Awful fashion and style trends of decades past
As Stephen King once wrote in “Pet Sematary,” “sometimes dead is better.” If you need proof, take a look at these trends we’re happy to leave behind. Try not to cringe.
Men’s jumpsuits and rompers: 1960s
The men’s romper or jumpsuit has reared its hideous head multiple times now. In the ’60s and ’70s, the trend clawed its way into fashion magazines and the world of high fashion.
It came up again recently (we’re looking at you, Cam Newton), but Twitter, in its righteous fury, struck it down once more. The offender on the left sports a particular iteration that is especially egregious: The outfit is a jumpsuit in which the pants detach to form a short-legged romper. Dear God, hideous. Kill it with fire.
Straightened and teased emo and scenester hair: 2000s
Start heating your flat iron. The ’80s may have been defined by big hair, but alt-kids in the 2000s took it in another direction. Black or neon-colored, teased, straightened, and hair-sprayed, girls and dudes put as much work into their hairstyles as they did their Myspace profiles.
Like many fashion trends, this one coincided with a specific taste in music. It’s hard to overstate how huge the emo and metalcore scenes were in the 2000s. The crazy hair, youth-medium T-shirts with neon designs, white studded belts, and girls’ flared jeans (for guys) were all part of the uniform.
Parachute/Hammer pants: Late 1980s/early 1990s
You know a trend is bad when even the person who started it looks ridiculous. That was exactly the case with MC Hammer and the dreaded parachute pants. Fortunately, this trend did not last long.
Still, there is something to be said for the pants’ practicality: They were made out of non-rip nylon (like a parachute), which made them unbelievably durable — perfect for break dancing.
JNCO/Baggy jeans: 1990s-early 2000s
There’s no way around it: These were as awful to look at as they were to wear. Popular among ravers and nu-metal fans, festivalgoers would often return home to find their tree-trunk-sized pant legs covered in mud and Porta Potty juice.
Even if you didn’t commit to the JNCO brand, baggy jeans were in vogue, as demonstrated by David Beckham above. Parents must have been mortified to drop their kids off at school, cringing every time the jeans caught in the car door. Looking back, we should have just listened to mom.
Poodle skirts: 1950s
We love skirts, and we love poodles. I suppose it’s easy to see why this trend caught on. The first was designed and constructed by Juli Lynne Charlot, who — despite having almost no sewing skills — wanted to make herself a Christmas skirt.
The design was literally just a circle of wool fabric with a hole cut in the middle. To spice up the design, she stitched on some wool appliqués. The trend caught on, and stores began carrying variations of the design. However, you didn’t need to buy one in a store; young girls could easily make their own. Wholesome, but unfashionable.
Frosted tips: Late 1990s/early 2000s
For guys growing up in the late ’90s, nothing could be less cool than liking boy bands. Mystifyingly, nothing was cooler than looking like a member of one.
He may try to deny it now, but if you’re friends with a white Millennial male, he 100% rocked this hairstyle at some point. And if he didn’t, it was only because his parents didn’t let him. Bonus points if he wore Dickies shorts so large they reached his ankles.
Patterned tights: 1960s
Ah, the 1960s. It was an era of clashing political ideas, colors, patterns, and perhaps even sensibilities of good taste. From the chaos emerged this vertigo-inducing fashion trend.
Fortunately, the trend has mostly faded in the decades since (save for the odd throwback/homage). It may make you cross-eyed, but we appreciate the boldness of the style.
This hairstyle is 50% business, 50% party, and 100% nope. The hairstyle blew up in the ’80s and faded in the ’90s. Mercifully, it’s almost completely dead now, though you still may spot the odd one perusing the beer aisle at your local Walmart.
For all the vitriol we all have for the mullet, you have to admire the guy still rocking one in 2020. Even with the whole world against him, he stands his ground. May we all be that resilient.
Sweatpants with writing on the butt: 2000s
As the saying goes: “When you’ve got it, flaunt it.” It’s ordinarily considered rude to stare at a woman’s rear end, but this bizarre trend from the 2000s gave men a pass.
Juicy Couture is probably the most recognizable offender, but PINK — Victoria’s Secret’s youth-targeted brand — deserves a shout-out as well. This is yet another trend we can probably thank Paris Hilton for.
Safety-pin piercings: 1970s
This trend accomplished everything it set out to do, which was to scare people. For some reason, earring in-ear = not scary, but safety pin in-ear = very scary.
The 1970s punk scene in Great Britain and the United States wasn’t the most welcoming of places, and safety-pin piercings and accessories epitomize the sentiment.
Leg warmers: 1980s
What is wrong with you? How are your thighs and toes warm but your ankles cold? Hey, if your circulation is bad, don’t listen to us, cop a pair of leg warmers.
Just know that there is one person who can pull this style off — and one person only — Jane Fonda. No matter how many leg lifts or sit-ups you do, you’ll still fall short. Move along.
Plastic bracelets: 2000s
Black plastic studded bracelets. Ties with T-shirts. Avril Lavigne epitomized the Hot Topic style of the early 2000s. It was punk, but it didn’t scare the crap out of your parents.
Perhaps the best example of an accessory that encompasses the early 2000s pop-punk fad is bracelets with rubber spikes. It might look scary from far away, but it couldn’t hurt you. Punk with training wheels, if you will.
Looking back, these plastic bracelets were a little try-hard and cringeworthy. Leave them in the past.
Overalls with one strap down: 1990s
It isn’t easy to make overalls look cool — but in the 1990s, people thought they had found the perfect solution: Leave one strap unhooked. This made sure no one confused you with a construction worker on the job.
Of course, it made the outfit a little less practical as well, which is probably why The Fresh Prince is rocking a belt in the picture above.
Color-tinted sunglasses: 1970s/1990s/2000s
If you need proof that trends tend to find their way back around again, look no further than color-tinted sunglasses. They were popular in the ’70s before they faded, only to return with a vengeance in the ’90s and 2000s.
Now it seems like they’re coming back around again, with celebrity supermodels and influencers like Bella Hadid sporting the look. Who wouldn’t want to see the world through rose-colored lenses?
All paisley, all the time: 1970s
Personally, we don’t think there’s anything wrong with a paisley tie or bandanna (unless you’re wearing it as a shirt). But when you’re garbed from head to toe in the design, you risk resembling a sofa.
In the ’70s, paisley-printed everything became insanely popular, in blindingly bright and often clashing colors. For some reason, people thought dresses that could double as curtains were cool.
Truth be told, these were never actually considered cool. But that never slowed down the reviled yet immensely popular brand. They were big in the 2000s, but you’ll still catch them shuffling around the grocery store every once in a while.
It’s hard to argue against the utilitarian nature of the design. They’re soft on your feet, but you don’t have to worry about slipping. They give you the cool, free feeling of sandals without having to worry about them slipping off. Perhaps when you combine practicality and comfort so seamlessly, there’s just no room left for style.
White gloves: 1950s
Truth be told, Audrey Hepburn pulls off the white-glove look well. But you’re not Audrey Hepburn. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this trend, besides the fact that it’s awfully impractical.
Touch anything other than a champagne flute or an opera-length cigarette holder, and they’ll get dusty. Try looking glamorous with dingy gloves. Yuck. On the plus side, it’ll probably teach you to wash your hands more in the future.
Manolo Blahnik Timberland-style heels: 2000s
Timberland boots are classic and timeless, rugged and fashionable. Typically, you want to pair them with casual wear. You can lace them up or rock them untied, tuck the tongue behind your pant leg or leave it out. What you don’t do is slap a stiletto heel on a construction boot.
But that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when luxury shoe designer Manolo Blahnik collaborated with the Timberland brand and unleashed this monstrosity upon us. These shoes cost upward of $1,000, but if you couldn’t afford it, you could cop some knockoffs, which were even more of an eyesore.
Giant lapels: 1970s
For some reason, jacket lapels and collars in the 1970s grew to comically large proportions. These leisure suits were often made out of polyester, and were typically accompanied by an equally enormous tie knot.
Even David Bowie — always more of a leader than a follower — couldn’t escape the trend. Of course, Bowie still looked cool, but that’s just because he’s David Bowie.
All-denim everything: 1970s and 2000s
Please God, no. It was awful in the ’70s, and once again when Britney Spears and JT resurrected it from its shallow grave. We’re talking, of course, about the denim jacket-and-jeans combo: the Canadian tuxedo, if you will. Avert your eyes, lest they melt in their sockets.
Wear jeans anywhere — we won’t hold it against you. Jean jackets are fine, too. But if you match those two seemingly innocent items with each other — don’t act surprised if and when the ground beneath you opens up and Beelzebub himself pulls you down to hell.
Jelly bracelets: 1980s
Why pick one accessory when you can have hundreds? If there was one upside to this bizarre trend, it’s that your arms got quite a workout when you bogged them down with scores of plastic bracelets.
We never found out why Madonna was so insecure about showing her wrists, but we do know that this fad spread like wildfire, dominating the 1980s.
Velour tracksuits: 2000s
For many women in the 2000s, an expensive velour tracksuit was the perfect way to signal to the world that you were both casual and filthy rich. Successful socialites and pop stars like Kim K., Paris Hilton, Mariah Carey, and Gwen Stefani popularized the trend.
While the tracksuit has far from died — athleisure remains a popular fad — it’s dwindled quite a bit in popularity. Keep in mind that in the early 2000s, celebrities would wear them to red-carpet events and no one would bat an eye.
Big shoulder pads: 1980s
The 1980s are basically a gold mine of cringe-worthy looks. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of shoulder padding in a suit, but when you start to resemble a Transformer, things have gone too far.
The sharp, angular silhouette was popular among both men and women, and the exaggerated shoulders became a staple in the workplace. The worst was when your jacket got smooshed on one side, leaving you with a wounded-seagull look. Not flattering.
Low-rise jeans and the long-sleeve/short-sleeve shirt combo: 2000s
Can’t decide what shirt to wear? The long-sleeve/short-sleeve combo was the perfect solution. Owen Wilson demonstrates the look below, but it was popular with both guys and girls in the ’90s and 2000s.
Don’t worry, we’re not letting Kate Hudson off the hook, either. Back then, low-rise jeans were all the rage. Then the pendulum swung the other direction post-2010, and high-rise became the norm. What’s wrong with jeans that sit comfortably at the waist?
Shorts/skirts with UGGs: 2000s
UGG boots are already a divisive subject among fashionistas and stylists. No matter which side you find yourself on in the UGG debate, I think we can all agree that UGGs combined with a miniskirt or short-shorts is an egregious crime against fashion.
With how awful this look is, it’s hard to believe this was in style not that long ago. Still, at least one thing can be said for this look — it looks comfortable.
Big hair: 1980s/1990s
Showbiz executives often rave about how well a star’s face can fill a frame. If your face can’t do the trick, why not use your hair to pick up the slack? That seemed to be the logic in the 1980s and 1990s.
Poofy hair, butterfly clips, half-buns, scrunchies, teased and crimped hair, and spiky updos were all in vogue for women’s fashion. The hair is probably the No. 1 reason we cringe when we look back on our favorite ’80s and ’90s TV shows.
Futuristic fashion: 1960s
For some reason, in the 1960s it became fashionable to dress like you were exploring other planets in the distant future. Perhaps it had something to do with the space race raging between the U.S. and the USSR.
Whatever the reason, the trend was inescapable. We’re not sure this is what people have in mind when they use the term “fashion forward.”
Trucker hats: 2000s
We can blame one man for the popularity of the trucker hat in the 2000s: We’re looking at you, Ashton Kutcher. Almost overnight, Bud Light-guzzling dudes with beat-up pickup trucks were sporting the very zenith of style.
Before long, it wasn’t just guys in on the trend, women were in on it, too. If the snap-back and the fitted cap are any indication, the trucker hat trend will likely come around again. Yay.
Platform shoes: 1970s
It’s easy to understand the appeal of the platform shoe — most of us would love to be a little bit taller. That said, it’s not worth looking this silly.
You really only see these shoes worn ironically these days. That, or on Lady Gaga. The pop star can pull it off — but then again, there’s little she can’t make fabulous.
Cat-eye sunglasses: 1950s
Are you tired of boring-shaped sunglasses? Consider spicing up your style with this trendy look straight out of the 1950s. Do you really want to go through life not looking like an alien?
Nowadays, the only places you’re likely to see these frames are in vintage shops or thrift shops. However, the lens shape does appear to be coming back around again.