How an 80’s look can suck the youth out of anyone
Last week a woman stood ahead of me in a queue dressed in acid-wash stirrup pants, high-top sneakers, a yellow sweatshirt and a bleached blonde crop with black roots. I looked at her. And I looked at her again. And I’ll be damned if I could tell you whether she was a 20-year-old working some serious 1980s revivalism or a 40-year-old clinging to the look from the first time round.
That’s the thing about 1980s style. It’s fashion’s great leveller. It makes absolutely everyone look middle-aged.
It’s quite a feat. It’s like the entire decade was manufactured by a special effects department. Take one fresh-faced 20-year-old. Add a boxy jacket, a button-front linen skirt, a short fluffy perm, mid-rise heels and sheer stockings and voila! A 45-year-old maths teacher.
I’m grateful that I was a pre-teen in the 1980s so I didn’t buy my own clothes. Whether through neglect or design, my parents showed little interest in kitting me out in modern fashions, meaning I saw out the decade in generic shorts and t-shirts (save one regrettable tussle with an acrylic sweater printed with Scottie dogs that I confess to teaming with a beret). But even at age 11 I was aware that older girls around me didn’t look good. They looked cool. But never good. Why, I wondered, as I wondered today, would you want to look bad? Old? Frumpy? Deliberately bad and old and frumpy?
Don’t misunderstand me - I have no problem with fashion paying homage to earlier decades (“referencing”, we like to call it in the fashion-scribing game, or “redux” if we’re feeling particularly pretentious). The fashion legacy of the 1950s, 1960s 1970s and even 1990s is overwhelmingly sexy. Even tiny smidges of carefully-curated 1980s – a sculpted shoulder here, a high waist there – can be elegant if done well. Nor do I have a problem with tricky fashion: trends that girls understand but boys find weird: maxi skirts, capes and the like. But hardcore, head-to-toe 1980s is another thing altogether. It stands alone in its unfailing ability to suck the youth from your body like sartorial osteoporosis.
Line up a dozen chronological snapshots of any celeb whose career has spanned 30 years or so and you’ll notice they appear to get younger. Sarah Jessica Parker was only 20 when she played Janey in 1985’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun. But somehow, she looked like your mum. The fact that she has looked perpetually 32 since Sex and the City began may be partly to do with cosmetic surgery. But when she shizzed up her hair into an electrified 80s frizz and added a formless grey marle sweater for a scene in the most recent SATC movie – bam! The Botox didn’t make a blind bit of difference. She was your mum again.
Hunched into oversized blazers and shrouded under a dry, frizzy perm, Elizabeth Perkins looked like a 45-year-old when she played Tom Hanks’ creepy love interest in Big (the ickiness of that film’s premise is a whole other column – by all means start things off below and I’ll get my teeth into it on request). She also looked 45 in the TV series Weeds that ended last year. It’s been 30 years between the two.
Glenn Close. Glenn Close was young once. Really. She was your age. The idea seems ludicrous. That’s because we met her in the 1980s.
In our defense, I can sort of see why 1980s fashion happened when it did. No decade ever really gains a sense of itself until the third or fourth year in, and the 80s were for the most part a ghastly, mutated extension of 70s punk. They also reflected the general unattractiveness of life in Thatcher’s Britain and the USA under Reagan. Plus there was a whole masculine thing going on as women took more of a role in the workplace and felt they had to illustrate this with gigantic shoulders and short backs-and-sides.
So we had an excuse. But the cute little things of today do not. Kelly Osborne. Assorted Geldof children. Agyness Deyn. The Office’s Mindy Kaling at the Emmy’s.
Stop now. We dressed that way then so you wouldn’t have to.
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