As a Background Actor, you’re often tasked with bringing your own wardrobe to set. Some looks you create will reflect your own personal modern style, while others may involve some research. Central Casting casts movies, TV shows, and other productions that take place during all sorts of time periods, some like This is Us and Timeless, can take place over multiple time periods in the same show. Need to put together an outfit for the ’80s? Here are some basics on 1980s fashion so you can put together the perfect ’80s look.
You may think shoulder pads, big hair, and neon are a classic look for any ’80s scene, but not all trends are universal. A look that works for a wrestling spectator in GLOW, may not work for a house party on Snowfall. As with any job you book, pay close attention to the details given to you by Casting Directors. Depending on the scene, you may be given a specific look to replicate or you may have more flexibility in the wardrobe you’re bringing to set.
If you find yourself needing to put an ’80s look together for your scene, don’t overlook the best resource you have: the project itself. If you’re booked on a TV show that’s currently on the air, take a look at the wardrobe used throughout the show, from both principal and Background Actors. This will give you an idea of the color palette and overall style used on the show, and will give you a good place to start in crafting your own wardrobe.
When you think of an iconic ’80s look, you’re probably not thinking of something from the beginning of the decade. The early 1980s were more minimalist, practical, and subdued. If you need an outfit that works for the early ’80s, think more earth tones, with shades of brown, tan, and orange. Professional styles for both men and women featured wide straight-leg pants with blazers and sport coats that tended to have a looser fit.
Common casual looks for women at the time were high-waisted jeans, turtlenecks, velvet blazers, and loose dresses with sneakers, thick heels, or round-toed boots.
Early ’80s casual looks for men were often rolled straight-legged jeans with slouched socks, polo shirts, and polyester button ups.
By the mid-1980s, fashion had taken a turn to statement styles with bright colors, big shoulders, and bold jewelry. If you’re putting together an outfit for this type of ’80s look, think bulky sweaters, shoulder pads, trench coats, nylon jackets, and Levi 501s.
Women’s professional fashion was heavily influenced by male business looks. This trend, called power dressing, began in the late 1970s as a way for women to establish themselves in the traditionally male-dominated work force. These styles played off the traditional business suit, which included jackets with wider shoulders, roll-neck sweaters, and knee length skirts. This look evolved throughout the decade and was influenced by TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty (both cast by Central Casting). If you’re putting this type of outfit together, you can draw inspiration from Joan Collins’ Dynasty character Alexis Carrington.
In the mid-1980s, men’s suits tended to have a looser fit with pinstripes, wide lapels, and double-breasted jackets in navy blues and charcoals. For reference on more casual looks, Don Johnson popularized the t-shirt and suit jacket trend on Miami Vice and Tom Selleck’s Magnum, P.I. character wore the trendy Hawaiian shirt and sport coat combo.
Madonna was one of the biggest influencers to ’80s fashion. One of her most copied styles was from her "Like A Virgin" messy chic phase, consisting of layered jackets, tulle skirts, fingerless gloves, and bow headbands.
Jane Fonda and the popularity of aerobics led to the athletic wear trend of the 1980s. For women, this look involved neon jumpsuits, leg warmers, elastic headbands, and sneakers. Men’s athletic looks consisted of tracksuits, t-shirts, jerseys, and shorts.
Preppy looks were often associated with wealthy teenagers and were inspired by classic conservative styles. Preppy outfits consisted of button down shirts, polos, cuffed khakis, and argyle sweaters, with tasseled loafers, Keds, or boat shoes.
While athletic shoes had been popular before the 1980s, it was in the mid-80s when they became a high-priced fashion trend. Converse and Adidas were successful brands, and Nike introduced their first Air Jordans. Sneakers were worn with both casual and upscale looks.
You’ve been booked by a Casting Director and have been given your details. Now it’s time to put your wardrobe together. Again, pay close attention to the information the Casting Director has given. The looks mentioned here are just starting points; the details they give will help you create an outfit that fits the project you’re working on.
Showing up to set with the correct, clean, and unwrinkled wardrobe is one of the ways you can be a successful Background Actor. Can you put together a perfect 1980s look? Make sure your file is up to date or register with one of our offices for a chance to work on our productions.