1980s Activewear: The Era of Fitness Fashion 

1980s Activewear
1980s Activewear

Ah, the 1980’s. Whether you lived during the decade or were told reminiscent stories by your parents, it was known as a period that sparked a new age revolution – through music, culture and in fashion, amongst other fads – 1980s Activewear

Where the decade found a real height was in the craze for physical fitness. With the fads of everything from aerobics to jazzercise, the era of decadence was also a time when fashion was bold and often a unique statement.

From Olivia Newton-John with the “Physical” music video that sparked a rage for headbands and yoga to Jane Fonda’s workout videos that spread the use of leotards and spandex.

But then, even hints of an era come around again. Therefore, how do the remnants of the permed hair fitness phase show up in and compare with the activewear of today?

From leg warmers to headbands to spandex, let’s see what parts stayed in the era, and what decided to give some of us a flashback.

The Luscious (and sometimes luminous) Leotard:

Back in the decade of decadence, as it became widely known, anyone, especially any woman, who was into working out wouldn’t be caught without a body-sculpting leotard. 

Today, you’ll find that they gave way to what are now more comfortable underwire sports bras

Nevertheless, while the leotard may have left the majority of our gyms and aerobics classes, they were at the forefront of making exercise and its clothing look fashionable, slender and comfortable. 

They were and remain popular due to their multipurpose use across many physical fitness disciplines, with the most well-known being the sport of gymnastics and dance, mainly ballet.

While the leotard may not be in the 80s fluorescent colours, you will still find them used in a variety of sports, coupled with the sports bra. As a result, they are a statement of the fitness decade that is here to stay.

Hence, you will find how they have also expanded into fitness circles that include yoga, especially being at the origin of your yoga pants.

Spandex Made The Way for a Company Boom:

Another big statement that defined the decade and its fitness phenomenon was spandex or elastane, as most of the world would know it.

It was in everything! The stretchy stuff went into various clothing and made many of us feel the freedom to be able to keep active without feeling constricted. We could finally ditch the tights and woollen pants for something more breathable. 

However, what boomed was a particular company after they got on the fitness fad and they’ve been reaping the profits and marketing ever since. 

The company was Lycra®, which became known for fitness and activewear to the point that we now often associate elastane clothing with the company and refer to it as part of our vernacular and slang. 

Of course, with that said, not all spandex is the same. Lycra®, the company made unique fibres to differentiate from the rest. Hence, the interchangeable reference should be between spandex and elastane. 

As a result of the decade, we have seen elastane become so multipurpose that it has become part of our general everyday fashion. From your leg warmers (more on that in a moment), to your favourite comfy pair of jeggings that still hold their shape better than your leather pants. 

The use of the stuff was like sugar, and much like sugar, while it can hide in your shapewear, sometimes you don’t want to stretch it too thin.

Letting Loose in Leg Warmers:

Back in the ’80s, if it wasn’t a headband and a leotard that one wore to a workout, it was often a pair of leg warmers. 

They were the main piece of clothing that kept your body warm and blood pumping during exercise and indeed, warmed you up, in the flamboyant decade.

These days, while retro is all the rage, leg warmers have found their resurgence mainly thanks to the TikTok trend as an accessory piece

While they may have started as clothing pieces for dancers, it has become clear that, whether as a substitute for your socks to go with your favourite jeans and boots, or to add texture to your outfit, the leg warmer has been given new life. 

So while they may be in a more neutral tone than those of the extravagant eighties, the leg warmer is back, even if in black. 

Neon & Colourful Clothing: 

As I said earlier, whether it was through getting ‘Physical’ with Olivia or having a workout with Jane, the one thing that was prominent in an 80’s workout video, as well as many studios, was that of bright neon-coloured fitness clothing.

Neon became the go-to way to appear bright, fit, and sporty and make it appear fun, and while it was popular with the decade’s youth, it spread across many demographics. 

The one outfit with which it was prominent was that of shell suits, which used the fibres of elastane to make tracksuits more comfortable.

This is one trend which, like parachute pants and shoulder pads, for the most part, stayed in the era, yet it was the height of individual expression at the time. 

With retro being the trendy thing,  the use of colour to express oneself is certainly one that has made a comeback. 


While some of us would look back on the eighties as a decade of far-out fashion and extravagant expression, it has left its mark in the world of culture and style and our hearts. 

That’s all ! © Glamourdaze

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