Words by Mikelah Rose
As dancehall deejays elevated their lyrics to another level in the 1980s, they also elevated their style game. In addition to being able to toast with the best of them, you had to step out on stage correct lyrically and stylistically, because commanding a dancehall crowd was–and still is –no easy task. The ’80s were a fashion era that we look back at and say, “What were they thinking!?!” but then again, fashion is all about self-expression. Like they say in the dancehall, “Style ah style an style cyan spoil!” The ’80s were filled with Kangols, gold chains and blazers with extra shoulder padding–as the era progressed, the clothes got bigger and more colorful, and gold accessories were in excess.
You can see the transition from the early to late 80s in these pics of one of the decade’s defining artists, Barrington Levy, as he graduates from a tweed cap to a fedora and trades in his button-down linen shirt for a black double breasted suit. Notice how his gold chain doubles in size!
The late Gregory Isaacs wasn’t called the “Cool Ruler” for nothing. Always suited up in two- or three-piece suits, the reggae crooner’s tilted felt fedora became a staple in album covers and performances. While Isaacs was rocking his signature look back in the ’70s, it was in the ’80s that his style truly became iconic.
Super Cat was probably the smoothest of them all! Always donning a crisp suit and gold chain (he wouldn’t start rocking a bandana, the signature piece of his ’90s crossover era look, until later), The Wild Apache’s smooth style was clearly a hit with the ladies.
Representing for the ladies, Shelly Thunder migrated from Jamaica to New York City in the 1980’s so her style was heavily influenced by the street trends of door-knocker earrings and high top sneakers. She often showcased two sides to her style: She could be uber feminine in her lycra-fitted dresses, or dressed down in a pair of long shorts
Keeping up with the men of the ’80s, dancehall divas Sister Charmaine, Lady G, Lady P and Patra all represent their personal style in this clash at Sting 1989. Sister Charmaine stands out the most with her fiery red mushroom cut, which complimented her boastful feminine side, while her white sweatsuit gave her an androgynous edge. The other ladies definitely brought their own style, a reflection of their personalities at this particular time: The cantankerous Lady P’s tube dress with ruffles and flats; Lady G’s mustard colored, wide-legged pant suit trimmed with fringes and gold buttons. A pre-”Queen of the Pack” Patra looks slightly subdued in all black polyester harem pant suit. Notice the cuts in the eyebrows! Although we’re talking about fashion, this clash between the ladies on stage is a lyrical treat.
Stay tuned for the bare-as-you-dare days of the 90’s—aka the era of the Dancehall Queen!