32 best red carpet looks of the 80s - from Cher to Meryl Streep

We throw it back to the 32 best red carpet looks of the 80s that still give us plenty of fashion inspiration

a composite of the best red carpet looks of the 80s featuring Whitney Houston, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze and Meryl Streep
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best red carpet looks of the 80s were anything but dull. From Cher’s daring outfits to Princess Diana’s royal style, there were countless iconic fashion moments to remember.

The 80s were a wild time, especially when it came to fashion. Outfits were big, hair was even bigger and the red carpet was an excuse to showcase the most show-stopping of both. More was certainly more, with feathers, sequins and see-through ensembles the norm. While style innovators such as Madonna and Grace Jones paved the way for some of the runway looks you might even see today. 

A weird and wonderful decade, the 80s remains a key style reference period for many design houses, with the era often hailed as being 'back in fashion. We’ve rounded up the boldest and best red carpet looks of the 80s for the ultimate throwback style inspiration.

32 best red carpet looks of the 80s

1. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze at the Dirty Dancing Premiere, 1987

best red carpet looks of the 80s - Jennifer grey and patrick swayze

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We won’t be putting Baby in the corner for this gorgeous look. Sporting an off-the-shoulder red gown and co-ordinating lipstick the actress cuddled up to her on-screen partner Patrick Swayze at the 1987 premiere of Dirty Dancing. But despite their on-screen chemistry, the pair famously clashed off-screen with Jennifer saying they ‘weren’t a natural match’.

2. Cher at the Oscars, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - cher

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cher won Best Actress for Moonstruck at the 1988 Oscars and served up quite the iconic look. Daring to bare in a Bob Mackie jewel-encrusted naked dress and shoulder-grazing earrings, she made quite the statement on the red carpet. Never one to shy away from sparkly, see-through looks, it was a watershed moment.

3. Molly Ringwald at the Oscars, 1987

best red carpet looks of the 80s - molly ringwald

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having starred in 80s movies such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, Molly was a hugely popular teen star. At the 1987 Academy Awards, she chose to wear a timeless beaded black dress pairing perfectly with her signature short red hair. One of the best Oscars dresses of all time, this classic outfit would not look out of place on the red carpet today.

4. Julia Roberts at the Miss Firecracker premiere, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Julia Roberts was a little-known actress in the 1980s, before Pretty Woman came out in 1990 but she was already turning heads on the red carpet. One of Julia Roberts’ best looks, the actress mastered androgynous dressing in a black oversized blazer, cycling shorts and some sleek loafers for the Miss Firecracker premiere - a style we've seen resurge in the last few years.

5. Meryl Streep at the Oscars, 1983

best red carpet looks of the 80s - meryl streep

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Meryl Streep came home with the Best Actress gong for Sophie’s Choice at the 1983 Academy Awards and she marked the occasion by dressing up as the award itself. Donning a beaded floor-sweeping gold gown, the actress went on of course to nab many more awards in the years to follow and top numerous best dressed lists too.

6. Princess Diana at the Living Daylights Premiere, 1987

best red carpet looks of the 80s - princess diana

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A dress that’s certainly fit for a princess, Princess Diana wore this fairytale frock at the James Bond film The Living Daylights premiere in 1987. One of Princess Diana’s best fashion and style moments, the beaded white gown, was designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel (who also designed Princess Diana's wedding dress) and was worn by Princess Diana on several occasions. 

7. Audrey Hepburn at the Lifetime Achievement Awards, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - audrey hepburn

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Breakfast at Tiffany’s star had retired from acting in the 80s but stepped out to attend the Lifetime Achievement Awards in 1988 to support her friend Hubert DeGivenchy. Wearing a feathery red hot gown from the designer’s line, the legendary actress looked as stylish as ever - a masterclass in how to wear red.  

8. Cyndi Lauper at the MTV Awards, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - cyndi lauper

(Image credit: Getty Images)

From her signature spiky blonde hair to her visible bra, Cyndi Lauper always turned heads on the red carpet for her unique looks. At the 1988 MTV Awards the singer was snapped in a glittery mini dress and metallic bra encapsulating her carefree attitude. This girl does just wanna have fun.

9. Courtney Cox at the Big Top Pee-wee premiere, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - courtney cox

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The eighties wasn’t all sequins and skin-baring as proven here with actress Courtney Cox in her pre-Friends era. Channelling preppy chic, the sitcom star wore a striped blazer and pleated skirt, complete with buckle loafers. Extra style kudos for the white socks too. It’s a bit more boardroom than ball but achingly cool nonetheless.

10. Heather Locklear and Tom Cruise at an Entertainment Tonight party, 1982

best red carpet looks of the 80s - heather locklear and tom cruise

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Those who dress together, erm don’t necessarily stay together. Heather Locklear and Tom Cruise very briefly dated in the eighties and although their relationship did not last we love the coordinated khaki look they had going on here. We’re seriously envious of Heather’s incredibly bouncy hair too.

11. Grace Jones at the Grammys, 1983

best red carpet looks of the 80s - grace jones

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Never one for an understated look, Grace Jones took to the red carpet at the Grammys in 1983 in this leather ensemble. The model and singer wore this bold Issey Miyake design complete with some oversized umbrella-esque headgear to present an award with Rick James who kept having to duck to avoid her massive headpiece.

12. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis at the Oscars, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s - demi moore and bruce willis

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The couple were red carpet regulars having wed in 1987 after a whirlwind romance. Demi’s outfit caused quite a fuss at the time, having made it herself out of cycling shorts, a corset and a metallic floral cape-like skirt - so 80s. She may have topped quite a few worst-dressed lists back in the day but we think this outfit would go down a storm in modern times for its playfulness and sustainable credentials.

13. Diana Ross at the Grammys, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - diana ross

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Shockingly, singer Diana Ross wasn’t nominated for a Grammy in 1988 and wouldn’t actually win one until 2012 when she received a Lifetime Achievement Award. No stranger to sequins, she wore this stunning sequin and lace gown with spaghetti straps to the 1988 Grammy Awards. 

14. Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards, 1984

best red carpet looks of the 80s - madonna

(Image credit: Getty Images)

An absolute trailblazer, Madonna was always creating a buzz on the red carpet in the eighties. At the MTV Video Music Awards in 1984 she performed her hit ‘Like a Virgin’ and wore what we now know today, a typically Madonna look in a white tulle dress, lace gloves, a boy toy belt and layers of jewels.

15. Christina Applegate at the MTV Video Music Awards, 1984

best red carpet looks of the 80s - christina applegate

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A young and aspiring actress Christina Applegate wore this sweet floral midi dress and coordinating scarf to the MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. The Dead to Me star was actually dating Brad Pitt at the time but later admitted she dumped the actor that night for someone else.

16. Sarah Ferguson attending a performance at Sadlers Wells Theatre, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - sarah ferguson

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Maternity fashion in the eighties wasn’t quite as sleek as it is today. Case in point, this puffball dress donned by the Duchess of York. So typically 80s. Attending the ballet at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, she was pregnant with her first child, Princess Beatrice. 

17. Dolly Parton at the 14th Annual People’s Choice Awards, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - dolly parton

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The country legend took home two awards at the People’s Choice Awards in 1988 - Favourite Female Performer in a New TV Show and All-Round Female Entertainer, presented by Kenny Rogers. Dolly wore a gorgeous beaded ensemble and a white fluffy stole.

18. Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, Great Balls of Fire premiere, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s - meg ryan

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Oh we wish we were as cool as Meg Ryan is in this picture. Showing off her grungy side, she wore an oversized leather jacket with an all-black outfit and round sunnies to support her then-husband Dennis Quaid at his film premiere. The best leather jackets are always on trend so this is certainly a look you can recreate now.

19. Goldie Hawn attending the Fourth Annual American Cinematheque Award Salute to Steven Spielberg, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s - goldie hawn

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Have you ever thought of coordinating your dress with your tights and shoes? Well, in the eighties you could. Goldie Hawn went all-out with this lilac ensemble, styling her ruffle floral asymmetric dress with matching tights and court shoes. Her signature tousled waves and glossy lip top it off effortlessly.

20. Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jnr at the Batman premiere, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s - sarah jessica parker and robert downey jnr

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another famous eighties couple, Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jnr made several red carpet appearances together before they parted ways. SJP was on the path to become one of the biggest fashion influencers of a generation but here she kept it low-key in a drapey coat and simple slip dress. 

21. Brooke Shields at the Staying Alive premiere, 1983

best red carpet looks of the 80s - brooke shields

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Brooke Shields just oozes elegance in this outfit. Mixing an oversized white blazer with a cut out top, she’s taken a very modern approach to tailoring for an uber glamorous and fashion-forward look. The gold bag really turns it up a stylish notch too.

22. Michelle Pfeiffer at the Grease 2 premiere, 1982

best red carpet looks of the 80s - michelle pfeiffer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Controversial opinion, but for us, Grease 2 is better than Grease and we all wanted to be Michelle Pfeiffer riding a motorbike in that movie. She kept it pretty casual at the premiere for the movie wearing a simple black cami top, white skirt and flowy cardigan. 

23. Whitney Houston at the Grammys, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - whitney houston

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In 1988 Whitney Houston won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for I Wanna Dance with Somebody, her second Grammy at the time. She also performed at the ceremony and wore this beautiful beaded dress and crystal-embellished heels. One of many stunning looks from the singer. 

24. Kim Cattrall at a benefit for Alzheimer’s Disease, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - kim cattrall

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Much like her co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall was finding her way with fashion. At a charity event, the actress wore a black dress with a sweetheart neckline and a flouncy floral trim. One of Kim Catrall’s best looks it was very business at the top, party at the bottom. 

25. Candice Bergen at the 41st Emmy Awards, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s - candice bergen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A woman after our own heart, we love that actress Candice Bergen’s recognises that heels aren't as comfortable as flats as she is papped here carrying them casually in her hands. In the other, however, Candice is clutching her Emmy award for Lead actress in a Comedy Series. We love her metallic animal print dress too.

26. Helena Bonham Carter at the Oscars, 1987

best red carpet looks of the 80s - helena bonham carter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Helena Bonham Carter has always had a distinctive style and subsequently, and somewhat unfortunately, no stranger to the red carpet’s worst-dressed lists. However, we love how she unapologetically channels her individual style and the 1987 Oscars were no exception. The actress wore a black velvet and tulle dress with sheer sleeve detail. 

27. Janet Jackson at the American Music Awards, 1983

best red carpet looks of the 80s - janet jackson

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Before Janet Jackson was selling out stadiums and creating groundbreaking music, she was a child star with a very famous family. In 1983 she attended the American Music Awards at just 17 years old. She wore a prom-inspired red strapless tiered gown and accessorised with a gold key on a hoop earring.

28. Winona Ryder and Rob Lowe at the Golden Globes, 1988

best red carpet looks of the 80s - winona ryder and rob lowe

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A teenage Winona Ryder attended the Golden Globes with actor Rob Lowe in 1988. Winona kept things very pared-back in a black blazer and red knee-length skirt. She finished the look with a delicate necklace and a red lipstick whilst Rob went classic in a tux. 

29. Drew Barrymore at the People’s Choice Awards, 1984

best red carpet looks of the 80s - drew barrymore

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How adorable is Drew Barrymore here? The actress shot to fame when she starred in E.T in 1982 and she’s pictured here at a glitzy afterparty which we expect, was way past her bedtime. In an adorable metallic dress and fluffy stole she looks like a Hollywood star already.

30. Paula Abdul at the 41st Emmys, 1989

best red carpet looks of the 80s - paula abdul

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Paula Abdul looks like she’s about to get her skates on in this white strapless mini dress. The frock featured statement embellishment and came complete with long matching gloves. She took home an Emmy for outstanding choreography for The Tracey Ullman Show.

31. Tina Turner at the 12th Annual American Music Awards, 1985

best red carpet looks of the 80s - tina turner

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tina Turner’s fashion looks were 'Simply the Best' ever since she came into the music scene in the sixties. No stranger to winning gongs (or sparkly thigh-grazing dresses), at the American Music Awards in 1985 she wore a red floral sequin and mesh mini dress. A signature look from the iconic singer.

32. Cher at the Oscars, 1986

best red carpet looks of the 80s - cher

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cher deserves to be on here twice and even the woman herself has dubbed this one of her ‘favourite, favourite outfits’. The actress was reportedly annoyed she wasn’t nominated for her film Mask, so instead decided to steal all the attention in this midriff-baring get up and giant fluffy headpiece. Well it worked, because we’re still talking about it now!

Charlie Bell

Charlie is the Deputy Fashion Editor at Future plc across multiple women’s magazines including Woman & Home, Woman and Woman's Own.

She bagged her first magazine job in 2009 and has previously written for titles including Stylist, Closer and Dare. Over the years Charlie has embraced anything that was thrown at her from styling celebrities to testing out the best jeans on the high street to writing about must-have beauty buys.

With a weakness for a printed midi dress, Charlie is on a mission to shop more sustainably and loves finding new ethical brands and second-hand buys.