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80s fashion

Updated on July 18, 2011

Spandex Ballet

Eighties fashion is back with a bang: bling, oversized shoulder pads, asymmetrical haircuts and dramatic make-up are up front and fabulous again. And that’s just for the boys. For women, revisiting some of the decade’s well-cut suits and sparkling glamour is as easy as ABC

You don’t have to be a student to be interested in trying out some of the highlights of the 80s fashion, but having a student’s ability to juggle on a very tight budget may be something you’re already revisiting thanks to the recession.

If you’ve heard of ABC, A flock of seagulls, Spandau Ballet and The Human League you probably don’t need visual reminders of the key accessories that defined the pop bands of the day.

There were lots of glittery, boxy, well-cut jackets, high-waisted tailored trousers, bat-wing jumpers and cardis and puffball skirts. None of which have ever totally gone away.

The return to 80s-style glamour that’s hot this year means big shoulder pads, cinched waists, bucket-loads of bling and elements of sexy femininity in textures like satins or chiffons, and prints in florals or whatever patterns best reflect your personality.

Why New Romantic fashion is especially good news for those on a budget is that you can still buy your main clothes from your favourite inexpensive shops and customise them to make them suit or fit you better.

Wan moment in time

Whether you’re buying new or vintage clothes you can make them look brand new with very little effort. However, if you’re at a loss about how to carry off the look successfully, take a leaf out of fashion and beauty guru Gok Wan’s stylebook.

His road show travels the length and breadth of the UK bringing bling, style and creativity to the people who use it most. He trawls the streets spotting chic people and talks them into strutting their stuff in a live fashion show.

His energy and attitude galvanises fashionistas everywhere and his mission to make high street fashion look individual and classy is infectious. Incidentally, he was in Dublin at Hughes and Hughes bookshops recently signing his "Work Your Wardrobe" book, and I missed it. Horrors.)

Adding cheap necklaces to sandals to make them look like €500’s worth of bling? Taking the off-the-peg belt out of a dress and exchanging it for a deep-band corset? Watching him at work is like magic or free lessons from the master.

The beautiful Wan’s ‘can do’ attitude is easy to emulate if you’ve the right basic ingredients and know how to mix them up.

Buy fabrics that suit you, make you feel gorgeous and can be adapted to whatever effect you want to achieve. Sort out the shapes of garments that suit your own body and mood, and hey presto, you’ve a solid foundation in style that looks (almost) as good as anything the grand fashion houses can produce.

Getting extra mileage out of separates you already have can easy if you know where to buy the pieces that will give new life to your skirts, tops and trousers.

Gauze and effect

If you’ve to look up the word haberdashery you may not be hitting the ground running in the ‘clothes maketh the woman’ stakes. It’s the bits and bobs section in a fabric shop that has everything from buttons to braiding, ribbons, zips and sequins. In Ireland (where I live) your nearest drapery/haberdashery usually means Hickeys. It’s a chain of fabric and accessories stores that stock everything from small hand tools to bolts of shimmery gauzes and glittering Spandex.

In Athens, where I’m writing from at this moment – gosh, I suddenly feel Cosmopolitan :D – fabric shops with bolts of satins, silks, fleeces, faux-furs in leopard prints, velvets and tweeds, you could check out a street called Kalamitou, which is an extension of Agious Markiou, which traverses the main shopping drag of Ermou Street. There are a couple of treasure troves of fabric shops with the bolts of fabric lined up like statuettes outside the store, with even more bolts strapped onto trees.

Crafting in Greece hasn’t become the arcane hobby it has in the UK and Ireland, a past-time for the sad vixens who’ve got no social life. (Actually, even in Ireland and the UK sewing, knitting and beading still attracts thousands of fans but until recently it was very much a niche market.) Crafting in Greece is still very much to the fore – commercials for sewing machines air during primetime television slots – unheard of in my neck of the woods.

And if you’re visiting for a weekend break the prices of the comprehensive range of fabrics are very attractive. Getting your chosen fabric home is relatively easy and cheap too – it weighs no more than clothes, is flat, flexible and portable so you won’t incur extra baggage fines at the airport.

Bear in mind that you’ll probably only need about a metre to a metre and a half for a pencil skirt or very skinny dress. Crucial little tricks, like ruching around your midriff to hide a less-than-svelte silhouette, will require about twice as much fabric as a straight seam. Also bear in mind that while stretchy fabric (with elastane® or somesuch) is fab to wear, it’s a curse to cut and sew unless you’re already adept. So. Or should that be – Sew! You’re ready to rock the 80s look.

Fabric treasure trove in Kalamitou Street, Athens


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