Children’s clothing in the 1980s was characterized by eye-catching colors and patterns, and unique, bold cuts exaggerated from more subdued older fashions, such as short shorts and shoulder pads for both men and women. Children’s fashion mirrored that popularized by teens and young adults, as clothing become more zany and daring than in previous decades, largely because of a culture of increasing childhood independence.
Light-colored, stone-washed jeans with a high waist were a basic for both boys and girls in the ’80s. The look could adopt more of a rocker aesthetic when frayed or torn and paired with a black rock T-shirt, as popularized by 1980s hair metal bands. Boys in California made shorts popular, and the fashion gradually spread to the east coast. Boys wore shorts that were short compared to today’s standards for men’s fashion, along with tube socks that covered almost all of the calf. Converse shoes, especially high tops, became popular with kids of all ages and both genders.
Big earrings were common among young women and teens, which influenced younger girls who were allowed to get their ears pierced and wear flashy earrings. Big hoop earrings or large dangling plastic objects were especially popular, and kids often matched them with the color of their shirts or shoes. Young men and boys began to wear earrings for the first time in American mainstream culture toward the end of the 1980s. Jelly bracelets made from plastic and rubber also became popular among kids and teens in a fad sparked by the singer Madonna.
Many media icons influenced the fashions worn by the children of the 1980s. Michael Jackson introduced diverse colors and materials with his red leather jackets, flashy white glove and his short, slightly tight, glossy black pants that displayed his white socks. Michael Jordon began his rise to basketball fame in 1984, sparking the trend of wearing baggy basketball shorts that reached below the knees, which also inspired kids of both genders to wear soccer shorts and other forms of active wear, such as pieces from rugby uniforms, during daily activities other than athletics.
Several trends characterized children’s fashion fads in the 1980s. Matching was prevalent, and popular outfits for kids featured matching shorts, Polo shirts and socks, all with the same patterns or colors. Stripes were also a fad with both kids and teenagers. Stripes were especially popular on T-shirts and skirts, and could be found running vertically or horizontally, in thick or thin varieties. Black and white stripes were the most popular, but multi-colored striped garments also made an appearance in the 1980s.
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Emma Rensch earned her B.A. in writing for contemporary media from Scripps College in 2011. Currently, she lives and writes in San Diego.