United States Boys' Clothes: The 1980s

Figure 1.--Here is a block party in San Bernardino, California during 1983. I am guessing it is the 4th of July. By the 1980s, most American boys wore short pants during the hot summer months. There were several popular styles. Also note the tube socks.



Suits were no longer commonly by boys. Casual styles became the style of youths.

The Eton suit were no longer commonly worn by boys except for the very youngest.


Button down preppy shirts were popular. Some boys wore them with color-coordinated polo shirts. Some boys liked to wear their collars up. There was a velour fad in the early 1980's. Some boys wore velour shirts. (Young British boys wore velour shorts, but this fashion never appeared in America.) Panama Jack clothes (especially the shirts and straw hats) were popular with older boys. Sleeveless shirts were another fashion hit.

Surfer shirts appeared, popular brands included: Body Glove, Ocean Pacific, Pacific Coast Highway, Sex Wax (surfboard wax), Bubble Gum surfing wax, and Surfers' Alliance.

T shirts were the shirts of choice and their were endless variations, such as IOU shirts and political slogan shirts. Popular slogans included "feed the world", "????", and "????. Other variations included hobbie T-shirts, vaurnet T-shirts (with the circle emblem), and "PROPERTY OF so-and-so" t-shirts. Coca-Cola brand T-shirts and other clothing was particularly popular. "Choose Life" white oversized shirts (re: Wham! in "Wake me up before you go-go"). But many other companies appered on T-shirts. Beer company logos were popular with older boys, probably younger boys also, but moms put there foot down here. Some boys liked British-flag muscle shirts. Black T-shirts with faux tuxedo front or with skeleton x-ray on front were seen lot.

Even more popular were sleeveless (muscle) shirts and jackets.


Ties became very narrow, popularized by "New Wave" bands.


Denim jeans were the thing in the 1980s and they were now considered fashionable. All kinds of jeans were available. Guess jeans (commonly with zipper cuffs), Wrangler or Tough Skins jeans, jeans with zipper at the bottom of the legs. This was quite popular in the 80s, but disappeared entirely during the 1990s. Some of the most popular jeans were acid or stone washed. The popularity of denim jeans passed to other garments, especially denim jackets. Bellbottoms from the 1970s made a reappearance in 1986. For unknown reasons, some boys tied bandanas around one's leg. It was the in thing for high school couples to place their hands in rear pocket of partner's (acid-washed) jeans. And then of course fashion-rip jeans became enormously popular. This was a continuation of the casual trend which in the 1980s took on the added conotation of the grunge look.

Various kinds of short pants appeared in the the 1980s. More American boys were wearing shorts than ever before. JAMS shorts with matching shorts and floppy over sized shirts were all the rage in the 1980s. Ocean Pacific cord shorts were also very popular. Short cut jogging shorts with rounded legs were the most popular shorts. They were usually solid colors with another color trim. A less popular stule were clam diggers. Girls would roll up pants cuffs so they were tight around the ankles--a 1950s look.

Other less enduring styles included parachute pants.


Jackets reached a new level of popularity in the 1080s. Michael Jackson type red leather jacket with o-so-many zippers was probably the most distinctive style. There were cheap, imitation, vinyl version of his jacket. The greatest hit of course were denim jackets. "Members Only" jackets also became a big hit.


Boys in the 1980s wanted to wear sneakes. Nikes were the most popular, but Reboks, Pumas, and other brands wew also worn. Velcro sneakers were popular for a while, especially foryounger boys. KangaROOS sneakers appeared with the little pocket to store trinkets in. Skater sneakers appeared, VANS and Airwalk. Other popular sneakjers were New Balance Worthy basketball sneakers (black and white sneaks named after James Worthy) and Dr. J's by Converse. Some liked Kaepas sneakers with snap-in color changing logos. Reebok sneakers and hi-tops were particularly popular at mid-decade. Some liked Tretorn sneakers. New Yorkers (fat shoe laces) were popularized by Run D.M.C.

Boat shoes like Sperry Topsiders were popular and were another part of the preppy look. Boat shoes worn without socks and with the pants rolled up over the ankles--a necessary part of the Preppy look.

Toward the end of the decade sandals began to be more popular. Through the 1970s they had been primarily worn in California and were much less common on the East coast--let alone the Mid-West. Late in the 1980s they began to appear with greater frequency on the East-coast. One new style was jellies.


American boys no longer wore kneesocks, except very young boys at formnal occasions. The knee-length atlletic tube socks with colored bands, however, were still worn at the beginning of the decade, but were not much worn by the end of the decade. Leg warmers became popular, but mostly with girls.


The preppy look was popular and affected many different garments. Izod and Polo shirts were widely worn. Shoes included Sebago Docksides and penny loafers.


Bugle Boy clorges were very popular.


Some fad styles included pac-mania (shirts, knit hats, buttons, etc.). Peace symbols were popular logos.

Bracelets were popular in the 1980s, even with boys. There were different kinds. Ccharm bracelets were mostly worn by girls, but boys wore friendship bracelets (woven, colorful things). There were also white, braided sailor bracelets.

The fad of boys getting one earing appeared in the 1980s. It was mostly older teenagers in the late 1980s, but younger boys wanted then by the 1990s.


The big new fashion styles for boys underwear was of course Underoos.


The big fashion in caps was of course baseball caps. The baseball cap became the headwear of choice for most boys. Sports logos (it no longer had to be just baseball teams) were the most popular, but just about any company or granizational logo began appearing on baseball caps. In addition the caps started spreading overseas. Painter's caps were also worn.

Hair styles

Many imaginative new hair styles appeared in the 1980s. Spiked hair appeared for the first time in the mid-1980s. Another style was crimped hair. Some boys liked rat tails (long strip of hair in back of neck), high hair, mall chick hair, parallel or horizontal lines (usually three) shaved into hair on the side of the head.


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Created: November 22, 1998
Last updated: 11:55 PM 12/14/2005