood. “The way this is reimagined today isn’t so much the signatures of the era but silhouettes and references that throw back to what we grew up with. We’ve been through a few seasons of minimalism, so there is something fresh about the boldness of ’80s-inspired fashion.” Despite designers’ retro eagerness, in our selfie age, where visual competition is fierce, such exploration requires an instant, graphic and—most importantly—social-media-friendly overhaul. “In the ’80s, you didn’t document things on Instagram. You had to go out and show other people at clubs and parties,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of New York’s Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and curator of its latest exhibition, Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, a retrospective of 80 over-the-top creations from the likes of McQueen and Mugler, worn by the ’80s queen of New York nightlife.

“I was born in the ’80s and am delighted that after a long time of fashion taking itself so seriously, we are all ready to have fun again,” says Cecchi. “I love mixing this mood with modern iconography. Emojis bring a smile to your face on Instagram, why not on your clutch?”

Accessories are also an updated, less overt way to try the trend, and they help avoid the impression that your holiday outfit is some tragic holdover from Halloween. Saks Fifth Avenue’s fashion director, Roopal Patel, suggests starting with shoulder-duster earrings or tempering a shiny, frilled frock with a tailored black tuxedo jacket and classic pumps. “I think sometimes when we hear about a trend, we feel the need to wear it head to toe,” says Patel. “The great thing about [this decade] is you can take one or two elements and really make them your own.” Summoning the spirit of the 1980s woman—whose strong, glamorous style declared her a force to be reckoned with—celebrates femininity and fun this holiday season. These are clothes that make an unforgettable first impression, and, more importantly, demand that you have an unforgettable time.

Browse the gallery below to see the ’80s trend on Fall 2015 runways and red carpets.

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