80s Black Women's Fashion | From Power Suits to Sneakers

Discover the iconic trends of black women's fashion in the 80s, from bold power suits to comfortable yet stylish sneakers. Relive the era and learn how these looks are still on trend today.

80s Black Women's Fashion | From Power Suits to Sneakers
famous 80s black women collage

Black Women's Fashion in the 1980s

2 black women with large afros.

In the 1980s, fashion saw a significant shift as different styles emerged and shaped the decade. The same was true for black women's fashion, which showcased bold and diverse trends influenced by cultural movements and iconic figures.

One of the most notable trends of the era was power dressing. This style was characterized by sharp tailored suits, shoulder pads, and bold accessories. It was a symbol of women breaking into traditionally male-dominated fields and asserting their authority. Black women adopted this trend but added their own twist with bright colors, statement jewelry, and unique hairstyles like the iconic high-top fade.

Another popular style in the 1980s was athleisure wear. This trend, which involved wearing athletic clothing as everyday wear, was heavily influenced by the rise of hip-hop culture. Black female artists like Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah popularized this style with their bold and unapologetic fashion choices.

Rap and Hip-Hop in the 80s

Hip-Hop / Rap: Young black women 1980s

A discussion on 80s fashion, especially among black women, would be incomplete without a mention of the profound impact of rap and hip-hop music on style choices. The 80s marked the 'Golden Age' of hip-hop, as this genre moved from the streets into mainstream culture, bringing with it a distinctive aesthetic that boldly proclaimed its roots and identity. For instance, the rap group Salt-N-Pepa weren't just known for their catchy beats, but also for their vibrant, relaxed, and unapologetically street-smart attire. We saw the rise of logoed sportswear, oversized jackets, and chunky gold jewelry, all paired with high-top sneakers and an attitude to match.

MC LYTE 1988

These powerful women weren't just making music; they were crafting a movement that thrived on self-expression. The Queen of Rap herself, MC Lyte, rocked the stage in her Kangol hats and gold chains, setting the trend for a generation of young black women who, like her, were unafraid to challenge societal norms and assert themselves. It was an era where style was not just about what you wore, but how you wore it, and these hip-hop icons were the perfect embodiment of this ethos.

Cultural Influences from Africa

80s black woman with large afro

The 1980s also saw a resurgence of African-inspired styles in black women's fashion, a trend often overlooked when discussing this era. These influences were not just limited to patterns and prints, but extended to hairstyles and silhouettes as well. 

The Daishiki, a loose, brightly coloured tunic of West African origin, experienced a revival in popularity. We also saw a resurgence of the Afro, a powerful symbol of black beauty and heritage, rocked by women who wanted to celebrate their natural hair texture. African string bead necklaces, wooden bangles, and Kente cloth accessories added splashes of vibrant color and texture to outfits, serving as bold statements of cultural pride and identity. This trend was not just about making a fashion statement; it was about reconnecting with roots, embracing heritage, and expressing identity loud and proud. So, the next time you spot a Dashiki or an Afro in an 80s throwback photo, remember, it's more than just a fashion trend—it's a rich tapestry of cultural identity.

Grace Jones, Janet Jackson, and Whitney Houston: Pioneers of 80s Fashion

In a decade known for its audacity and exuberance, few icons personified the spirit of the 80s like Grace Jones, Janet Jackson, and Whitney Houston. These women were powerhouses in their own right, redefining norms and setting trends with their distinctive style and unapologetic individuality.

Grace Jones

Grace Jones: Known to many as the 'Queen of Androgyny,' Grace Jones' style was a rule-busting blend of high fashion and gender fluidity. If the 80s were a statement, then Grace was the exclamation point! Her daring outfits and bold hairstyles—remember that iconic high-top fade?—smashed traditional notions of femininity. Whether she was rocking a suit and tie, or a striking Philip Treacy hat, Grace Jones taught us that fashion is not about conforming but about expressing yourself fearlessly.


Janet Jackson 1986 in swimming pool photo-shoot

Janet Jackson: Who could forget Janet Jackson's iconic look in the "Rhythm Nation" music video? With her military-style jackets, high-waist trousers, and that statement-making box hat—it was a look that screamed power! Janet's fashion choices echoed a larger movement of women asserting themselves and demanding equality. Her style was brash, bold, and unflinchingly rebellious. Like her music, Janet's fashion was a statement against the status quo, a symbol of resistance and resilience.

Janet Jackson 1985

Whitney Houston: Whitney Houston's style was a study in contrasts—elegant yet approachable, sophisticated yet fun-loving. Her chic dresses, dazzling sequin outfits, and those unforgettable big shoulder outfits all exuded a sense of class and grace that was uniquely Whitney. She taught us that elegance is not just about what you wear, but how you carry yourself. Even in her most glamorous outfits, Whitney's real charm lay in her radiant smile and the confidence with which she owned every look.

Tina Turner: The Queen of Comebacks

80s Tina Turner collage

No discussion of the 80s fashion scene is complete without the mention of Tina Turner, aptly known as the 'Queen of Rock 'n Roll'. Turner was not just a musical powerhouse, but a fashion icon who left an indelible mark on the 80s with her distinctive style.

In the 1980s, Turner orchestrated one of the most successful comebacks in music history, and her style reinvention was as remarkable as her musical one. She ditched the gowns and embraced a wilder, more provocative look that perfectly matched her raw energy and fierce independence. Miniskirts, leather jackets, ripped jeans, and fishnet stockings were her wardrobe staples. She was not afraid to bare her legs ( and fantastic legs they were ), which she often did in short sequin dresses worn with high-heeled pumps.

Tina Turner 1980s

Her larger-than-life hair was as unforgettable as her fashion. The wild, tousled mane became a signature style, embodying her untamed spirit and serving as a symbol of defiance against the polished looks that many female artists of the era sported.

In an era defined by eccentricity, Turner stood out with her unapologetic boldness. She made a statement with every attire choice, each hairstyle, every strut on stage, and in doing so, empowered a generation of black women to embrace their individuality and break free from societal restraints. So, when you're listening to "Simply The Best" and find yourself foot-tapping to the beat, remember, it's not just a song, it's a fashion statement echoing through the decades.

Popular Clothing for Black Women in the 1980s

  • Power Suits: The 80s were the decade of power dressing, and the power suit was at the heart of this trend. These suits, characterized by their broad shoulders and tailored cuts, were often worn with buttoned-up shirts and tie, projecting an image of authority and self-assuredness. They represented a shift towards more assertive, 'masculine' styles and were a symbolic representation of the increasing presence of black women in the workplace.
  • High-waisted Jeans and Pants: High-waisted jeans and pants were a wardrobe staple for many black women in the 80s. They were often paired with brightly colored, oversized tops and accessorized with wide belts, creating a playful and youthful silhouette that was distinctly 80s.
  • Leg Warmers: Popularized by the fitness and dance craze of the decade, leg warmers became a fashion statement in their own right. They were often worn over leggings or tight jeans, adding a pop of color and texture to outfits.
  • Off-shoulder Tops & Dresses: Off-shoulder tops and dresses were a nod to the decade's love affair with bold, expressive styles. These outfits allowed women to flaunt their shoulders and collar bones, exuding a sense of subtle sensuality while still maintaining an air of sophistication.
  • Neon Colors and Bold Prints: The 80s was a decade of color and black women's fashion was no exception. Neon colors and bold prints were big, often seen on everything from oversized jackets to mini skirts. These vibrant hues and patterns reflected the exuberance and optimism of the era.
  • Oversized T-Shirts: Whether worn with leggings, jeans, or even as a dress, oversized T-shirts were a big part of 80s' casual wear. These T-shirts, often emblazoned with logos or band names, were a symbol of personal expression and youthful rebellion.
  • Athletic Wear: The rise of aerobics and the broader fitness movement brought athletic wear to the forefront of fashion. Tracksuits, sports bras, and sneakers were not just for the gym anymore; they were worn as everyday outfits, signifying a shift towards more comfortable, practical clothing.
  • Accessorizing: Accessories played a crucial role in completing an 80s look. Large hoop earrings, statement necklaces, bangles, and chunky belts were all popular choices. And let's not forget the iconic fingerless gloves, popularized by none other than Madonna herself, which added a touch of edgy chic to any ensemble.

Leopard Prints: A Wild Fashion Statement

Black woman wearing Leopard Prints

Leopard print, a trend that seems to claw its way back into style every few seasons, held a particular allure for black women in the 1980s. The decade, with its bold and conspicuous fashion choices, was a fitting time for the wild and exotic print to make its mark. From flowing dresses to chic coats, the leopard print was not just a pattern—it was a declaration of power, confidence, and unapologetic femininity.

Its appeal lay in its versatility. Leopard print could be effortlessly dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. It added an instant dose of glamour to any outfit, even the simplest of ensembles. Paired with black leggings and a statement belt, a leopard print blouse was the perfect getup for a casual hangout. Switch the leggings for a black pencil skirt, add some red lipstick, and voila! You've got yourself a head-turning ensemble for a night out on the town.

Tina Turner wearing Leopard Print coat

Iconic black women celebrities of the time, like the dynamic Grace Jones and the glamorous Diana Ross, often sported this print, fuelling its popularity. Their daring style choices reverberated across runways and city streets alike, influencing everyday fashion in profound ways.

Yet, the leopard print was more than a mere fashion trend. In many ways, it represented the rebellious spirit of the 80s, a time when traditional norms and conventions were being challenged across various spheres. For black women, donning leopard print was a subtle act of defiance—a way to assert their presence, command attention, and express their individuality.

In retrospect, the leopard print's prominence in the 80s black women's fashion scene can be seen as symbolic of the era itself—an audacious, eclectic time that was all about pushing boundaries and making bold statements. This wild pattern, with its inherent boldness and sensuality, encapsulated the zeitgeist of the 80s, and its influence reverberates even in today's fashion world.

Black Women's Hairstyles, Wigs, and Hair Accessories in the 80s

If you thought the outfits of the 80s were big and bold, you should've seen the hairstyles! Black women in the 80s had their mane game on point, and every style was a beautiful testament to their creativity, resilience, and unflinching spirit. Let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of these iconic hair trends.

Black woman wearing Jheri Curls

Jheri Curls: Who can forget the glossy, loose curls that were the trademark of the Jheri curl style? Jheri Redding, a white chemist, might have invented the product, but it was our Black sisters who transformed it into a cultural symbol. From Michael Jackson to Ice Cube, the style was a rage among both men and women. Oh, and if you ever wore a Jheri curl, you'll remember the 'Curl Activator' that you had to carry around to maintain the gloss. Talk about commitment to style!


Janet Jackson 1988 with Box Braids hair style

Box Braids: Then there were the box braids, a style rooted in African tradition and re-popularized in the 80s by women like Patrice Rushen and Brandy. Whether worn long or short, box braids were versatile - you could wear them loose, tie them up in a high ponytail, or even style them in an elegant updo. Box braids weren't just a fashion statement, they also proudly showcased Black heritage and identity.


Grace Jones with Hi-Top Fade hair style in the 1980s

Hi-Top Fade
: The Hi-Top Fade, or as we like to call it, the 'Grace Jones', was another popular style of the 80s. This edgy, geometric cut was all about standing tall and making a statement.


3 black women supporting various hair styles

Wigs and Weaves
: Wigs and weaves offered a quick way to switch up hairstyles and try out different looks. Whether you wanted to rock a long, straight mane a la Whitney Houston or try out a curly bob, wigs and weaves were there to make your hair dreams come true.


Paula Abdul wearing hair accessories

Hair Accessories
: And let’s not forget the multitude of hair accessories that adorned the hairstyles of the 80s. There were the iconic scrunchies, those large and brightly coloured hair ties that were almost as important as the outfit itself. Then there were bandanas, often tied in a high bow on top of the head, and who could forget the neon hair clips that added a fun pop of colour.

Each of these styles and accessories was more than just a hairstyle – they were a form of self-expression, a nod to cultural roots, and a bold statement of individuality. So next time you find yourself flipping through old photo albums and strolling down memory lane, take a moment to appreciate the glorious tresses that defined an era.

Black Women's Jewelry in the 1980s

If clothes were the main course in the buffet of 80s fashion, then jewelry was definitely the cherry on top. You see, darlings, in the 80s, jewelry was more than just an after-thought. It was the exclamation point at the end of a fashion statement! Now, let's dive into the glittering ocean of 80s jewelry that added that extra sparkle to black women's style.

  • Statement Earrings: From our beloved hoop earrings in all sizes to geometric shaped danglers, earrings in the 80s were all about making a statement. Remember those neon-colored plastic earrings? They were the perfect companions to those vibrant 80s outfits.
  • Brooches: Brooches found a prominent place in the 80s jewelry box. They adorned the lapels of power suits and the fronts of dresses, adding an element of sophistication and elegance.
  • Bangles and Bracelets: In the 80s, it was all about the 'more is more' mentality. Stacking up bangles and bracelets was a popular trend, giving that jingle-jangle that was music to every fashionista's ears!
  • Chunky Necklaces: Chunky, statement necklaces were a significant part of 80s fashion. These necklaces, often bold and brightly colored, were the perfect accompaniment to those high neck and off-shoulder tops.
  • Door Knocker Earrings: These large, usually gold, hoop earrings that resembled a door knocker were a staple in black women's jewelry boxes. Icons like Salt-N-Pepa and Janet Jackson could often be seen rocking these.
  • Nameplate Necklaces: The personalized 'Nameplate' necklaces were a rage amongst black women in the 80s. It was a style that was personalized and individualistic, often seen worn by popular rap and hip-hop artists.
  • Gold Chains and Pendants: Gold chains, often layered and paired with oversized gold pendants, were a significant part of hip-hop culture and 80s street fashion.

As you can see, jewelry in the 80s was all about standing out, making a statement, and celebrating individuality. Whether it was the glamorous statement earrings or the personalized nameplate necklaces, every piece of jewelry added an extra touch of 'fabulous' to the iconic 80s looks!

Footwear in the 80s: From High-heels to Sneakers

Let's boot up the time machine and traipse a while down a very stylish memory lane - the footwear of the 80s. Yes, ladies and gents, we're about to relive the shoe fantasies of a whole generation of black women who strutted down the streets in some of the most iconic footwear of the time.

black Knee-High Boots with Thick Kitten Heels

Knee-High Boots with Thick Kitten Heels: The 80s saw a resurgence of boots, and boy, did they come back with a bang! Knee-high boots with thick kitten heels were the rage amongst black women. Not only did these boots look chic and sophisticated, but they also served a practical purpose during the colder months. They were often paired with skirts, dresses, and even oversized sweaters, creating a look that was equal parts stylish and cosy. The thick kitten heels added that extra inch of height without compromising on comfort, making these boots a wardrobe staple.

80s sneakers

Sneakers: The 80s was also the decade that saw the rise of sneaker culture amongst black women. Sneakers were no longer being worn just for athletic purposes. They had started to become a significant part of everyday fashion. Brands like Adidas and Nike were leading the trend, with their high-top sneakers becoming an iconic part of 80s fashion. From Run-DMC rapping about their Adidas, to Salt-N-Pepa looking fly in their brightly coloured kicks, sneakers were everywhere!


Mules: Women's shoes

: Head-turning mules took the 80s by storm. The backless, often closed-toe shoes were a hit for their ease of wear and versatility. The mule offered the formality of a high heel without the fuss, making it a popular choice for both casual and formal occasions. Whether paired with jeans for a day of shopping or with a gown for a night out, mules provided a fashionable finish to any outfit.

Red Round-Toed Shoes

Round-Toed Shoes
: The 80s saw a move away from the pointed toes of the 70s, with round-toed shoes gaining popularity. These shoes were often flat or featured a small heel, making them the perfect option for those seeking comfort and style. Round-toed shoes were the epitome of 80s daytime fashion, often paired with office wear and casual outfits.


red Jelly Shoes

Jelly Shoes
: Now, here's a trend that you might find a bit surprising – Jelly Shoes. These colourful, transparent, plastic sandals were a hit in the 80s, especially for those hot, summer days. They were comfortable, affordable, and came in a variety of vibrant colours, making them a popular choice for everyday wear.

Ballet Flats
: With the rise of the 'preppy' look in the 80s, ballet flats found their spot in the sunshine. They were the perfect mix of comfort and style, offering a chic alternative to heels.

In the grand cabaret of fashion, the 80s was a showstopper, a time of glittering excess, audacious style, and an unforgettable sartorial stamp that still echoes in our closets today. From power suits to shoulder pads, from door knocker earrings to nameplate necklaces, and from high-heeled boots to vibrant sneakers, the fashion of the 80s was a riotous celebration of individuality and freedom of expression. It was a time when black women took center stage, their style choices influencing and shaping the fashion world significantly. Icons like Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Salt-N-Pepa, and others strutted in the limelight, their fashion choices inspiring a generation of women to be bold, to be expressive, and to be unapologetically themselves. The 80s, my dear fashionistas, was not just a decade; it was a movement, a revolution that forever changed the way we see and experience fashion. So, here's to the 80s, a time of vibrant colours, bold styles, and to the black women who rocked it all with an unforgettable panache!