80s fashion is the life coach you didn't know you needed
Be kind to your big bottom and other lessons in self-care
“You seem much wiser than your years.” Thanks—it was the trauma, is my rehearsed response to those surprised at my alleged maturity. My body is 30, and my soul, that of a grumpy 87-year-old man who lives in his high-waisted trousers and chai-stained ganji. But my style is roughly four decades old. 80s fashion — the decade of Joan Collins’ shoulder pads, Jane Fonda’s legendary lycra-neon-looks and Madonna’s risqué take on lace. Of Rekha’s OTT headgear and make-up in Khoon Bhari Maang, Sridevi’s sultry chiffon saris, and ultra-forgiving mom-jeans (I’m convinced low-waisted jeans are a personal assault on big-bottomed girls, like me). Despite once being voted the worst decade in sartorial history, 80s fashion, is the gift that never stops giving.
The ladies of Netflix’s Glow in their neon bodysuits, leg warmers and lamé dresses may look risky and downright odd. But since that describes my aesthetic (and my taste in men), the return of 80s fashion offers endless joy. The age of excess assimilated many subcultures including heavy metal, punk and new romantic, birthing many styles: power dressing, aerobic-inspired and OTT-glam. The eighties asked you to live your truth out loud, just like the mantra of our times.
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And thanks to the cyclical nature of fashion, they’re back. Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2019 showing at Paris Fashion Week featured an ’80s-inspired jacket with 3D florals making for strong shoulders. Giambattista Valli presented puffed sleeves and strong shoulders in his Fall 2019 collection. Hedi Slimane’s debut show for Celine was overflowing with ruffles and metallic dresses. Even most high street brands offer ready to wear versions of all these trends.
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If you want to break free, read on for what I learnt as I embraced all the excesses of 80s fashion.
- I learnt that statement sleeves and frills can turn an ordinary outfit into a lewk – and that one should only jump on the bell-shaped, ruffled, balloon, or extra-long sleeved train if you’re not likely to drench the ends unceremoniously in a bowl of kaali dal. Frills, ruffles and tassels, on the other hand, are a cheat code for looking like you dressed up even if you just rolled out of bed.
- I learnt that while bike shorts maybe the most divisive piece of clothing ever invented, they’re the handiest—made in the same breathable fabric as leggings, as comfortable and versatile. One camp believes they go with everything from oversize tees, to blazer tops and the other, that they should be burnt at the stake. Or banished to the gym. Me? I rather enjoying airing my calves without worrying about lecherous eyes looking up my skirt. #fashionisfreedom
- I learnt that while structured shoulders à la Joan Collins in Dynasty are great for an on-screen vamp vibe, a 5-foot-nothing girl wearing an all-white power suit to work will have your colleagues asking if you’re auditioning to be an Elvis impersonator. That didn’t deter me from pulling off a pastel version of my all-white fiasco. Padded shoulders do more than just look powerful—they give you wings faster than you can say Red Bull.
- I learnt that there’s a reason high-waisted jeans keep sneaking into our lives like the one Tinder match who just won’t give up. Unlike their low-waisted cousins that never quite covered my ample posterior, high-waisted jeans never quit—whether I wear them with collared blouses, Hawaiian shirts, vintage band tees or even a crop blouse. A trend is only as good as it makes you feel.
- I learnt that ‘go big or go home’ could well be the mantra of the 80s. Whether it was entirely sequinned dresses, a profusion of glitter on the eyelids, or Ferris Bueller encouraging you to take the day off, the icons of the decade weren’t afraid to go all out and carpe diem. In my case, that meant pulling on a gold lamé dress, rivalling the glitz of the jewellery haul at a Dubai wedding. Life is way too short for boring clothes.
- I learnt that sexy is a state of mind. Cold-shouldered or off-shouldered outfits were one of the defining trends of 80s fashion. The Bardot-inspired, clavicle-exposing neckline is also one of the most versatile, taking you beyond the boardroom in a flash — leaving you free to show some skin, without constantly tugging at your mini-skirt, or awkwardly pulling up your dipping neckline.
- I learnt that I strongly disagree with Mark Zuckerberg. Having a uniform may have made his high-powered life easier because, in his words, breakfast and clothing are silly decisions (no, and no) but in real-life, clothes are outlets for creative expressions.
We keep returning to the 80s because it was the one period where everything was fashion. Codes were to the decade what rules are to kids in boarding school—meant to be broken. David Bowie wore the hell out of make-up. Grace Jones rocked the power suit. Athleisure was as fashionable as award-show glam. You were both the artist and the artwork.
For me, dressing up is a particular form of self-care. The time I take to decide my #ootd is mine alone. The way I knot my t-shirt at my waist declares I’m feeling confident about my abs (or lack thereof). I may not wear an actual cape, but a stellar outfit can make me feel just as buoyant.