When historians look back on turn-of-the-millennia style, they’ll mark the last few years as the point went things got fuzzy, when the pace at which menswear trends cycle in, then out, then are reappropriated, has accelerated into an indistinguishable blur. Blame the internet, blame irony, but it used to be that a look spent two decades in the wilderness before it was re-evaluated. Now, everything’s up for grabs all the time.
At last count, every style since the war has permeated modern menswear in some way. The ’40s, in Kent & Curwen’s spin on the Austerity Olympics’ sports kit. The ’50s, in Cuban collar shirts and pleated trousers. The ’60s, in Easy Rider Americana. There’s Gucci’s spin on ’70s fashion, everyone’s take on the ’90s and, in some quarters, even the ghosts of 2000 have been summoned. And now the ’80s are back. But even stranger, so is the decade’s take on the ’50s, and the noughties take on the ’80s, a self-consuming kaleidoscope of acid jeans, boxy blazers and swept back hair.
“It feels like the ’80s have been in-and-out of fashion for about 10 years now,” says Simon Chilvers, men’s style director at MatchesFashion. “The mashing up of various decades simultaneously just seems to be part of the way fashion operates right now.” Which could be exhausting. Or, if you embrace the madness, could lend your wardrobe an anything-goes energy in which stylish sits alongside so-ugly-it’s-stylish, where the delineations between smart and casual collapse and style becomes equal parts forward-thinking and nostalgic. In other words, where we’re going, we don’t need rules. So strap in and swot up on these five trends from the 1980s that still look great today.
Think ’80s hair and you probably think perms, mullets and flat tops. All of which are coming back, with varying degrees of irony. But all of which are also tricky to pull off.
You could slick it back Michael Douglas-style, or bleach it in homage to ’80s Kiefer Sutherland. Rather easier is the look of a man whose style would define the ’90s, but who fomented his look in the decade before: Kurt Cobain. “Grunge is definitely making a comeback,” says Denis Robinson, creative director at barbershop mini-chain Ruffians. “Think Kurt when he founded Nirvana in 1987, and for a modern update, the surrealist R&B Kiwi Connan Mockasin.”
Other long hairstyles, whether you find your inspiration in Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness or a samurai topknot, tend to demand a lot of upkeep. The great thing about grunge hair is that it mostly takes care of itself.
“Ask your stylist for a shattered bob with perimeter length layers,” says Robinson. “For the ultimate version, don’t wash it too often. To style after washing, apply salt spray and dry until it’s still a bit damp, with the hairdryer pointing top to bottom so as to dry flat.” Work through a little matte paste with your fingertips until you get that authentic Cobain stringiness, then tie your check shirt around your waist and forget about how your hair looks.
The 1980s was the year leisurewear first went mainstream, driven by the explosion of gyms, fitness videos and a growing sense that the body inside was at least as important as the clothes that covered it up. Not so different from today.
Of course, back then the divide between sportswear and the rest of your wardrobe was still stark – you could wear a full tracksuit, as hip hop’s pioneers did, but best not try to pair your joggers with a blazer. Today, those distinctions have largely disappeared. In fact, mixing up with down is the best way to avoid looking like a Run DMC tribute act.
It’s also good to update your references. “Pull the ’80s look off by wearing something that’s not directly grounded in the ’80s,” says Brines. That means looking to new brands rather than leaning on the ones that defined the look first time around. Your look should be inspired by the ’80s, not from the ’80s.
After the heady days of #menswear, athleisure and its many offshoots, suits ended up at the back of most wardrobes. But the 1980s was dominated by tailoring, of the dominant sort, which means right now’s ripe for dusting off the two-piece. Although if all you’ve got hanging up is the kind of skinny suit that was de rigueur a few years ago, you’ll need to update your silhouette.
“The oversized blazer trend feels very emblematic of the 1980s,” says Chilvers, who points to the countless brands and designers channeling Richard Gere in American Gigolo for their latest collections.
You don’t necessarily need to go high-end, but it’s a trend that’s worth investing in. “It looks set to have a few seasons in it,” says Chilvers, “and once you get your head around it, it’s not actually that hard to wear.
Chilvers’ advice? Just think of it like a big coat. “You can layer a knit underneath. It looks good with jeans or just a pair of plain tailored trousers. You can whack a football scarf over it, finish with basic sneakers or heavy soled plain shoes. Basically, don’t overthink it.”
It was long a style rule that short-sleeve shirts were for lorry drivers, and short-sleeve, tropical-print shirts were for your weird uncle Dave. But then along came Prada, and reinvented the Magnum P.I. and ‘Club Tropicana’ favourite, by digging back into its 1950s roots.
This decade and the 1980s were about flamboyance, which is why both chime perfectly with a generation that shares its every moment on social media. And in which the Cuban collar shirt is suddenly inescapable.
According to Brines, the ’80s trend is in part inspired by TV shows like Narcos and The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which both star bold printed shirts throughout. But since we can’t all pull off eye-popping Prada, the easier way to wear this trend is to keep your prints subtle and floral – plant motifs are never tacky, but hula girls inevitably are.
Take the same less-is-more approach with colours; dark bases with an accent or two, ideally in colours you’d be comfortable wearing in a block. Avoid at all costs the neons so beloved in the actual ’80s – Screech Powers is on no mood boards.
Dark, slim denim has had its day. Now, the jeans du jour come in all matter of fits and finishes, from high-waist spray-ons to loose and pleated.
“Acid and bleach washes are the best way to tap into the ’80s trend,” says Brine. Both which helpfully tie in with club menswear’s current predilection for distressed denim. “Just avoid anything too punk,” he adds.
If you prefer to stick to your standard slim-or-skinny cut, make sure your jeans look lived-in. Ripped jeans or heavy washes will tip things into post-punk, particularly if you throw one of those tent-like blazers on top – the top-heavy silhouette was an ’80s classic. “If in doubt, see Jeff Goldblum,” says Brine. “In the ’80s and today.”