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Article: 80s Does 50s: The Secret to Affordable Retro Fashion

80s does 40s and 50s retro fashion

80s Does 50s: The Secret to Affordable Retro Fashion


I know what you’re thinking – shoulder pads, lurex, bows, and obnoxious prints! Eighties fashion doesn't have the best rep for being easily wearable. But it wasn't all over the top.

The 80s also had a love for all things retro. In fact, the 80s basically created the whole idea of what we now see as retro. 

This 50s revival during the 80s is my favorite secret to getting the true vintage 50s vibe, without the struggles and costs of buying something so rare.




80s Fashion (it's more than neon)

When I'm browsing for vintage clothes, I'm usually looking for dresses, skirts, or tops in any style from the 40s to 70s. 

I don't love the stereotypical 80s fashion of shoulder pads and power suits, but that doesn't mean I have to discount 80s clothes altogether. I end up with a lot of 80s clothes in my wardrobe that could pass as 50s (as long as I remove the shoulder pads), simply because they are so much easier to find.

And whilst I love the thrill of the hunt to find real 40s and 50s clothes, it is very satisfying to grab a vintage bargain just because it's actually an 80s piece.


80s street fashion

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.


Eighties street fashion showing both the modern jeans and t-shirt styles and the retro 50s style dresses and polka dot prints.


Why did 40s and 50s fashion become popular in the 80s?


When designers and influential artists control their designs, they usually create a modern twist on the styles they grew up with. 

Maybe the clothes they saw their mom wear, the outfit their big sister wore that they never could. The styles they saw on television, movies, or magazines.

This is how we get circular fashion styles (when decades-old trends become cool again).

In the 80s, this nostalgia manifested as a return to the 1950s. Adults in their 30s were hitting the big boom of 80s consumerism and spending power, and what better way to enjoy it than to relive the romanticized version of the things that were cool in their youth?


Pop Culture

In the 1980s, many popular 50s movies, such as The Thing, were remade, allowing adults to revisit nostalgia from movies they probably didn't get to see at the time.

New hits like Grease and Dirty Dancing took popular culture by storm (and still have a strong grip!). Back to the Future sent us back to the parents’ 50s teenage years, and music videos like Michael Jackson’s Thriller were set in 50s glory.

These 80s movies gave use icons and heroes clad in 50s fashion. Every guy wanted to be a Danny Zuko, and every girl wanted to be a Sandy (or a Betty Rizo!). 


What is retro fashion?

The correct definition of retro is something new that’s made in the style of something old. Retro is modern, but it looks like it's from decades ago.

  • Imagine a 1950s-themed American diner built in the 80s. This would be retro.
  • It’s modern but using the iconic style of 50s décor to take you back to the feeling of that era.

Fifties fashion is now remembered more by the 1980s retro revival version: cherry prints, sailor motifs, circle skirts, and halter tops, rather than the real 50s fashion.

 retro 50s diners

Photo by Max Bovkun on Unsplash


Is retro different from vintage?

    But over time, the meaning of "retro" has evolved. The word was used so often to describe the fun, kitschy vintage styles remade for nostalgia, that it came to be associated with them entirely. Whether they’re vintage or modern reproductions.

    Now, you’ll sometimes see retro being used online to simply mean the ‘cool’ kind of vintage.

    Something can be vintage and retro, like a 50s style dress made in the 80s. It's 80s, so it's vintage. It's 50s style, so it's retro.

    But not all retro things are old enough to be vintage (even when the words are used interchangeably). A 50s style dress made in the current decade would only be retro.




    Which 40s and 50s trends were popular in the 80s?


    Retro 50s Style Dresses

    A nod to the romanticized nostalgia of the 50s silhouette. Inspired by characters like Sandy in Grease.

    80s does 50s retro dresses

    50s retro style dresses from our collection of vintage 80s clothes


    These 80s dresses have lifted their inspiration straight from the 50s classic silhouette. The pastel shades, cinched waists, and knee-length hems all came back into style in the 80s.

    This trend revival is the perfect opportunity to snag vintage dresses with the vibe of the 50s easily. At a glance, it's difficult to even tell they're not originals.


    50s Style Circle Skirts

    80s does 50s retro circle skirts

    50s retro style circle skirt from our collection of vintage 80s clothes




    1959 women's fashion

    Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash.


    These outfits worn in 1959 could have been mistaken for the above 80s dresses.



    40s Style Floral Tea Dresses

    A more casual style of dress from later in the 80s, the 40s-inspired tea dresses were floral printed and had sleeker shapes instead of the fit-and-flare waists of the 50s dresses.

    They had button down fronts and details like ties and lace.

    80s does 40s retro tea dresses


    40s retro style dresses from our collection of vintage 80s clothes



    40s Style Tea Blouses

    80s does 40s tea blouses

    50s retro style blouses from our collection of vintage 80s clothes




    80s Does 50s: The Return of Rockabilly and the beginning of modern Retro Fashion

    The most popular style of retro fashion in recent decades is the 50s Rockabilly look. This is the style that retro reproduction brands usually focus on, and the style that most people think of when you say vintage or retro fashion.

    80s does 50s retro rockabilly outfits

    50s Rockabilly clothes from our collection of vintage 80s clothes


    What is Rockabilly?

    Rockabilly was the original rock'n'roll music sound from 1950s America. It mixes country sounds with fast guitar rhythms, thumping bass lines, and piano riffs. Singers usually sang about love, rebellion, or being young. 

    Famous rockabilly artists include Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.


    How did Rockabilly become a part of popular retro fashion?

    It's easy to see how the world's first taste of rock'n'roll and youth music culture could become so influential.

    Whilst the popularity of the music dipped in the 60s, Elvis's 68 comeback sparked a new wave of Rockabilly music popularity in the 70s.

    The association of the music with the decade it came from meant the fashion style was part of the sound. Rockabilly fashion never waned from the 50s styles of Greaser guys and Pink Ladies.

    In the 80s, the 50s revival brought back these 50s styles with a modern 80s twist. Think bolder prints, shorter hems, cropped tops, and brighter colors. 

    The modern retro reproductions we see now of 50s Rockabilly clothes are more the 80s version of what 50s fashion looked like.


     1950s two piece swimsuits

    Photo from Unsplash.


    These 50s two-piece swimsuits inspired 80s women's retro fashion. Stripes, circle skirts, halternecks, and crop tops all became an iconic part of the Rockabilly look.

    Fifties fashion was hyper-feminine, in the traditional way.

    Long circle skirts, cinched waists, pin curls, and red lipstick. The 80s version took all the most dramatic parts of the 50s look and amped them up to 11. 



    How do you wear a Rockabilly outfit?

    • Circle skirts or fit-and-flare dresses, give them extra volume with a petticoat.
    • Fitted tops with a halter neck or cropped and tied waist.
    • Cardigans or leather jackets
    • Patterns: polka dots, stripes, cherries, hearts or anything nautical
    • Hairstyles like victory rolls, pin curls, and straight bangs
    • Accessories: headscarves, bandanas, cat-eye sunglasses

    80s does 50s retro outfits

    50s retro style outfits from our collection of vintage 80s clothes




    80s does 40s and 50s outfits

    50s retro style outfits from our collection of vintage 80s clothes




    Why is vintage 80s a better choice for 50s style fashion?

    It's easier to find.

    Clothes from the 40s and 50s only get rarer as time goes on. That’s where the 80s come in. Being just 40 years ago (I swear it was 20 years ago.) 80s fashion is still abundant in circulation. Not only that, the 80s were the boom of the mall and the real beginning of accessible, casual fashion. This means there is just far more out there to find!

    It's cheaper.

    Real 50s clothes are not only harder to find, they are far more expensive and often so special or delicate that you may not want to wear them often in case they get damaged.



    Why should you choose vintage retro over reproduction fashion?

    So the other obvious choice is vintage-inspired clothes - newly made retro reproduction pieces made with modern fabrics and modern design.

    The benefits of modern revival fashion are:

    • Easily accessible online
    • The same style is available in multiple sizes
    • Modern takes on vintage styles can be easier to wear
    • You know what you're going to get

    However, like any modern fashion, there are also downsides:

    • Often cheaply made Amazon clothes
    • Poor fabrics and construction
    • Not ethical or sustainable to buy newly made clothes
    • Boutique retro designs are expensive
    • Nothing is unique
    • Loses the charm of dressing "vintage" 


    Where can you buy affordable vintage retro fashion?

    At ThriftTale you'll find both vintage and secondhand clothes from the 60s through to the 00s. There's even the occasional 50s item that pops up, but as we all know, those are rare.

    That's why vintage retro is so good. With such a large amount of 80s clothes to choose from, it's easy to find inspiration to style a perfect retro outfit.