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A Look at New York's Iconic 1980s Street Style

The Big Apple was at the epicenter of music and fashion in the 80s.

Photography Paulo Silva


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New York City in the 80s was far from the glamorous metropolis it is today. Crime rates had spiked and drugs were literally at every corner. Nevertheless, the city was still like a magnet for the creative crowd—artists, musicians, and designers called it home and its streets were their catwalk.

The iconic Studio 54 was no more but clubs like CBGB on Bowery street, Palladium, Danceteria, and the Mudd Club became the playground for the Big Apple’s coolest kids who were into punk, rock, and disco. Leather was in everyone’s closet, and so were bold patterns and shoulder pads.

And of course there was hip hop which originated in Harlem and the Bronx but its popularity quickly spread through all boroughs and influenced enormously not only the music scene in the city but its fashion, too. Boomboxes, bomber jackets, and Nike shoes became the norm.

Here we take a look at the most prominent trends that defined New York City in the 80s.

Shoulder pads

If the 70s were all about bell bottoms, mini skirts, and psychedelic patterns, the 80s brought a more structured look to people’s closets and power dressing became a thing where shoulder pads played a major role.

All leather everything

After Studio 54 closed its doors in 1980, New York City’s fashionable crowd migrated to clubs like CBGB and the Mudd Club, bastions of the punk rock culture. Needless to say, leather quickly became part of every cool kid’s uniform at the time.

High Rise Pants

High-waist pants, whether in leather or denim, were all the rage in the 80s.

Acid Wash jeans

Subcultures like punk brought a whole new design aesthetic to New York City’s streets—acid wash, faded denim was so cool. Silhouettes ran the gamut from baggy “mom and dad jeans” to tighter, hip-hugging styles.

Hip hop

The popularity of hip hop and breakdancing transformed New Yorkers’ closets—track pants, bomber jackets, and Nike sneakers were everywhere.

Boldly printed knitwear

Love them or hate them, one thing is certain—the 80s definitely had a love affair with “ugly sweaters.”

Uptown chic

Meanwhile, the well-off uptown crowd looked (and dressed) a world away from the leather-clad set that resided beneath 14th street.

Trench coats

New York winters have never been something to look forward to but at least trench coats that really peaked in popularity in the 80s made them a bit chicer.

Power suits

For women, the power suit, characterized by boxy, wide-shouldered jackets and cuffed pants, became a wardrobe essential.


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