From Space-Snow Chic to Lost In Lycra, unforgettable outfits from 80s cinema (and how to recreate them)

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Stylist Team
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We all know what an extraordinary decade the 80s was for fashion - in cinemas across the land, trends were being set and styles were taking off.

Dive in for some of the most memorable looks of the era.

Words: Katharine Busby

  • Princess Leia, The Empire Strikes Back (Carrie Fisher)

    The Look: Space-Snow Chic

    What It Involved: White padding. While Leia’s hairstyles are often celebrated, many forget how she rocked '80s ski style in Episode 5.

    Why it worked then: We have no idea how Fisher pulled this off; no one looked good in puffa jackets in the '80s. That’s probably why C&A closed down.

    Would it work now? Only if you’re hitting the slopes.

    FILM FACT! Carrie Fisher stood on a box for many of her scenes with Harrison Ford, who at 6ft 1in was a good foot taller than the actress.

    Buy that style: Just don’t spill your hot chocolate on it.

  • Andie, Pretty in Pink (Molly Ringwald)

    The look: Poor But Prom-Like

    What it involved: Andie can’t afford one of the revolting '80s prom dresses in her local department store, so she sets to work with a pair of scissors and a sewing machine to create one all of her own.

    Why it worked then: Andie was off-beat and unique - and she went to the prom despite not having a date. This dress didn’t just say ‘creative lady’ it screamed ‘independent woman’.

    Would it work now? It was an original, but that’s not to say it was tasteful; we’d give it a swerve.

    FILM FACT! Pretty in Pink was made in the same school used to film Grease.

    Buy that style: You too can be prom-ready in pink.

  • Susan, Desperately Seeking Susan (Madonna)

    The look: New York Cool

    What it involved: What didn’t it involve? Crop tops, lacey hairbands, piles of costume jewellery, a now-iconic jacket; Susan didn’t do miminalism.

    Why it worked then: It made teenage girls want to pack their bags and head to New York City, bangles jangling all the way.

    Would it work now? Just about. But you’d need Susan’s attitude to wear it well.

    FILM FACT! The jacket Madonna wears in the film sold at auction for £252,000 in 2014.

    Buy that style: Team this lace crop top with your best baggy black trousers for a hint of Susan.

  • Dorothy Michaels, Tootsie (Dustin Hoffman)

    The look: Boy Meets Girl

    What it involved: Mainly some very choice frocks and humungous glasses. If you’re going to dress up as a lady, you might as well really go for it.

    Why it worked then: Actor Michael Dorsey struggled for work; transformed into Dorothy suddenly he was a star. The power of a dress, we say.

    Would it work now? Unlikely; cross-dressing has come a long way since the '80s. This look would probably be mistaken for a Deirdre Barlow tribute costume.

    FILM FACT! Tootsie was the name of Dustin Hoffman’s mother’s dog.

    Buy that style: Browse your perfect oversized frames here.

  • Zack Mayo, An Officer And A Gentleman (Richard Gere)

    The Look: Hello, Sailor

    What it involved: No red wine for Zack Mayo, please - this get-up was so pristine it could have featured in the Daz Doorstep Challenge.

    Why it worked then: A film marketed at women, with Richard Gere cruising along on a motorbike in full Navy clobber? It couldn’t really fail.

    Would it work now? Yes; perhaps Ryan Gosling would consider starring in a remake (no offence, Richard).

    FILM FACT! John Travolta turned down the role of Zack.

    Buy that style: The ideal gift for the man in your life.

  • Alex Owens, Flashdance (Jennifer Beals)

    The Look: Lost In Lycra 

    What it involved: Not too much. Just the essentials, in fact: cropped cami top, small pants, over-the-knee legwarmers.

    Why it worked then: Alex was a dancer, so on a practical level of course it worked. Meanwhile, in terms of fashion, she was right on-trend - legwarmers were quite the '80s style item.

    Would it work now? Geri Halliwell tried it out for her It’s Raining Men video in 2001, but she just didn’t have the Beals touch. Our advice: approach this look with caution.

    FILM FACT! Jennifer Beals had a body double for the dance scenes in the film.

    Buy that style: Of course you can still get away with over-the-knee legwarmers

  • Lydia, Beetlejuice (Winona Ryder)

    The look: Glorious Goth

    What it involved: Lace, black, velvet - Lydia rocked all the teen gothic clichés with aplomb.

    Why it worked: While your average goth on the street looks a bit grumpy and bedraggled, Lydia looked grumpy but strangely glamorous. That’s Hollywood for you.

    Would it work now? Oh yes. Black lace is in nearly every high street store this winter - as is velvet.

    FILM FACT! You can now purchase your very own Handbook For The Recently Deceased here.

    Buy that style: You might want to add a spider-web-style hair accessory to this Oasis frock.

  • May Day, A View To A Kill (Grace Jones)

    The look: Not Your Average Bond Girl

    What it involved: Hard lines, strong tailoring, bold lipstick, fierce expression.

    Why it worked then: May Day, May Day, we don’t have a problem: we have an iconic look that takes power-dressing to another level. Grace Jones’ reputation as a formidable figure helped the overall image.

    Would it work now? The haircut won’t suit everyone but the tailoring has stood the test of time.

    Buy that style: Classic cuts from Austin Reed.

  • Tess McGill, Working Girl (Melanie Griffith)

    The look: A Head For Business, A Shoe For Comfort

    What it involved: From her neck down to her ankles, Tess’s look is “I’m in an office, take me seriously”. From the ankles down it’s “I can’t walk from the train station in heels.”

    Why it worked then: Working Girl was a film of immense fashion moments - from the enormous hair and bold eye shadow to the oversized soft-leather jackets - but the trainers were a talking-point all on their own.

    Would it work now? Of course. Walking in heels will never be easy.

    FILM FACT! Ricki Lake has a two-line cameo in the wedding reception-crashing scene.

    Buy that style: Pair with a skirt suit for true Tess style.

  • Jessica Rabbit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

    The look: Unrealistic Expectations

    What it involved: A slinky red gown - low-cut, high slit, oozing sex appeal. You could almost say it was cartoon-like.

    Why it worked then: Probably because an animator drew an imaginary body in an imaginary dress - the dress every woman wants: it fits perfectly and looks amazing.

    Would it work now? It will last the test of time - because it was drawn.

    FILM FACT! In the late '80s there was a store within the World Disney World Resort in Florida selling solely Jessica Rabbit merchandise.

    Buy that style: We can’t promise the nipped-in waist and ample bosom - sorry - but try this for size.

  • Prince Akeem, Coming To America (Eddie Murphy)

    The look: Remarkable Royalty

    What it involved: Bling, knitwear, big statements and a very memorable hat-and-coat combo.

    Why it worked then: If there was one thing Prince Akeem and Coming To America encompassed, it was the show-off style of the era. Why have less when you can have more?

    Would it work now? We think not; no one can quite pull it off like Eddie Murphy did and we’re not sure they should try.

    Buy that style: If you insist

  • Heather, Heather, Heather and Veronica, Heathers (Kim Walker, Lisanne Frank, Shannen Doherty, Winona Ryder)

    The look: School Hall Power Dressing

    What it involved: Some very large blazers, with very large shoulder pads, the like of which you just don’t see any more. Shame.

    Why it worked then: These girls ruled the school in their uncompromising manner and they had the ‘don’t mess’ outfits to match. It worked because they told you it worked, OK?

    Would it work now? Boyfriend blazers are fairly popular these days but they’re somewhat more understated than the Heathers’ choices.

    FILM FACT! The name Heather is said 90 times in the film.

    Buy that style: Pop in some extra shoulder pads if you feel the urge.

  • Marty McFly, Back To The Future (Michael J Fox)

    The look: Back To The Gilet

    What it involved: An orange body warmer, trainers, jeans. So simple yet so effective.

    Why it worked then: It was practical (for, you know, time-travel) yet eye-catching. Marty’s sartorial choices summed up the '80s boy-next-door.

    Would it work now? We’d say Marty really pushed a trend forward. In the 2015 you can’t move for gilets. It’s a yes.

    FILM FACT! When released, Back To The Future was banned in China, due to the idea of time travel ‘disrespecting history’.

    Buy that style: A great shade of orange; any man can instantly channel the teen McFly.

  • Rachael, Blade Runner (Sean Young)

    The look: A beast of a coat

    What it involved: A whole lotta fur. It’s the furriest of fur coats you’ll ever see. We’re hoping it was fake, but this was the '80s, so quite possibly it wasn’t.

    Why it worked then: Like all Rachael’s looks, this was punchy yet straight-forward. It’s one item but it’s memorable as an outfit.

    Would it work now? If it was faux, yes. You might need to tone down the collar a bit (unless you’re spending your holidays in Siberia) but the fur is still a hit.

    FILM FACT! There is said to be a Blade Runner 2 in the pipeline - some 35 years after the first film’s release - but Sean Young has said she won’t be a part of it.

    Buy that style: It isn’t quite such a cocoon but it’s not far off.

  • Joel Goodsen, Risky Business (Tom Cruise)

    The look: Sunnies Side Up

    What it involved: The overall look Joel sports is less than remarkable. But those sunglasses weren’t risky business - they were big business.

    Why it worked then: Probably because Tom Cruise was wearing them. Ray-Ban had paid for product placement of their famous Wayfarer shades in the film; that year, sales of the style leaped up by 2000%.

    Would it work now? Who wears Wayfarers these days? Oh, only Taylor Swift, Orlando Bloom, Emma Watson and nearly every megastar under the sun. Yup, they still work now.

    FILM FACT! Tom Hanks also auditioned for the role of Joel; could he have given those shades the same level of cool?

    Buy that style: You know, you really should have a pair already.

  • Bill S Preston and Ted ‘Theordore’ Logan, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves)

    The look: Sartorially Bodacious, Dude!

    What it involved: Late-'80s teen attire: rock t-shirts with waistcoats, unusual lengths of trousers. Heck, there were even boys’ crop tops.

    Why it worked then: These boys really knew how to accessorise - they complemented their surfer-boy style with its very own language. This sort of attention to detail was bound to be a success.

    Would it work now? Go to any rock concert and you’ll always find a fan who believes he’s not too old for a band T-shirt. (The overall look is hard to pull off.)

    FILM FACT! After the film was released, Edward Van Halen said he would have joined Bill and Ted’s band if only they’d asked him.

    Buy that style: If Van Halen’s your thing...

  • Allison Reynolds, The Breakfast Club (Ally Sheedy)

    The look: Emo All Over

    What it involved: Black, sort of shapeless, oversized, more black. It’s sometimes hard to see the details because of all the black, in fact.

    Why it worked then: Like her fellow detention-takers, Allison had a very distinctive look. But while Claire’s (Molly Ringwald) preppiness was a bit too safe, Allison tapped in to the depressed teen style with gusto.

    Would it work now? Are there still miserable teenagers? Of course! Bring on the black.

    FILM FACT! The dandruff in Allison’s hair was parmesan cheese. (That’s one part of the look we won’t be replicating.)

    Buy that style: Get slouchy.

  • Dr Peter Venkman, Dr Raymod Stantz, Dr Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis)

    The look: Boilersuit Brilliance

    What it involved: Long before the kids were wandering to Tesco in onesies, the Ghostbusters were rocking their all-in-ones - AND seeing off ghouls.

    Why it worked then: Jumpsuits were very popular in the 80s (even my mum had one) - and this bunch of spirit-sorting chaps really pulled them off.

    Would it work now? They’ve moved forward design-wise - but the boilersuit is currently very much on-trend.

    FILM FACT! Ghostbusters was the highest grossing comedy of all time until 1990 when Home Alone was released.

    Buy that style: A slinky update

  • Sally Albright, When Harry Met Sally… (Meg Ryan)

    The Look: A Librarian In Autumn

    What It Involved: A tucked-in floral blouse, slacks, a tweedy-type jacket and an ill-advised hat. Stand in a leafy park for the full effect.

    Why It Worked Then: The late '80s were a funny time. This kind of look was seen as a bit kooky and a bit lovely. Remarkable.

    Would it work now? We can’t see it as a whole - but the blazer on its own is wearable.

    FILM FACT! That orgasm scene was cut from airline edits of the film. Did they think it might encourage mile-high-club-type antics?

    Buy that style: With a modern update, the tweed blazer is pretty chic.

  • The Kid, Purple Rain (Prince)

    The look: Purple Reign

    What it involved: Aubergine, plum, mauve… Call it what you like, if it was purple it was IN.

    Why it worked then: He may be pint-sized but flamboyance has never been a problem for Prince. And while the character he played was imaginatively called The Kid, really: it was just Prince playing Prince, wasn’t it?

    Would it work now? Purple isn’t everyone’s colour; and there aren’t many men could work a whole suit of it. But we quite fancy a ruffle shirt for us.

    FILM FACT! Purple Rain is the only feature film starring Prince that he did not direct.

    Buy that style: Give the suit a miss and try the easier ruffle shirt instead.