I’m not usually one to boast but I must say, I’m highly qualified to extol the greatness of '80s fashion; I even have a certificate to prove it. An IRL, laminated certificate, presented to me at a leaving do a few years ago: “For commitment to wearing '80s fashion in the '00s.”
Despite the fact that the decade in question ended while I was still in primary school, the hallmarks of that era somehow managed to burn themselves onto my consciousness and still, to this day, form the basis of my wardrobe. When it comes to shopping, most people have repeat items; you know, when something in a shop or online catches your eye and you have to make a purchase. When you get it home you know it’s perfect – but realise you already own five very similar articles. My personal repeat offenders tend to be either hot pink, feature batwing sleeves, or are a jumpsuit. (Or a hot pink, batwing jumpsuit.) I own boxes of oversized plastic bangles, geometric plastic earrings in every primary colour and strongly believe you can’t beat a pointed, high-heeled court shoe in a single, bright hue. I’ve rocked every shade of eyeshadow from hot pink to gold to lime green but my favourite is vivid turquoise – so much so, I applied it on my wedding day. Some of my happiest memories are of dancing on podiums in white pointed stilettos – it didn’t matter that I wasn’t in step with the era when such fashions had their heyday; the '80s were “my thing”.
During the '80s, brilliant art, fashion and music seemed to bubble up as a reaction to economic troubles, mainstream right-wing politics and social unrest. While the decade is famous for the hard-edged glamour of Thierry Mugler, Lacroix and Jean-Paul Gaultier on the catwalk, or the curated cool of Ray Petri and the Buffalo movement between the pages of style magazines, my own personal style influences were, to use the parlance of the time, much more naff. Nor was I affected by the exaggerated feminine signalling of Joan Collins in Dynasty, Margaret Thatcher’s pussy bows or Diana’s pie-crust collars. What defined style for me were '80s TV presenters (a phrase I may SOMETIMES type into Instagram’s search bar during idle moments) and the stars of '80s children’s TV – there’s nothing more delicious to my eyes. Caron Keating in puffball skirts on Blue Peter; Anneka Rice in her multicoloured jumpsuits; Jonny Briggs' older sister Rita and her friend Mavis in jazzy prints with big headscarves tied in floppy bows; names that make me feel happy just typing them. If you meet someone you can imagine presiding over a kids’ game show on Saturday morning TV or preparing breathlessly to jump out of a plane, it’s probably me.
My perfect outfit would comprise leggings, an oversized sweater or jumper dress, some large clicky-clacky plastic jewellery and either hi-top trainers or ankle boots. Acid-wash denim, circles, squiggles, geometric shapes and polka dots all thrill me. The colour palette particular to the era not only brings me palpable joy but leads me onto another formative style influence: Mrs Pascoe, one of the art teachers at my secondary school. Each day she would wear a calf-length pleated skirt, polyester blouse and blazer together with a shoulder-strap handbag and high-heeled stiletto court shoes, head to toe in one of the following colours: fuchsia, turquoise, lemon yellow or jade green. Not, I must emphasise, a combination of the above colours, but each item in the same, single shade. Nowadays it’s called tonal dressing and doesn’t look out of place in the street style roundups from Paris Fashion Week, but in a village in Somerset in the '90s she was, shall we say, ahead of the curve. Jazzy, geometric or otherwise crazy prints in all of these shades on a black or white background are also a source of deep joy. A sweater with a cartoon character on it? Why not!
I researched other references later out of nostalgia for the decade I was born in, but not a teenager in, and found movies like Beat Street, Desperately Seeking Susan and the whole Maripol-styled era of Madonna. I found Annie Lennox in Eurythmics, Roxette, Bananarama, Boy George and the gender-bending Blitz Kids and New Romantics. I’m not deluded; I’m well aware that most people regard this aesthetic as lurid at best – laughable, even. I know that dressing head to toe in acid Crayola brights and believing plastic to be the optimum material for jewellery is not considered particularly cool, and certainly not chic. I know that if people refer to you as “Timmy Mallett’s daughter” or “Neon Naomi” you won’t always be on trend – but you will have a lot of fun.
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