The 1980s Series – Fashion



During the 1980s, music, dance, fashion, and art experienced a boom of energy and innovation. It was also during the 80s that Haring came into prominence and produced most of his signature work. This series of lessons seeks to explore the cultural and creative phenomenons of the 1980s for the youth of today. The Fashion lesson allows students to transform old clothes, model them and reflect on the process while having fun and being creative.


To challenge students' creativity to transform an old object into a new one.

To create a fun, humorous project that gets students and teachers involved and connected with one another.

To separate a period of time from its context so students may see influential factors that dictated fashion of the 1980s.

To help students reflect on the idea of transformation, both as object and subject. To expose students to a creative sensibility that surrounded and informed the work of Keith Haring.


Old clothes (denim, blazers, hats, vests, sweatshirts, powersuits, shoes, belts...)
Safety pins Elmers glue
Studs & rhinestones
Ribbons, tassels, & faux flowers
Felt swatches
Fabric markers
Acrylic paint & painting supplies


Sewing machine
(if a sewing machine is not suitable for the age group you are working with OR is unavailable, perhaps just needles and thread will do. Please use your best judgment with either one.)

Hair gel & spray Disposable Cameras
Computers & printers


Before introducing the project with your class, make sure you are well briefed in fashion of the 1980's. A helpful link: "New Romantics & The 1980's".


Open up a discussion about the decade of the 1980's. Discuss the economy, international and domestic politics, art, music, literature, culture. Use the resource links above to help you focus on topics that are both suitable and interesting to cover.

Examine Keith Haring's career. How he began by drawing images in the subways of New York City and grew to become a highly recognized figure in the contemporary art world. Relate his work to the consciousness of the time, considering the public's state of mind. Ask students to examine why Haring's work may have spoken so truthfully to so many people at this time in American culture.

Print out a bunch of pictures of fashions from the 1980's. Ask students to point out things that look peculiar to them. Pay close attention to sleeve, skirt, and pant lenths. To colors and patterns on fabrics. To details like frayed edges and ornamentation. Look at what's baggy and what's fitted, at layerering, and at the textures of fabrics. Ask the students what the clothes remind them of to help them visualize personal reference points. Finally, show them some current fashion photos and have them compare and contrast the two styles.

Have students each bring 3-5 items of clothing (preferably a top and bottom to start with). With a cooperative group, try pooling the clothing together and having students come up and pick one article at a time that they like. Before dispensing out all of the goodies to transform your item of clothing have students think about how they might like to transform it. Remind them of all the qualities that were discussed in 80's clothing, and that once they alter the item they cannot turn back but must make it work somehow. Hand out the scissors, glue and felt, encouraging students to make the bigger adjustments first. Then, once they have transformed the actual form of the item, place all of the ornamentation and fabric markers out for students to use. Remind them that their work should look unique and to consider what that item needs before adding anything else. They will have more than one opportunity to transform a piece of clothing, so whatever they don't get to do in the first piece they may try in the second or third.

For students' next piece of clothing, help them choose a bottom if they already have a top, and vice versa. Then follow the same steps. Leave print-outs around of 1980's fashion for reference. Students may choose to look closely at them for inspiration. Also allow students to try things on over their clothes if necessary, so they may size things accordingly.

Once every student has made a top and a bottom, they may choose additional items to create layers.


First get permission from the school administration.

If possible book the Fashion Show in the auditorium on a day when it will not be occupied, if this is not possible, try the lunchroom or gymnasium.

Design and print out fliers to send home to parents and to other classrooms or to post in the hallway.

Create a set as the backdrop for the Fashion Show.

Ask another class to be the photographers, making sure to show them how to include the entire figure in their composition. Assign each photographer to each model so that you can be sure to get documentation on each fashion (and student).

Ask another class to be the journalists who will interview your class' fashion models and write notes on their fashions during the Show. Assign each journalist to their own model so that each child gets a chance to be represented.

Pick out some 80's music that is suitable and upbeat. Try some by these groups (also great references for 1980's fashion, these artists were all peers of Keith Haring):
David Bowie
Fab 5 Freddy
Jellybean Benitez
Junior Vasquez
Boy George & The Culture Club
Cindi Lauper

Once the music is picked out, hold a dress rehearsal so you can choreograph a routine where students walk in, strutt through the hallway, and then go back behind stage again. Discuss how fast they should walk, staying on beat, how to turn, and how to show off their creations so everyone can see the fine details. Try weaving kids in and out of one another, or doing some dance moves for a little added fun. Also install the backdrop set, position the lighting, and cue the music.

On the Fashion Show day, allow several hours beforehand to prepare. Students will need to change into their 1980's clothes, then they will need make-up & hair styling (if you so choose), and a quick run through with the music one more time.

Once the models are all ready, bring the Fashion Photographers and the Journalists in so they can have front row seating to properly observe and document. Next, the rest of the invited crowd my fill the seating. When everyone is silent, an objective party may introduce the Show (if the Teacher is included in it), and then the Fashion Show can begin.

Ask the students who modeled to write about their design. What they did, how they transformed their clothing, what sort of influences the class was looking at... Discuss with the students the idea of "Transformation", turning something old into something new, making something more unique, or becoming somebody else. How do these experiences all play out in this project in different ways? Talk about the Fashion Show. What were the students happy with? What would they like to do over? How did it feel to be up on the stage, interviewed and photographed? What did they learn from this project?

Develop the photos, review the interviews and comments from the journalists, and writings from the Fashion Models Then create a FASHION MAGAZINE. Depending on the students' age, they may know some visual-editing/layout programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. If not, simply use a photocopy machine. Publish the Magazine for other classes to read.


Why do we wear clothes? Have these reasons changed over time? Why?
How is fashion of the 1980s different than fashion today?
Why has fashion changed?
What influences fashion?
Think of some reasons why the fashions might have looked the way they did in the 1980s.
How do art, music, literature, photography, and dance all relate to fashion? Does fashion inform those creative pursuits as well? Think of some examples of this.

Discuss the idea of "Transformation" again, turning something old into something new, making something more unique, or becoming somebody else.

Can you think of other things you've transformed?

Can you name some animals or things that transform on their own?

Have you ever been transformed- ever began to see things differently, appreciated something you used to take for granted, or felt like you've changed as a person?

Why did these transformations happen?

How does the act of transformation help us grow and mature? What happens when become more mature individuals- what are we capable of?

How can we ensure being open to change and growth?


It's always a bit more fun if the teacher does this project too.

Try having someone video tape the Fashion Show so students who were actively involved can watch it afterwards.