A Guide to 1980s Military Fashion

From punk style to power suits, military clothing played a big part of 1980s fashion for men and women. 

In the UK and America, the 80s was a decade of social and political change. Everything from women in the workforce, anti-war sentiments, punk culture, the rise of high fashion, to increasing environmental awareness were impacting fashion and style. Surplus military uniforms, vintage military clothing as well as new military-inspired designs became one way to make your stance.

Pop Culture & Military Clothing

Images of Kerry McGillis and Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

Shop our collection of Vintage Bomber Jackets.

Pop culture, from film to magazines, had a significant impact on the development of military style in the 1980s. The proliferation of military movies and TV shows like “Rambo”, “Platoon”, “Top Gun”, and “Miami Vice” helped to popularise the military look, making military looks fashionable for both men and women. The classic bomber jacket and aviator sunglasses worn by the 80s heartthrob Tom Cruise in Top Gun, for example, became immediate fashion staples.

Punk & Military Clothing

Left: Image of soldiers from the Great War, https://www.archives.gov/veterans Centre: London's Punk Scene, vice.com Right: Punk style in 1980s London, washingtonpost.com

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The British Punk style in the 1980s was heavily influenced by military clothing. In true punk spirit of anti-establishment, they created a DIY style through elements of military apparel. 80s punks could often be seen wearing combat clothes including leather jackets, combat boots, and cargo pants that were bought from the many army surplus stores around UK towns and cities. Punks in this era were all about flipping everyday symbols on their head as a way to signal they were resisting the status quo. Dressing up in military surplus clothing was one way to put a middle finger up at traditional values of fashion, militarism and authority more generally.

Left: Images of 4 Air Force, Credit: John Dubbs Collection Right: Credit: @PunKandStuff

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One of the most iconic military garments in punk fashion was the leather jacket. Leather jackets from vintage army surplus uk stores were often worn by punks as a symbol of rebellion and toughness. Punks would wear leather bomber jackets and flight jackets that they would decorate with studs, spikes, and patches, and were sometimes even painted with political or anti-establishment slogans. Paired with combat boots or Dr Marten’s along with studded or chained straps gave the overall look of authority and ‘hardness’ of army clothing.

Military cargo pants became popular among punk fashion in the 1980s. The military trousers were typically made of durable fabric and were designed with multiple pockets and reinforced seams, ideal for carrying tools, weapons, or other items that were necessary for survival. Cargos for punks were a practical option as well as symbolic item for their fight against the establishment. 

The "Yuppie" and Military-Inspired Fashion

Left: Man's 'Class A' US Army Uniform, 1944, collections.mfa.org Centre Left: Credit, Christophe Jouany Centre right: unknown Right: unknown

Shop Vintage Vintage Women's 80s Clothing

Military style clothing also appeared in the more 'professional' style group. The “Yuppie” or ‘young urban professionals’, were a group of young people who were career-focused and eager to assert their success through their appearance. The yuppie uniform reflected the sharp silhouette of military uniforms as well as including key military clothing elements like 80s bomber jackets, double breasted blazers, crisp cargo style trousers, and padded shoulders. Vintage trench coats, a military coat designed for soldiers in WWI, were a big part of the yuppie style too.

Iconic power suits for women took direct inspiration from military clothes. Women’s tailoring in the 80s was often made up of sharp blazers, padded shoulders and a tapered waist paired with a pencil skirt and sometimes tapered trousers. The sharp and defined look along with the inclusion of trousers recalled WW2 military kit. Just as World War Two was a time of increased responsibility for women outside of the home, eighties power suits became an empowerment symbol or armour for women in the workplace.

Designer Fashion & Military Clothing

Left: YSL A/W 85 collection Centre: YSL, 1989 Right: YSL, 1985

Shop our Vintage Designer Collection of Yves Saint Laurent 

During the 1980s, several high-end fashion designers and brands embraced the military-inspired look. Designer Ralph Lauren was known for his use of military-inspired clothing, incorporating elements like brass buttons, epaulettes, and functional pockets into his collections. Similarly, Georgio Armani, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger also drew inspiration from military apparel for their designs.

French couturier, Yves Saint Laurent, also drew inspiration from military uniforms in his iconic 1980s collection. The designer explored uniforms worn by the British Royal Navy and Russian Cossacks, which you can see in the incorporation of elements like brass buttons, epaulettes, and gold braiding into his designs. The collection featured a range of military inspired clothing, from military leather jackets, bomber jackets, blazers, trousers, and skirts, all in a muted colour palette of navy, olive, and khaki. The use of powerful, structured shoulders and sharp tailoring were signatures of this collection, lending a sense of power and authority to the women’s clothing line.

The Legacy of Military Style Fashion in the 1980s

Military fashion in the 1980s was a reflection of the times. Popular culture, the British punk movement and the rise of the yuppie in the Americas both played a role in shaping the fashion of the era. With everything from classic trench coats to vintage leather jackets to khaki clothing,  military-inspired fashion continues to be popular and continues to evolve.

Military style clothing is making a comeback and we at ROKIT are here for it! We’re seeing the comeback of structured vintage blazers, flight jackets and bomber jackets. So, whether you’re looking for military inspired vintage designer clothing or wanting to style up an authentic military clothes like a vintage flight jacket and vintage bomber jacket, we got you.

Explore our huge collection of authentic military clothing from the last 100 years.



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