80s Men’s Hair Revisited: Pop Culture & the Icons

The Fashionisto

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Updated January 19, 2024

Nikki Sixx Tommy Lee Motley Crue 1984 Big HairPin
Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee of heavy metal band Mötley Crüe showcase rebellious 80s men’s hair. Photo: IMAGO / Future Image

Step into the electric vibrance of the 1980s. This era turned hair into a canvas of self-expression, where each lock spoke volumes about who you were and aspired to be.

80s men’s hair wasn’t just a footnote but the headline in this kaleidoscopic decade’s fashion narrative. The battlefield of 80s fashion for men was not just in the clothes; it was elevated to the very top of one’s head, setting the stage for a continuing discourse in men’s style.

80s Men’s Hair: Popular Styles

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Embracing the charm of the 1980s, a man wears coiffed waves and a vibrant smile. Photo: iStock

Hairstyles like the mullet and sleek pompadour were badges of personal expression. Icons like David Bowie and Tom Cruise helped turn the decade’s hairdos into cultural landmarks.

To understand the impact of 80s men’s hair is to decode a language of fashion that still speaks to us. Whether you’re drawing on the past for a retro vibe or interpreting these styles in a modern context, recognizing their historical significance adds a layer of depth to your own sartorial choices.

Mullets

Patrick Swayze Mullet Road House 1989Pin
The mullet wearing Patrick Swayze takes up the lead as John Dalton in 1989’s Road House. Photo: IMAGO / Album

The mullet was a bold hairstyle that carved out its niche between the conventional and the rebellious, even offering memorable versions for those with curly hair.

With shorter locks framing the face and a cascade of longer strands down the back, the mullet defined an era, giving us memorable versions like the rat-tail mullet, which left a narrow strip of hair elongated at the back.

How to Get the Look: Grow your hair evenly to achieve a modern mullet. Once long enough, consult with a stylist to shorten the front and sides while leaving the back long.

Add some flair to your look with curls or waves at the back, much like Patrick Swayze’s iconic style in Road House. His hairstyle comes straight from the late 80s and embodies the fearless spirit of the era.

Although a product of the early 90s, Billy Ray Cyrus’ standout mullet taps into the same boldness. Both looks show that taking a risk with your hair can reveal a lot about your style.

Punk Look

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GBH frontman Colin Abrahall shows off his blond spiky hairstyle in a 1986 concert. Photo: IMAGO / BRIGANI-ART

The punk look of the 80s was a siren call to rebel, defying the norm with bold spikes, vivid hair colors, and iconic styles like the liberty spike—hair jutting toward the sky, frozen in place with gel and hairspray.

How to Get the Look: To make a statement with a punk look, consider a haircut that creates contrast: shorter sides with a lengthier top. A generous helping of strong-hold gel or wax will help you achieve those defiant spikes or an exaggerated mohawk.

Take inspiration from the 80s legends: Billy Idol’s sunlit spikes or the razor-sharp mohawks of GBH.

Feathered Hair

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John Stamos makes the quintessential 80s statement with a feathered mullet. Photo: IMAGO / Album

Feathered hair swayed through the 80s, bringing a liberating blend of volume and soft, flowing layers. This hairstyle evoked a sense of lightness as if every strand was in a gentle dance with the wind.

How to Get the Look: The secret to feathered hair is in regular trims and layers, which are vital for keeping the volume and form. Employ a round brush during a blow-dry to sculpt the feathery edges. John Stamos sported a mullet-tinged version of feathered hair in Full House, proving this style’s versatility.

The Quiff

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Singer George Michael was well-known for his stylish quiff hairstyle. Photo: University of Houston Digital Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The quiff held its ground in the 80s as a stylish choice. This hairstyle showcased longer hair atop the head, artfully styled upwards, resembling a voluminous, modern pompadour.

How to Get the Look: Start by applying a volumizing product to damp hair, then blow-dry while lifting the roots with a brush. Use another brush to sweep your hair upwards and backward, securing the gravity-defying look with a finishing spray.

Look no further than icons like George Michael and Huey Lewis for quiff inspiration.

Pompadour

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Actor Antonio Banderas rocked a trendy pompadour in 1988’s Baton Rouge. Photo: IMAGO / Album

In the 80s, the pompadour reflected its rock-and-roll roots while adding a touch of sophistication. This hairstyle featured voluminous top hair, smoothly transitioning into slicked-back sides, often styled into a defining wave at the front.

How to Get the Look: Grow the hair on top to a significant length while keeping the sides short. Use a high-hold styling product and comb it through, elevating the front for that signature lift.

Look at Antonio Banderas for some 80s pompadour motivation.

Slicked-Back Style

Michael Douglas Slicked Back Hair 1987 Wall StreetPin
Michael Douglas slicked his hair back for his iconic portrayal of Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street. Photo: IMAGO / United Archives

The slicked-back hairstyle epitomizes 80s suave, making men look effortlessly polished. It created an aura of refinement, almost cinematic in its smoothness.

How to Get the Look: Start with damp hair and apply a liberal amount of pomade or gel. Employ a fine-toothed comb to draw your hair back, ensuring the finish is sleek without a strand out of place.

If 80s chic is your vibe, consider emulating the timeless styles of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or Gordon Gekko from Wall Street.

Hair in the Workplace

The 1980s challenged traditional norms, even in the corporate environment. Gone were the days when short back-and-sides were the only acceptable office look.

A mild form of rebellion surfaced through business mullets and textured styles that tiptoed the line between corporate and creative. This new latitude signaled a shift in workplace culture, where individuality began to hold value alongside productivity.

Pop Culture Icons & Their Hairstyles

David Bowie’s Pompadour Mullet

David Bowie Pompadour Mullet 1987Pin
David Bowie sported his trademark mullet at a 1987 music festival. Photo: Jo Atmon via via Wikimedia Commons

Regarding the intersection of music and fashion, David Bowie remains a legend. His pompadour mullet hairstyle is iconic, capturing the spirit of the 70s and the 80s. If you want to recreate this style, here’s how.

How to Get the Look: First, you’ll need to get the proper cut. Ask your barber to leave the hair on the top of your head longer while cutting the sides and back shorter. Make sure your hair is clean and towel-dried before you start styling.

Rub a dime-sized amount of strong-hold styling gel or pomade between your palms to warm it up. Apply the product to your hair, focusing mainly on the top and crown area.

Next, use your fingers or a comb to lift and shape the hair on the crown of your head. Push it upwards to give it volume and create that distinctive pompadour shape.

To finish, use hairspray to ensure the style stays in place throughout the day.

Pro Tip: For an extra touch of Bowie flair, consider adding a streak of bold color like electric blue or vibrant red. This will elevate your pompadour mullet from a hairstyle to a statement.

Michael Jackson’s Jheri Curl

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Michael Jackson sports his signature jheri curl in 1985. Photo: IMAGO / agefotostock

The Jheri curl, made famous by Michael Jackson, was a popular hairstyle in the 80s. Known for its glossy, defined curls, this hairstyle exuded elegance and sophistication.

How to Get the Look: To achieve a Jheri curl, start with slightly damp hair and apply a curl activator or curl-defining cream. Comb the product through your hair, ensuring it is evenly distributed.

Allow your hair to air dry, or use a diffuser attachment on your hair dryer to enhance the curls. Iconic examples of the Jheri curl in the 80s include MJ’s luscious curls in the music video for Thriller and Lionel Richie’s suave look on album covers.

Billy Idol’s Punk Spikes

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Billy Idol performs in leather with his iconic bleached spiked hair in 1986. Photo: IMAGO / teutopress

Billy Idol, the punk rock icon of the 80s, sported a signature hairstyle that perfectly embodied the rebellious spirit of the era. His edgy and daring punk spikes symbolized a breakaway from traditional hairstyles.

How to Get the Look: To achieve Billy Idol’s spiked hair, start with short and textured hair. Apply a styling gel or mousse and work it through your hair, focusing on the top and front sections. Use your fingers or a comb to create spikes by gently pulling the hair upward.

For an authentic Billy Idol-inspired look, consider using temporary hair color spray to add bold streaks of color to your spikes. This will give your hairstyle an even more rebellious punk rock vibe.

Influence of Fashion Trends on Hair

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Fashion and hair walked hand-in-hand during the 1980s with one influencing the other and vice versa. Photo: atlantic-kid / iStock

The 1980s were a kaleidoscope of bold fashion, and men’s hairstyles were no exception. Outfits brimming with neon, leather, and band logos inspired a wave of daring hair trends. A culture of excess led to hairstyles that defied gravity, capturing the era’s “go big or go home” attitude.

Acid-washed jeans unleashed a rock-inspired look, manifesting in long, rebellious tresses. Leather jackets, meanwhile, heralded edgier styles such as shaved sides and spiky tops—each strand a quiet revolution against the polished leather backdrop.

Vivid neon clothing found its counterpart in kaleidoscopic hair streaks. Men turned their heads into vibrant palettes, a bold extension of their colorful ensembles.

Hair Culture

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Sebastian Bach and Rachel Bolan of Skid Row open for Mötley Crüe in 1989. Photo: Jamie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Music genres spoke through hair, weaving a complex tapestry of cultural identity. From the untamed locks of heavy metal fans to the sleek styles of new wave enthusiasts, hair became an unspoken badge of musical allegiance in a decade defined by its spirited individuality.

In the grand tapestry of the 1980s, hair was a canvas reflecting broader cultural shifts. The introduction of MTV transformed how we consumed music and fashion, making stars auditory and visual icons.

Skateboarding culture, fresh on the suburban scene, made unkempt and longer styles a nod to street freedom. As grunge music heralded, the dynamic and the raw, hairstyles shifted towards the undone and unpretentious.

The influence of Japanese pop culture and anime also began subtly infiltrating the Western style narrative, with its vibrant color palettes and exaggerated forms.

The Rise of Hip-Hop

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Will Smith sports a flat top hairstyle as he poses with DJ Jazzy Jeff in 1988. Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The 1980s were a formative chapter in men’s hair, marked by the rise of hip-hop culture. Originating from the streets of New York City, hip-hop didn’t just permeate the airwaves—it redrew the lines of fashion and personal expression.

This urban symphony found its visual reflection in bold hairstyles, with the high-top fade taking center stage. Styled with short sides and a towering crown, this look became a hallmark of individuality, donned by music icons and ordinary men.

Beyond the high-top fade, the era gave us hair as a canvas. Men began to etch intricate designs into their shaves, turning simple cuts into art. Whether simple or elaborate, these patterns gave a nod to the era’s celebration of self-expression.

Fashion Magazines, TV Shows & Movies

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Tom Cruise tackles the role of a lifetime as Maverick in 1986’s Top Gun. Photo: IMAGO / Album

In the ’80s, fashion magazines like GQ and Esquire weren’t merely ink on glossy paper; they were sartorial compasses. Their editorials offered not just inspiration but actionable guides, turning the page on men’s hair from the every day to the iconic.

The influence wasn’t limited to print. TV shows like Miami Vice and The A-Team took the visual dialogue to America’s living rooms. The carefully coiffed hair of these shows’ protagonists became the gold standard of confidence and sophistication, shaping trends far beyond the small screen.

Cinematic culture also weighed in. Films such as Top Gun and Back to the Future made their characters’ hairstyles almost as memorable as their one-liners. These screen heroes ascended to the echelon of ultimate cool, setting a bar many men aspired to reach.

Thus, men found themselves in the stylist’s chair, armed with magazine clippings. Whether motivated by print or screen, they were united in the quest to translate pop culture into a personal style, all via the statement-making medium of hair.

Nostalgia & Retro Trends

1980s Inspired Style MenPin
1980s-inspired style is making a comeback with an emphasis on bold prints. Photo: iStock

Today, the sartorial ripples of the ’80s resurface, captivating a new generation and those searching for nostalgia. From the past’s bold patterns and electric colors, the most dramatic echoes are found in men’s hairstyles.

The renewed infatuation with mullets, pompadours, and permed tresses is more than a tribute; it’s an evolution. Contemporary influences like K-pop have breathed life into ’80s staples like perms, proving the decade’s global reach.

Technology & Products

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Troye Sivan wears a mullet hairstyle for his 2020 music video Easy with Kacey Musgraves. Photo: Screencap / Universal Music Australia Pty Ltd.

The renaissance of ’80s men’s hair is empowered by an arsenal of hair care products once quintessential to that audacious decade. After all, the boom of haircare technology in the eighties—thanks to innovative mousses, gels, and hair sprays—allowed for a level of stylization hitherto unimaginable.

Brands like Aqua Net became household names, while new inventions like the diffuser attachment facilitated curly and wavy styles without frizz. These products became the invisible artists behind the decade’s towering hair sculptures, making the hair both the medium and the message.

Mousse and gel are not artifacts but the architects of textured, voluminous coiffures that defy gravity and time. Today’s influencers on platforms like Instagram and TikTok wield these tools, crafting modern iterations of iconic looks.

Entertainment & Social Media

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Playing Eddie Munson in Stranger Things, Joseph Quinn sports a long shaggy hairstyle inspired by rock legends such as Eddie Van Halen. Photo: Netflix

Adding to the enthusiasm, the on-screen universe has opened portals to this vintage aesthetic. Shows like Stranger Things are introducing younger audiences to styles like the mullet, blurring the line between past and present.

It’s a two-way dialogue between eras, punctuated by neon hues and unconventional palettes, the elements that once made ’80s men’s hair a vibrant tapestry of self-expression. In this cyclical fashion journey, ’80s men’s hair is a nuanced revival that mirrors the original decade’s call for individuality and artistic flair.

80s Hair Revival

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Stranger Things star Joe Keery inspired with his modern take on the mullet. Photo: Jean_Nelson / Deposit Photos

With platforms like social media as the new word-of-mouth, current shows and music reignited the ’80s hair ethos. Now, it’s not just recreated but reimagined.

A hybrid era is upon us, where the audacity of the ’80s merges with today’s boundless possibilities. Although the ’90s saw the decline of ’80s extravagance in favor of grunge and minimalism, these styles are rising again, reborn through a new generation enamored with vintage aesthetics.

The comeback is characterized by softer, more ironic interpretations that capture nostalgia and audacity.


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