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Why ’80s Fashion Keeps Spinning Back Around

Bubble skirts and big earrings signal the return of everyone’s favourite decade

By Divya Venkataraman

For a much-maligned fashion era, the ’80s has surprising staying power. In 2023, it looks like exaggerated peplums, ultra-sharp shoulders and high-octane accessories have once more folded themselves into the fashion zeitgeist — just when we thought we’d seen the last bob of a bubble hem.

The decade’s influence was on full show at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week last month. At New Zealand-born brand Maggie Marilyn, a nautical version of the ’80s peplum sailed down the harbourside runway, reinvented in neutral navy. Meanwhile, at Melbourne label Verner, which is committed to producing only in limited runs, retro varsity-style colour-blocked jackets were paired with pouffed, bubble-hemmed skirts and slinky, ruched jersey dresses. Collegiate without being stuffy, and structured and cool at once: both brands showcased ’80s style, but reimagined for the modern Australian woman. 

Bold shapes and ruching are favourites, too, of French designer Saint Laurent, though it usually leans further into more classically ’80s styling. The house’s latest womenswear and menswear shows have both featured shoulders so bold as to be parallel to the ground, appended to boxy, oversized blazers. For women, these are paired with slinky tanks, pencil skirts and razor sharp stiletto pumps. Saint Laurent’s models are the mood board for the sharp-suited, power-posing ‘80s maven — though with a preference for monochrome over crayon brights. She’s here and she means business. 

Verner Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2023

But the real question is this: why has she appeared again, as bold and ostentatious as ever, in our midst? 

Stylist Lucy Wood pins the ’80s renaissance partly on the speed and fervour of the trend cycle, which has in recent years also drawn heavily from ‘90s minimalism and Y2K hyper-femininity. “With the influence of social media and the speed of fashion these days, we’re cycling through trends and eras faster than ever,” she says. 

And because so much of ’80s fashion was about maximalism — think all-over taffeta, bright neons, big hair and even bigger suits — it represents a way of having fun and making a statement with fashion that so many of us missed during the pandemic years of enforced casual dressing. “The strong silhouettes of the 80s… really emphasise the female form in a powerful way.” 

The strong silhouettes of the 80s… really emphasise the female form in a powerful way.

For those who already lived through the decade, fear not: 2023’s iteration of the trend is not the ’80s as you knew it. As in the shows at AAFW and on international runways, Wood reports a significant amount of “restraint” in the ’80s-inspired pieces brands are creating this time around, “which make them feel modern and refined.” Strong silhouettes are back, yes, but they’re done with a lighter touch. Oversized, shoulder-padded blazers are tailored to offset their dimensions; ruched bodysuits are not exaggeratedly so; and a structured waist doesn’t have to mimic a boardgame hourglass to make its sartorial point. 

So how can you dabble in ’80s fashion without looking like you’ve leaned too far into the costume box? Wood suggests taking cues from the decade in the realm of accessories, while keeping the basics of your outfit pared back and simple. 

“Focus on one key piece, and mix it back with tailored, timeless staples,” she says. “I’m loving the 80s inspired accessories around right now: large, gold door-knocker earrings; big, chunky chains, black and white quilted handbags, or pointed pumps. Any of these in a neutral colour will fit easily into your wardrobe and make the trend feel subtle and naturally introduced.” 

Saint Laurent Paris Fashion Week 2023-2024

Vintage can often be the most sustainable — and genuine — way to buy into the style. “Why not go on the hunt for an authentic ’80s pump or a pair of clip-on earrings? As we’ve seen, what goes around really does come back around.”

Below, see Lucy Wood’s shopping picks for the ’80s renaissance.


BY Divya Venkataraman

Divya is a writer who has previously worked for Vogue

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