1985, young women in fashionable office wear

The 1980s


Punk didn’t really impact on Kays.  In fact, although youth subcultures multiplied increasingly rapidly during this decade, most passed under the Kays catalogues radar. This wasn’t deliberate: it takes 18 months to prepare a catalogue, from the first visits to the fashion shows, through planning, purchasing, photography, layout and printing.

By the 1980s, Kays had to compete with the influence of TV, film and pop music videos as well as a wide range of style and youth magazines like i-D, Face, NME and Just 17.  High street shops such as Chelsea Girl and Topshop could produce new, high-fashion ranges more quickly and thus were much more responsive to the demands of the stylish teenager.

It is possible to glimpse some youth ‘tribes’: the checked shirts and donkey jackets worn first by skinheads and then by Smiths’ fans were sold in the catalogue as work wear, not styled as fashion items, just as Lybro has rebranded the heavy denim work jeans popularised by James Dean in the late 1950s.

By the 1980s, the slender athletic female figures of the previous decade became alarmingly skinny as ‘unisex’ and then skin-tight ‘body-conscious’ styling was introduced.

‘Big Gals’ were still encouraged to wear girdles in order to squeeze themselves into Lycra jeans.  Either that or resign themselves to wearing a small range of polyester smocks that were a far cry from the tailored styles for ‘Outsized’ women in the 1960s.

In order to lose weight, young women bought leotards for the new aerobics classes, or resorted to more drastic measures.  In 1983, Karen Carpenter became the first high-profile casualty of anorexia nervosa, brought on by a desperate desire to be thin.

By the late 1980s, the brash ‘yuppie’ culture of the wealthy Young Urban Professional had introduced masculine-styled ‘power dressing’ for women.  Men’s suits, influenced by Armani’s loosely structured designs modelled to great effect in US TV series Miami Vice, lost their tailored shape and were worn with casual loafers and even t-shirts, quite a departure from the formality of the previous decades.

Click here for a poem about the fashions of the 1980s, created by Brendan Hawthorne and members of Worcestershire Association of Carers.

1980s from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.

Film of a 1980s fashion show produced by Second Hand Rose for our Heritage Open Day event at the Commandery, Worcester, on 10 September 2011