Spandex: How It Defined 80s Fashion

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Bold and Different

The 1980s, like previous decades, provided America a distinct character with the rise of the ‘baby boomer' generation — born between 1946 and 1964 and begat by those who that had survived a Great Depression and World War. This ‘boomer' generation would fully enter into American workplaces of the eighties as an unprecedented assertive and confident force! One of the reasons for this positive disposition was the attainment of the American dream — a college degree or specialty training after high school!

This ‘boomer' generation of males and females had one objective on the mind: ‘to change the world and go for the gold!' Breaking the mold of traditional ways of their parents was the standard thought to this generation. Indeed, the 1980s was the best decade to be young, educated, and different — with all thanks to President Ronald Reagan, U.S. President of the 80s, who also grew up in the Great Depression and World War II. President Reagan was as instrumental in priming the pump for the boom of ‘new blood' as the actual parents, who begat the ‘baby boomer,' so eager to get to their respective work in the eighties. President Reagan's idea involved the lowering of the tax rate to allow Americans to keep more of what they earned. From such an approach, known officially as supply-side economics, there came an expansion of business investment domestically and from foreign investors, more production movement by the American workforce, and a bounce of some type to all household incomes that brought about a strengthening of the American dollar in purchasing power!

The 1980s, specifically 1983 through 1985, will be fondly remembered as the decade of expansion, movement, bounce, and strength in stark contrast to the sluggish economy of the late 1970s.

The Dress Of Success

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Spandex is as an anagram, a rearranging of the letters of a word, of the word expands. Spandex is the word to describe synthetic fiber with much elasticity. While Spandex became a popular material in the mid-eighties, it was invented in 1958 by a chemist, Joseph Shivers, of DuPont Chemical of Virginia. The original intent on using this new ‘stretchy' fabric was to replace latex rubber used in the making of girdles and bras. Spandex material is lightweight and can be stretched 600 times the original size and shape but flexible in reverting to original size. The fabric was strong and durable — and epitomized the eighties economics and the generation that believed themselves to be invincible!

The Rule of ‘Cool'

The embrace by the stage entertainers such as Madonna and other Rock stars, the health-oriented ‘boomers' who wore the soft and stretchy material for jogging, biking, walking, and aerobic exercises brought Spandex to became the ‘in fashion' for anyone who wanted to be defined as being ‘cool' in an era that wholly embraced new ideas for working and casual living. Spandex most assuredly pointed to the dominance of a younger generation — a generation obvious in their motive to show their youthful energy and their ‘perfect' bodies with form-fitting Spandex!

Fashionable Spandex

Fashion designers went beyond the areas of entertainment and athletics and showed Spandex to be a fabric for everyday fashions in the popular magazines of the day: Ladies Home Journal, Glamour, Vogue, and Good Housekeeping! DuPont Chemical became the chief supplier of this miracle fabric that went under such brand names as Lycra, and Lycra Spandex, and ironically they found themselves to be ‘stretched' in meeting production goals to satisfy the worldwide demand for this comfortable fabric! Spandex was fashionable and becoming a standard part of everyday apparel such as swimwear, shorts, skirts, leotards, nylon pantyhose, waistbands, briefs, and stirrup slacks.

Spandex Advantages

No doubt the fashion industry and manufactures of clothing enjoyed working with Spandex as a fabric for the practical reasons of its strength and for it being a synthetic fiber that does not require the use of more costly natural, raw material resources such as cotton. The fabric could also be dyed any color which certainly provided a broad customer base in an eighties marketplace that thrived on individualism and choices.

Spandex apparel could always be easily spotted by reason of its bright colors. The colors were marketed to those young minds so abundant in this eighties decade! Colors such as acrylic blue, neon pink, green, bright rose, as well as the dressy white and black used in legging stirrup pants, blouses, and shirts was enjoyed by both males and females of the eighties. The fabric perfectly defines the character of the 80s decade of being bold, different, and new and marked its place in this period — as it also easily morphed into the 90s decade that centered on the mystique to being thin — with the wearing of those ‘skinny jeans' made of Spandex!

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Elizabeth Ambielli


Elizabeth Ambielli is a cartoon illustrator; who writes with a picture, and a writer, who draws with words. ‘I love browsing reconstructed historical villages as if I was transported back in time.’ ‘I also liked to listen to the older relatives share the stories of their good ‘ol days of 1930, 1940, and 1950.’ ‘I hope through the stories I share of the eighties decade, readers will feel they have been transported back in time.’ Imagine a time before computers, voice mail, email, VCRs, cell phones, or microwaves— oh my!