I asked my parents to rank their favourite ’80s fashion moments

Words by Jasmine Wallis

“The shoulder pads were big and the hair was bigger.”

Growing up, my parents were considered the ‘cool parents’. I don’t say this to brag. In all honesty, sometimes it could be embarrassing.

Like when Mum would come into my room during sleepovers, sit on the edge of my bed in her power suit and stilettos with a glass of red wine in hand à la Regina George’s mum: “What’s the 411? What has everybody been up to? What’s the hot gossip? Tell me everything.” 

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Or when Dad would give my friends 30-minute pep talks on how they should take a gap year and tell their own parents to “shove it” if they forced them to go to uni straight away. Our house was always the place to go on weekends and after school, because they were young, laid back and down with (most) trends. 

I always appreciated my parents but as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to: 1) Literally morph into them and 2) Genuinely be inspired by them, especially their style.

’80s trendsetters

Growing up in London in the 1980s, my Dad was an audio engineer working with bands like The Smiths and Dexys Midnight Runners (you know, the ones who sing ‘Come On Eileen’?). He was part of the New Romantics movement, a subculture defined by their androgynous yet glamorous appearance and synth-pop club music. 

After time spent working as a journalist (the apple doesn’t fall far) before immigrating to Australia with his young family, Dad became fascinated by the punk genre and at the age of 50, bought a pair of studded Dr Martens and shaved his hair into a mohawk. He’s started a punk magazine called Punktuation where he interviews bands and writes about music as much as he likes. 

Mum, on the other hand, knew she wanted to be a young mum. Having me at just 22, she now feels like an older sister. She’s always been independent, hard-working and raised my sister and me on a diet of ’00s J Lo, Missy Elliott and a healthy shoe obsession. 

While Dad was living it up eyeliner- and mullet-style in the ’80s, Mum was a teenager in Northern Queensland, rocking a perm, leg warmers and gaudy prints, just waiting for the day she could leave. That’s why, when my editor asked me to write about ’80s fashion, I knew I had to hear what these culture-loving, fashionable free-spirits had to say. 

Hi Mum and Dad, this is weird to be interviewing you but here we are. Firstly, when you think of ’80s fashion, what comes to mind? What do you remember?

M: I think synthetic fabrics, bright colours and lots of hairspray. That ’80s era of fashion was pastel denim and the brand of the day was Esprit

D: I think ’80s fashion was a continuation of the late 1970s punk DIY. There were lots of DIY styles in the early ’80s. I used to work with a band who wore bin bags! Lots of people seemed to just throw things together, like Cindy Lauper. Her style was like she’d fallen into a wardrobe. 

Alright, let’s get into it. How would you rank these five ’80s trends and what do you remember about them?

1. Shoulder pads and blazers 

M: I was too young to wear blazers but my Mum used to wear them with shoulder pads. I wore T-shirts that had shoulder pads. The shoulder pads were big and the hair was bigger. 

D: I had a pastel blue suit with shoulder pads in it. I think the ’80s were very triangular in fashion. Everyone looked like an upside-down triangle. Big broad shoulders and pinched in at the waist. 

2. Neon

D: I don’t remember neon being a big thing. I remember shirts with big bold statements like Wham’s! Choose Life’, but then shirts were all very garish as well. All geometric patterns. They were really quite disgusting if I remember correctly. 

M: Neon! Oh my god, having neon mesh tops, neon earrings, I loved it. It was bright. It was happy. Very Madonna and in fashion. 

3. Leg warmers 

D: I never personally wore leg warmers myself but Jane Fonda’s workouts made those popular. It wasn’t something you saw people walking down the streets in. 

M: Wasn’t it?! 

D: Not that I can remember! [Laughs] I was in London in the ’80s so I think we may have been a little more fashion-conscious. I know leg warmers seemed to be more popular outside of London. 

M: I remember going to Myer in Melbourne and getting the sweatshirt dress, tights and leg warmers. When I got a bit older, we were living in North Queensland so it was an object of desire rather than what you actually wore because it was so hot! 

4. Double denim

D: Aww your mum was a wearer of double denim. I think I was as well! Wait, I also had a really cool leather jacket that I gave away to a girl because I fancied her, and wished I hadn’t because I really loved it… 

M: I love double denim still to this day, but now it’s just not the same colour. [Laughs]

5. Spandex

D: Spandex wasn’t a big thing with cool people in London. I think it was more for the hair rock bands of the early ’80s. 

M: Obviously, you wore spandex at the gym but it was full-on Jane Fonda leotard stuff. You know, the tights with the leotard over the top and big chunky socks pushed down. The ones who wore spandex outside of the gym, the black leggings and tight black mini skirts, would listen to Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crew. Not my style.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Mum and Dad and thanks for being kind of cool.

Wanting to make like Madonna and try some ’80s fashion? Here’s a list of vintage stores to help get you started.

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