80s fashion in film and television

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Eighties, also known as 'The Greed Decade', were one of the most theatrical eras of fashion, with big shoulders and a bold colour palette being two of the major defining features. As excessive and 'extra' as this generation of style was, it still manages to consistently resurface in today's trends.

Being apart of Gen Z and never getting to witness Eighties fashion firsthand, my impressions come almost entirely from the slightly rose-tinted version portrayed through film and tv. 

Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Costume Designer: Giulia Piersanti

Set in the summer of 1983, somewhere in Northern Italy, Luca Guadangnino's Call Me By Your Name presents the audience with visuals that are just as dreamy as the love story at its heart. Costume designer, Giulia Piersanti, a knitwear designer for Celine, has said that she wanted the wardrobe to be more subtle and to avoid 80's cliches as much as possible as to not disturb the viewer from "feeling" and experiencing the story. Several wardrobe pieces were pulled directly from Andre Aciman's novel. In the book, Elio thinks to read into Oliver's emotions by analyzing his ever-changing swimshorts; the shorts in the film are perfect, being in bold block colours, a little too short, and squarely 80's. Another key piece of wardrobe being Oliver's blue shirt, so significant to the novel that Elio gives it the nickname "billowy" and asks Oliver to leave it behind when he leaves. The camera often lingers on those bright swimsuits and billowy button-down shirts throughout, and it clear in many scenes that clothing rises above mere adoration. The clothes, particularly the ones worn by Chalamet and Hammer, are the perfect uniform for their dreamy Italian summer.


Heathers (1988)
Costume Designer: Rudy Dillon

Long before Cher Horowitz was strutting through crowds of gawping admirers in her yellow tartan two-piece, Winona Ryder and the original high school mean girls were pioneering plaid blazers and pleats in 1989's Heathers. In sharp contrast to Call Me By Your Name, Rudy Dillon indulged on all the fashion cliches of the late 80's. As the credits roll, the audience are presented with a fantasy sequence of the three Heathers playing a game of croquet. The film's themes of status, power, privilege and rigid conformity are all being expressly laid out in these opening costumes, with attention to detail extending to each of their croquet balls being colour-matched to their outfits. Note the Eighties take on the schoolgirl look, with clear influences from elitist prep school uniforms and a heavy dose of female executive power. With their voluminous hairstyles, crop tops, and an abundance of power accessories (shoulder pads, brooches, and even – in the case of Ryder’s character Veronica Sawyer – a monocle), the Heathers’ outfits remain as instantly recognisable as their catchphrases. Exactly what is your damage, anyway?

Dirty Dancing (1987)
Costume Designer: Hilary Rosenfeld

Complete with a sultry soundtrack, momentous montage scenes and an even more momentous aesthetic, its no suprise that, despite her extensive career in costume design, Hilary Rosenfeld is still known as 'the one who did Dirty Dancing'. Dressed in mismatched ensembles, denim cut-offs, bohemian shirts, faded swimsuits and makeshift crop-tops, Baby’s character is one that goes from reading books to serving looks in a matter of weeks, climaxing in the epic pink dress-wearing ‘Time of My Life’ dance finale. Never in cinematic history has a ballroom dancer looked as rugged as Patrick Swayze did as the elusive Johnny Castle. With his skin-tight wife-beaters, blacked out ray-bans, messy hair and near-constant state of sweat, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he literally oozes sex appeal. He’s the mysterious rebel who ignites a sense of desire in the naive Baby.


The Breakfast Club (1985)

Costume Designer: Marilyn Vance
From the opening monologue, borrowed from David Bowie, to the iconic fist pump choreographed to the soundtrack of Simple Minds, The Breakfast Club has been solidified as cinema's greatest portrayal of teenage stereotypes and the most obvious aspect of a stereotype is, of course, wardrobe. Even without dialogue,  you know exactly who each character is just by the way they look. Marilyn Vance, who also worked on films such as Ferris Bueller, Die Hard and Pretty Woman, could only make one outfit for each character due to the entire film taking place over the course of a day, so she used layers within the costumes to illustrate different parts of their personalities. Throughout the film, as they become more comfortable around each other, we see each character start to shed these layers, even though they'll probably go back to their own cliques come Monday.

Stranger Things (2016-present)
Costume Designer(s): Kim Wilcox, Kimberly Adams-Galligan, Malgosia Turzanska, Amy Seimetz
What I think makes the costume design so great in Stranger Things is that it creates such a heavy feeling of Eighties nostalgia, without the characters looking like caricatures of the period. Each character's look is distinguished enough so that their individual personalities and backgrounds are subtly illustrated yet they still feel like a cohesive group of friends. In an interview, Kimberly Adams-Galligan, the costume designer of the first four episodes, describes how she feels that every detail in a character's wardrobe is important, even if it never gets seen on screen it enables an actor to feel more true to their character. For example, Will’s clothes being more ‘hand me down’ clothes were aged more than Mike’s who’s clothing would have been something Mum got him new for the school year.