Boys Clothes during the 1980s

Figure 1.--Here we see a Kodak print of two unidentified brothers enjoying a zoo visit on a bright sunny day in 1984. We think the boys are American, but are not positive about that. The boys wear two popular casual styles in the 1980s, jean and short pants. The younger boy looks to be earing OP corduroy shorts, a popular csul style, but on closer examination I think he may be wearing jean shorts. . The older boy wears a rather firmal white collared shirt while his younger brother wears a colorful "T-shirt. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

Trends in the 1980s continued and intensified those begun in the 1970s. No longer was there a monolithic style line for women. Instead, fashion was more segmented and women selected from among a wide variety of alternatives in silhouette, skirt length, and fabrics. Men and boys' fashions were less diverse. We used to be able to tell where European children were from by the way they dressed, at leat the major countries. This was no longer possible as a kind of pan-European style became increasingly perviasive. Basically this mean the increasing adoption of casual American styles. Here California was a kind of fashion epicenter for children and teen fashions. There were, however, some differences. We see all kinds of popular casul wear, inclkusing both colared shirts (like poli shirts and Rugby shits) as well as colarless "T"-shirts. T-shorts were no longer plain or striped. We see all kind of "T"-shirts with sports, music, and other motifs. Short pants suits disappeared for all but the youngest boys. Informal shirts and play shorts, however, became wide-spread even in America where shorts had not been as popular as in Europe. This trend had begun in the late-1960s, but by the 80s was filly developed. During the early and mid-1980s boys wore quite short play shorts with atletic knee socks, influenced by the growing popularity of soccer and basketball. OP cord shorts were a big hit in California and the popularity spread to the U.S. east coast. By the latter part of the decade, however, longer shorts first appeared on the Continent and became more common. Slowly many of the traditional English schools which had insisted on shorts dropped the requirement, especially for the ol der boys.

New Fashions

Many strange fashions appeared in the 1980s. Parents effectively prevented the worst of the excesses from pre-teen wear, but teenagers were another question. As one fashion coomentator put it, "... looking back at fashion only one thought comes to mind: What were people thinking?" Fashion as never before swirled around, various rock groups influencing the black, rock T-shirt fad. The major fashion was the ubiquitous blue jeans now stone-washed or with artfully placed and frayed tears. In 1987 the "ripped and torn" look was endorsed by manufacturers who sold jeans that were already slashed, and 1992 the baggy look gained popularity, inspired by beltless prison jeans and the look of prisoners who loose weight in the "big house". Rock stars popularized the "punk look," with lace, chains, excessive jewelry and bright colors. Michael Jackson was a major trend setter with his red-leather jackets with zippers and pockets, one white glove and pants that were just a little too short in order to show his white socks. The interest in phyical fitness began to impact fashion. Rugby-like stripped shirts were popular. Jogging pants with running shorts over them were also real popular. Earrings began to appear on boys by the end of the decade.

Califirnia epicenter

It was interesting how casual styles changed in the 1980s. California kids started the 1980s wearing the popular cord-syle Ocean Pacific (OP) shorts which were shortish, with over-the-calf tube socks. The style gradually spread to the East Coast. Many American boys previously objected to wearing short pants, thinking they were only for little boys. This had begun to change in the 1970s and my the 1980s American boys of all ages were wearing shorts, but only for casual wear--never to dress up.

Matching items

As part of the "preppy" style of earlier decades, everything had to match and trademark items like Izod brand polo shirts very popular. Kids would have polos that matched the shorts which matched the band colors on the socks. Cords were the long pants of choice and they too had to match the shirt and socks.

Norable garment trends

Shorts started to get longer in the late 1980s. The style of wearing socks changed. Long tube socks were worn, but pushed down below the calf when worn with shorts. Then the short styles went to multi-colored styles that were of cottens rather than cords. Then the socks of choice became crew legnth white ones as striped ones no longer were "cool". Long cord gave way to blue jeans which are still popular today. (Long cords began to come back in the 1990s.) By the end of the 1980s, clothes no longer had to match, shorts were Bermuda legnth and socks were the short crew length and everyone wore blue jeans, both longs and shorts and t-shirts repaced the no-longer cool polo styles. Shorts also became the thing to wear to school, especially in California. When you contrast the preppy look of the early 80's with the short cord shorts and long socks, to the late 80's with the longer shorts and shorter socks, it seems that what goes around, comes around. Especially where boys styles are concerned

Socital trends

Children in the 1980s came into their own, the so-called "latch-key" children who had to take responsibility to survive, and in so doing took more control over their own lives at an earlier age (and sometimes had to raise younger siblings). By this time, it was more acceptable for children to start spending money, earning money, and making their own choices. By the 1990's, the parents seemed to be subservient to their offspring and allowed the kids to make their own choices. Simultaneously, the gangs took to the urban streets and a new subculture arose. The designers of clothing began to look towards these urban youth and skaterboarders for THE new fashion trend. More and more children had credit cards, cellular phones, etc, hence shifting the power to them (adolescents, of course). Culture and not parents made choices for their children (this began in the 60s, but now has reached to the youngest child). As the world grew smaller due to the media in all its facets, the bubble of reality (traditional family unit/household/neighborhood which determined one's reality by proximity) burst, undermining the parents authority.


Jeans were still going in the 1960s whebn a new style appeared--bell bottoms. In 1968 when Landlubber was one of the first to market Bell Bottoms. They were extremely popular in the 1970s, but declined in popularity during the 1980s. The American basketball star Michael Jordon began his spectacular basketball career in 1984. He started the fashion f wearing long baggy basketbasll shorts which in the 1980s affected soccer shorts and boys shorts in geneeral.


Hair styles from the 1980s were destinctive, some might say iconic. They in many ways match the destinctive fashiions like colorful "T"-shirts, designer jens, sporty casul short pants, parachute pants, suspenders, slap bracelets and jelly shoes. The most botable aspects of 80s hair styles were the long hair worn by mny boys. We see fewer of the really lkonf styles sometimes wirn in the 70s, but many boys wore hair cibering their ears. We begin to see somwht shorter styles by the end if the decade. We see some boys with 'tails'. This was a strip of hair that resembled a tail that was growing in the back. Some boys called them 'rat tails'. We even see some boys wearing Mohawks

Country Trends

We have begun to build country pages on the 1980s. We only have a few of these pages at this time. Hopefully reades will recall some if the fashions they wore in the 1980 to expand this section.


English boys like boys in the rest of Europe wanted to wear jeans. Shorts were worn less commonly by boys. Some primary schools and private schools still required traditional grey shorts, but this became less and less common as the decade progressed. Some schools changed to short pants just for the warmer summer term. One popular style of shorts for little boys were very short cut velour shorts. These were often worn on dressy occasions with white shirts. The shorts had elastic tops with no pockets. A casual style of shorts, jean shorts were also popular. The style of short pants at the beginning of the decade was very short shiorts, quite different than the long, baggy shorts British boys formerly wore. By the end of the decade the longer shorts which had become popular in France and the Contient began to appear in England.


Older French boys no longer wore short pants in the 1980s. Most boys wanted to wear jeans. Some younger boys still wore shorts. French short pants styles which once were very short short pants changed in the 1980s to long shorts worn at knee lenggth.


German boys no longer wore short pants. Even lederhosen were rarely worn except at ethnic events. Most German boys no longer even have lederhosen. Some casual short pants were worn during the summer. Kneesocks were no longer worn with shorts.

United States

A wide variety of new fashions appeared in America during the 1980s. America once looked to Europe for new fashions. Now at least for children's clothes, Europe was looking at America for inspiration.

Interesting Links

Fashion articles: United States trends


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Created: January 15, 1999
Last updated: 11:27 PM 7/8/2012