Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Makes a Look Timeless: A Fun Retrospective

I was fortunate to find several issues of Vogue from the 1980's, at my favorite Humane Society Thrift Store. What great entertainment for fashion junkies! The ads, the prices, the beauty advice is so much fun to read 25 years later. There was nostalgia plus a good dash of humor/horror as I feasted on the 80's styles.

It struck me as I was reading that certain images still looked very current. What was it about the particular hair, makeup, and clothing that withstood the test of time, while others, so cutting edge then, seem costume-y to my eyes now?

Here is an example from the June 1986 issue of a look that I think could be worn now, without irony:

A little funky, with the cropped leg and yellow socks, but it
  doesn't scream retro.

What is it about this look that renders it current, if not timeless? The yellow jacket is the right color for spring, and the messy pixie hair style is current as well, not over-styled. The silhouette is edgy without being exaggerated, and black is always cool.

And here is a quintessential 80's look that I'd only wear now to a retro costume party:

 80's enough for you?

The severe hair, enormous earrings, linebacker shoulder pads and shiny purple fabric all scream 1980's (and I wore most of this back then).

We should wear whatever pleases us, of course. Some women love to dress in pure 60's, 70's or 80's style, and enjoy every minute of it. I'm interested to uncover the elements of style that transcend decades, just for the pure fun of it, not to judge. It does make sense when planning wardrobe budgets, though, to save big splurges for the looks that may last a while.

For example, here's a 1986 look from Calvin Klein. I think it would've endured for many years, if you just altered the shoulder pads. A simple, monochromatic suit with menswear touches, and unfussy hair/makeup:

I would almost wear this today, minus the shoulder pads!

And finally, although the 80's were famous for big eyebrows, bright eye shadows and glossy red or fuchsia lips, this gloriously simple face was everywhere. Still looks fabulous:

A light hand with makeup is obviously a timeless look!       

I've got more pics to post later, and more ideas about what makes a look transcend time. I'd love to hear your ideas, of course!


  1. revasrags2roses fordApril 24, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    I love this article!! I think timeless looks like Lauren Hutton or Audrey Hpeburn, Dianne Keaton are good time-tested style matrons as well!

  2. Oh, man. In June 1986, I'd just finished my first year at university. My hair was not at all dissimilar to that of the second model. Also, the earrings, and given my already very broad shoulders, I'm shocked that I took to shoulder pads just like everybody else. Not so much as my roommate, though, who wore them under her tee shirts!

  3. This is why I love Calvin Klein so much. That clean, streamlined silhouette never goes out of style (minus the shoulder pads, of course!).

  4. Great post. Hey, I sort of love the 80s silky jumpsuit, ha ha! And I never get tired of Isabella Rossellini. Did you catch the recent picture of Lauren Santo Domingo in a very 80s pale pink double breasted blazer? There may have even been some shoulder pads involved! She looked so good, it seemed a very modern look to me. XO, Jill

  5. Hmmmm....What DOES make a look timeless?  I agree with your assessment of all of the pics above...anytime I find shoulder pads, I rip them out!  I think fit has a lot to do with a look standing the test of time.  Extremes in either direction feel more trendy and are less likely to look good for many years.  Can't wait to see more of your pics!  Hugs!  ~Serene

  6. Oh I can't wait to see more. I would "totally" wear the first one.

  7. Amazing how well that first look, with the yellow, has held up.

    Though I swear, I'm starting to like my old '80s style again, even the high hair.

  8. Thanks for this blast from the past. The purple jumpsuit...oh yes! Not! I agree with everything you said about the above looks. I think the women who dress as they ARE not as a stylist makes them out to be and regardless of trends helps to maintain that timeless quality. I certainly don't qualify - I WAS the purple jumpsuit for a while...with equally big or bigger yellow hair.

  9. You've hit the jackpot with these magazines!  I sometimes realize that there are certain things about the 80s I really like--I like a long blazer, like you show in the Lauren ad.  And, I sometimes do NOT remove the shoulder pads from items I thrift!

  10. I agree with Serene; I think fit has a lot to do with timelessness, 

  11. Good question! But I think you've answered it by these examples. Mostly it takes moderation. Engaging in ALL the fads of the moment at the same time is a sure way to date your look to that moment. But picking one or two that can fit in with a classic wardrobe allows them to live a slightly longer life.

  12. Half of London's youth walk around looking like they stepped out of pictures 1 and 2!!

  13. Hello! After visiting your blog, I invite you to join us in the "International Directory Blogspot"
     For this is the very simple, just follow our blog, enter your Country, your blog url, and you will automatically integrate into the Country list.
     We are fortunate to be on the Blogspot platform that offers the opportunity to speak to the world to share with us the different passions, fashion, paintings, artwork, photos, poems and so be able to find in other countries people with similar passions.
     I think this community could also interest you.
     Have a great day with the hope that you follow our blog "Directory".
    After your approval to join us, you will receive your badge
     To find out, click on the link below:

  14. I think I had that magazine! The first picture looks very familiar. I've always been into bright colors and fisherman sandals (not necessarily together, though); but that's probably why I remember it. It's an outfit I would have noticed back then.

    1986 I was in college, and this was the year I went from preppy to boho/early grunge. So no shoulder pads for me. Some friends of mine had just come back from Europe, and they brought back with them bottles of Lancome skin care. I remember thinking how elegant those blue bottles looked in the bathroom Isabella and Blue Velvet were all the rage. All that and those pictures of her in the ads were probably why I became a Lancome devotee for many years afterward!

  15. I love to look at older magazines and make comparisons like you did.(by the way great post).I'm always amazed at how some looks are timeless and a great teacher to us all about style.

  16. Great post! I have to say though no matter what the decade, sandals and socks are a big no.

  17. Hi Patti!
    Sorry i did not participate at Visible Mondays! I will try next week
    Mr. D has a collection of old magazines mostly 80s and 90s - he refered to them for the lastest make up trends for when he was a professional make up artist -
    I like to have a look once in a while and i noticed the trends of the 80s and 90s are back - well, it is a cycle everything comes back, the garments are just cut in a different way or styled in a different way- The great changes in fashion came with Coco Chanel  and through out the 30s, 40s- 50s new look Christian Dior, 60's Mary Quant - i find there is nothing new now -  apart from the street style which i adore -  

    oh !you know what!  when i was looking at an old magazines i noticed that the 2012 version took the same pic as of the 90s version to illustrate a trend -

    Take care


  18. What a fun trip down memory lane!
    ESPECIALLY Isabella Rossellini for Lancome -- I copied that image in pencil for my Life Drawing class at OTIS in 1984. It took DAYS.

  19. cheapchicinchicagoApril 25, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    Great post, I'm excited to see more!

  20. Sheila (of Ephemera)April 25, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    Funny how the 80s looks were so repellant to us only a few years later, but now seem not so bad!

    Sorry for missing Visible Monday - my weekend was so crazy I forgot! I'm following you now, though, so won't forget. :)

  21. Jean at Dross into GoldApril 25, 2012 at 9:26 PM

    Oooooohhhh.  I love these pictures.  I agree with your assessment as to which ones could translate to today.  But really?  I love them all.

  22. I have  a love hate relationship with 80's fashion, I did enjoy your personal picks today, particularly the yellow jacket and socks combo!!! 

  23. The hair is usually a dead give away for eras but I think a nice crisp button up shirt is always timeless. Seems like a slender pant or narrow skirt lasts forever as well.

  24. I would wear that first outfit right. now. I don't know about timeless looks, being born only in the age of grunge and living through the (re)invention of the skinny jean. I think it's so fascinating that right now no one thing dominates and it's possible for any decade to be potential for inspiration.

  25. Barbara CarpenterMay 18, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    i dont understand why you all hate shoulder pads !  im not talkin' linebacker ones ,but a little padding helps balance your figure if you have any 'extra' in the hip area !