22 Halloween Costumes Inspired By '80s Pop Culture

Ah, the 1980s. A time when no color was too bright, you couldn't have big enough shoulder pads, and the world was bursting with fun music, fun movies, and fun times.

As NBC news noted, the 1980s were "a modern Renaissance of creativity." MTV launched, blockbuster film series came to the big screen, music was everywhere (including Walkmans!), and fashion was eclectic. The era's pop culture has enjoyed a revival, reports NBC News, saying the "brash attitudes, bold color schemes, and cultural touchstones still resonate today because of the artistic forces [the era] unleashed and the social change it cemented."

In a decade where Jane Fonda released her famous "Workout" aerobics video, per History, there are tons of 1980s icons to channel for your Halloween costume. Neon workout gear is just the first dress-up idea for you!

Like A Virgin Madonna

At the first-ever MTV Video Awards in 1984, a new singer named Madonna performed her song, "Like A Virgin." Stepping off a wedding cake and rolling around on the floor, she made headlines and fans. As reported by Biography, Les Garland, MTV's former executive vice president of the programming, summed it all up: "She stole the show."

"Like a Virgin" spent six weeks at the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart, and Madonna has been an icon ever since, both in music and fashion. To recreate her famous MTV Video Awards look, a white wardrobe is essential. A tulle skirt, a white strapless top or lingerie, long gloves, lots of necklaces, and a bold belt will work.

Return of the Jedi

So many great characters! Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker were all stars of 1983's "Return of the Jedi," the hotly anticipated third film (in terms of movie release dates) in the "Star Wars" series. Film critic Roger Ebert reviewed the film, saying it was "a feast for the eyes and a delight for the fancy."

For Halloween, you can either go full-out with a full hairy costume for Chewbacca, or do something simpler like the black vest and white shirt of Hans Solo. Princess Leia's space buns are a braided crown in this movie, and you can either don a flowy dress, or go with the famous gold bikini worn by Carrie Fisher in the film.

Where's Waldo?

The first "Where's Waldo?" book hit bookshelves in 1987, with people everywhere trying to spot his face in illustrated crowds. Other books followed, and after the fourth was published, author Martin Handford had a record of 18.6 million copies sold worldwide, according to Entertainment Weekly.

A Waldo costume is easy to create, and always recognizable. Start with a pair of blue jeans and a red-and-white striped sweater, then add the trademark knit cap topped with a red pompon. You'll also need a pair of black, round glasses to complete the look.

The Princess Bride

Though the movie wasn't a box-office hit when it was released in 1987, per Variety, "The Princess Bride" became a cult classic thanks to the numerous ways people began to watch it from home (VCRs, DVDs, cable, etc.). The movie, says The New Yorker, found an audience with an "enthusiasm for the story, and, especially, for the many quotable moments."

If you're looking for a couple's costume, you can't get more romantic than Buttercup and Wesley. A sparkly dress and crown for the princess, and an all-black ensemble for her hero will meet your Halloween needs. As you wish.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody Whitney Houston

The 1980s were colorful and bouncy, and one of the best places to get all the feels and all the neon is in Whitney Houston's video for her 1987 hit song "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." Not only did it go straight to No. 1 at the time, per Billboard, but in January 2022, Houston's Facebook account posted the catchy tune had reached 6x Platinum.

Houston has multiple looks in the video, but her main costume is a purple tank dress and big 1980s hair. You'll also need to apply just about every color eyeshadow you own, with a heavy emphasis on fuchsia. A pair of multi-colored dangly earrings is also a must.

Ariel from The Little Mermaid

Going back to the original, "The Little Mermaid" movie was released in 1989, and, as reported by TIME, "this was the picture that launched the Disney Renaissance that soared with 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Aladdin,' and 'The Lion King.'" Yup, Ariel was the Disney heroine who kicked off the whole shebang.

For the classic Ariel look, you'll need to don a wig of long, red hair if you don't have your own. A shell bikini top is a must, too. For that mermaid tail, you can opt for a slim green skirt with a train for a modern twist you can walk in.

Blues Brothers

Jakes and Elwood were on a mission to raise money for an orphanage in the 1980 film "Blues Brothers," and the public was here for it. After its first weekend in theaters, it was second only to "The Empires Strikes Back," per Forbes.

The Blues Brothers have continued to live on in several incarnations (per their own website), but it's the stars of the original movie, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, who created the original iconic look. All you need for your Halloween costume is a black suit and tie, a hat, a pair of sunglasses, and a friend to be your partner in crime.

Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street

One, two... Freddy came for audiences for the first time in the 1984 film "Nightmare of Elm Street." Dubbed "the most famous scarred face in horror-movie history" by Rolling Stone, Freddy Krueger was literally the stuff of nightmares. SyFy ranked it as master writer and director Wes Craven's best movie, and Slant declared it "the most influential horror film of the '80s."

If scary is what you're after in a Halloween costume, Freddy Krueger is your guy. His tattered trademark red-and-green striped sweater is a must, as is the brown hat. A mask or creative makeup will help you create the scarred look, while a pair of gloves with a few modifications will finish the look.

The Golden Girls

Adweek called it "a cultural phenomenon that's resonated for nearly 40 years and will likely continue to do so for generations to come." They are, of course, talking about "The Golden Girls," the TV series about four sassy ladies sharing a Florida home that debuted in 1985.

With the mid-1980s in full swing, "The Golden Girls" characters, Sophia, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche fully embraced the fashion of the time, but with both a Florida and mature twist. For your Halloween costume, you'll want pantsuits in bright or pastel colors with big, big shoulder pads, big earrings, and lots of feathery, fluffy, hair.

Miami Vice

In 1984, the world was introduced to Crockett and Tubbs, two detectives chasing bad guys and doing it in style on the hit television show "Miami Vice." With fast action, and eye-candy scenery and characters, NBC's "Today" noted it "became a 1980s pop-culture sensation for its clothes, music, MTV glitz, and ambitious storytelling that brought big-screen flair to the small tube."

A great costume for a couple or a friend pair, you can each pick your favorite style. Crockett, played by Don Johnson, was all about loafers with no socks, and t-shirts paired with pastel suits. Tubbs, played by Philip Michael Thomas, was more conservative with classic suits, button-down shirts in black or pastel shades, and always a wildly patterned tie.

Alex from Flashdance

What a feeling! The movie "Flashdance" was released in 1983, the story of a welder by day, dancer by night. Besides giving actress Jennifer Beals her first movie gig, the film also produced several hit songs ("Flashdance ... What a Feeling" and "Maniac," per TIME), and was the third highest-grossing film of the year (via IMDb).

Your "Flashdance" Halloween costume will require the sacrifice of one sweatshirt. Cut around the collar to make the neck opening large enough to reveal one bare shoulder, then cut off the edges of the sleeves and roll them up a bit. Add a pair of leggings, and you're Alex.


Who you gonna call? In 1984, it was "Ghostbusters," a film about a team of scientists and regular guys who caught ghosts and saved New York City from an overgrown marshmallow man. It was the highest grossing film of the summer, and the second highest of the year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

To be a ghostbuster for Halloween, you'll need a khaki jumpsuit with a belt and a few patches. You'll also need a proton pack to catch ghosts, which you can fashion with cardboard or a backpack with hoses. As a bonus, you can either be a solo ghostbuster, or you can ask a few friends to join you for a group costume.

Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark

In 1981, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teamed up to introduce the world to a new adventure hero by way of the film "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" (via Lucas Film). A film review in the New York Daily News declared it "a delightfully special, big surprise package of a movie that should turn Indiana Jones into a national figure."

Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones is indeed a national figure, and you can be your own version of Indy for Halloween with a simple costume. A pair of khaki pants and a matching button-down shirt serve as the base — add a black jacket, a beaten-up hat, a satchel, and, of course, the hero's trademark whip.

Marty McFly from Back to the Future

The highest-grossing film of 1985, "Back to the Future" was an undeniable hit, showing in movie theaters for almost 40 weeks, according to USA Today. It was even nominated for four Academy Awards. A review in The Hollywood Reporter described the adventures of Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) as "fun at the speed of light, a whiz-bang time-travel adventure."

Marty's classic look throughout the film shows off the 1980s layering trend perfectly. For your Halloween costume, start with a maroon T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Next, throw on a button-down plaid shirt, topped off with suspenders. A denim jacket goes over that, and then a puffy vest. Got it all?

Rainbow Brite

If you want to send a Hallmark thank-you card to someone for the cheerful invention of Rainbow Brite, send it directly back to Hallmark. As explained by HuffPost, the character was "created as a way to break Hallmark into the licensing business [and] became a pop-culture icon and one of the most beloved properties of the 1980s."

As the "keeper of the galaxy's hope, light, and color," Rainbow Brite is indeed a colorful ball of cheer, and there are a lot of ways to design your Halloween costume. A blue dress with a rainbow patch, a rainbow-striped T-shirt or an arm full of colorful bracelets, and striped socks will all work, especially if you throw in a high pony-tail and a star sticker on your cheek.

The Karate Kid

Wax on, wax off. If you've ever watched "The Karate Kid," the original movie released in 1984, you're familiar with the phrase. And even if you've haven't seen this classic that's spurred multiple sequels and TV shows (per Deadline), you might still know about Daniel's cleaning and karate skills courtesy of Mr. Miyagi. Film critic Roger Ebert called "The Karate Kid" "one of 1984's best movies," and that's saying a lot, considering all the blockbuster flicks released in the summer of 1984 alone (via IndieWire).

You have two choices for a "The Karate Kid"-inspired Halloween costume: good guy or bad guy. If it's the hero you want to emulate, a Daniel costume would consist of a traditional white karate Gi and a blue-patterned headband. If you prefer the villain, you can dress as a Cobra Kai in a sleeveless black Gi and a mean face.