• Emma (My Vintage)

Fashion History – 1980s Power Dressing

The 1980s gave us memorable and distinctive fashions, none more so that the power dressing phenomenon. In the eighties there was a lot of tailoring, both men an women would throw on a smart blazer over a t-shirt and often wear a complete suit. This was influenced by several factors including Margaret Thatcher and the Yuppies who lead the way to the huge power dressing movement that still has a massive impact on fashion today.



But power dressing extended far beyond the boardroom. Dynasty was the hugely popular 1980s television soap that promoted fashions which shocked and stunned. The biggest change was the enlarging and extending of the shoulder. One of the main characters in Dynasty was played by the naturally broad shouldered film star Linda Evans. Nolan Miller, the Dynasty film set costume designer, decided to work with her big shoulders and give emphasis to them with the designs he created.



Lavish use of both fine and costume jewellery was worn day and night on the show and with 250 million viewers worldwide, it naturally drifted into mainstream fashion. Huge earrings drew attention to the faces of glamorous women with super backcombed hair drowning in shoulder pads. Stones could be fake or real. Diamantés, pearls and thick gold chains were loud and proud. The more outrageous the better.



The women in Dynasty also wore a wide range of lavish and sexy lingerie - the black lacy teddy was a favourite for bedroom scenes. There was also the comeback of the silky French knickers and camisoles, the must have look for any eighties screen siren.


Both Dallas and Dynasty heralded the return of the shift dress in bold and strong colours. Fuchsia pinks, sea greens, gem purples, royal blues and ravishing reds shimmered in silk and polyester. No sleeve, collar or skirt was too big and colour clashing was not just acceptable but encouraged.


Lavish use of fabric in batwing sleeves was in keeping with the excessive luxe of the era. The eighties were all about excess, everything was bigger, better and more indulgent than ever before. The glitz and glamour was ten fold yet also more attainable. An ironic mixture of economic gloom and new found personal freedom saw hundreds of thousands of fashion conscious people fall deeper into debt in order to achieve the looks of their idols.


The shoulder pad began to act as a must-have accessory for women in the eighties. Knitwear, sweatshirts, oversized shirts and T-shirts started to appear with detachable Velcro or popper fixing shoulder pads. Designers tried to drop the shoulder pad in the same way they tried to drop the mini for the maxi in the sixties, but as in the case of the mini the public stuck to what they wanted and they wanted those big shoulders! By its nature a shoulder pad creates a smooth line over the natural hollows of the collar bone area. Women suddenly noticed that shoulder pads smoothed out body postural imperfections and they liked the effect. Big shoulders also balance out wide hips so this acted like a new version of the hourglass or figure of 8 shape.



By the 1980s, patterned tights also returned, but now they were spotted or delicately textured lace, striped or enhanced with embellishment such as a flock flower, embroidery, bows or diamantés at the ankle. In the mid to late 80s, coloured tights sheer, opaque or solid that toned and matched coordinated shoes could be seen everywhere. Barely black sheer tights were worn with power suits through the eighties and there was of course always room for an American Tan pair of tights in any eighties wardrobe!



We have now also seen a massive revival of the more glamorous eighties power dressing, particularly the large shoulder detailing of the Dynasty days. We have seen huge emblazoned box shoulders and sharp pointy edges all over the world's catwalks. One of the more wearable and popular takes on this is the one shoulder dress. Strappy or long sleeved, the one shoulder dress not overtly sexual yet holds great femininity and shows just enough flesh.


Accessories have also gotten bigger by standard in fashion today. Large statement necklaces, huge drop earrings and chunky wristwear are all over the high street and designer boutiques. An over size pair of earrings, heavy drop necklace or deep buckle belt, can give a once lifeless outfit a breath of fresh air.


So you don't have to be a full Sue Ellen from Dallas to be wearing 80s power fashion, and whether it's an oversized blazer or statement necklace; you may already be wearing a diluted version of this movement without even knowing it!


Until next time

Emma x


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