Kate Moss could rock up in a bin bag with a banana peel for a broach and we’d still flock to the shops to imitate the look. It takes some extra-terrestrial beauty to take an item of clothing we wouldn’t usually be found dead in and turn it into the next season’s must-have.
Before Kate, there were the Spice Girls with their platform trainers, Madonna with her underwear as outerwear, and before that, there was Jane Fonda.
In a decade that was obsessed with hard bodies, health and exercise, Fonda was the reigning queen. Daughter of actor Henry Fonda, Jane started out as a model, but quickly won over audiences with her roles in films like Barbarella and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and quickly established herself as a sex symbol. Cashing in on her body and previous experience as a ballerina, Fonda released Jane Fonda Workout in 1982, which sold 17 million copies and was the first in a series of an impressive 23 videos, 5 books, and 13 audio programs, carving out a second, equally successful career.
Knowing we could never get anywhere near her angelic perfection, we conveniently settled for the next best thing: Jane’s body-hugging lycra leggings with contrasting thong leotard, waist-cinching belt, colourful headband and, last yet anything but least, leg warmers. And Fonda wasn’t the only poster child for this look back in the 80s, as actress/singer Olivia Newton John and 80′s breakfast television show TV.AM’s workout guru ‘Mad Lizzie’, aslo made it their own, with the video for Olivia’s hit record Physical giving her the perfect excuse to get totally ‘lycra-ed’ up!
And with films like Fame, Flashdance and Footloose drawing huge audiences, leg warmers were the epitome of theatre school cool. We truly believed we were just a pair of thick-knitted ankle tubes away from breaking into a perfectly choreographed and harmonised song and dance in the school’s cafeteria. Of course, we soon discovered that a pair of leg warmers has no effect nor use to anyone not continually stretching and flexing, and despite a short resurgence mid-nineties, they have since been banned to fashion’s fancy dress section.
If leg warmers were the only trend coming out of the 80s’ aerobics craze, we would probably think back on that time with more fondness than shame. Unfortunately, the most unforgiving of all unforgiving fabrics – spandex – managed to creep into the limelight. Let me tell you, for once and for all, spandex only looks good on dancers with buns of steel and virile rockers in the prime of their life. If you’re not in one of those two exclusive categories, step away from the lycra. It is just not that into you.
Jane Fonda’s bottom was impeccable, and who doesn’t remember MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This video in which three girls work their tight, spandex-clad booties choreographically bouncing bum bags? No wonder we all succumbed.
However 80s r&b star Bobby Brown’s bad decision to sport a pair of unflattering black cycling shorts, complete with red socks and black dress shoes, in the video for Every Little Step, is up there with the moment he figured taking drugs was a good idea! And let’s not get started on Mr Motivator!
A Marmite-like relic of our childhood, bicycle shorts made a very brief fashion comeback as an addition to flirty summer dresses two season’s ago, but nobody really fell for it. Even Jane Fonda knows better: in her 2010 comeback exercise video Prime Fit the now 72-year old still wears a tight-fitted top and her signature belt, but has traded the lycra for a pair of plain, black fitness trousers – without leg warmers. And when the trend-setting legend herself says it’s over, believe me, it is over.
By Janneke de Jong