Health and safety just wasn't the same in the 80s as it is now. For one, if it was kids would never have been allowed to wear shell suits... on bonfire night... while brandishing a sparkler. Cue the fire engines!
The shell suit was a pretty bizarre fashion statement, jumping on the leisure wear trend a la Flashdance. It was a trend that allowed people who blatantly never did any form of exercise to look like they did, and it came in the form of nylon waterproof trousers and a matching jacket.
Shell suits really hit it off in the mid-eighties and it was around that time that fluorescent materials were at the very peak of their popularity. This meant that all manner of different garish colours and fluorescent strips were thrown together and it really didn’t matter if it clashed or not – in fact, if it did clash that was all the better! And if your brothers and sisters all had matching shell suits, even better!
Although various manufacturers created different shell suits the principle of the design was always pretty much the same; the lightweight top featured a small, rounded collar with a full zip down the centre. The arms were generally puffy and it was preferable to have a shell suit that was slightly too big rather than have the elasticated wrists ride halfway up your forearm. If you wanted to ride the sleeves up on purpose though, that was OK! The arms would feature either brightly coloured strips down the side of them, or it was also possible to find jackets with fluorescent arrow-like computer generated designs down the front.
Of course, unless you wanted it to look like you were just wearing a nylon jacket then you simply had to have the matching trouser bottoms to complete the look, paired with a global hypercolour T-shirt, naturally. Based on the design of a jogging pant the loose trousers always featured an elasticated waist with elastic around the ankles. This was teamed up with a pair of ultra white socks and chunky white Reebok's or Nike's with the tongue out and you got the look! White sock fear just didn’t exist in those days – in fact Michael Jackson had made it positively fashionable to show off your white socks so it was preferable to position the elasticated ankle well above your ankle and puff the bottom of the nylon out slightly like a retro Aladdin. The beauty of separates was that you could mix and match, so if you wanted to wear the top with jeans (stonewash only though, please) or don the bottoms with just your global hypercolour T that was OK, too.
Even though a shell suit-donned figure would be more likely to be seen browsing the shelves of C&A or John Menzies rather than tearing around a hurdle track, the shell suit’s roots were firmly in the sportswear section. The elasticated waists and forgiving movement of the baggy bottoms were perfect for outdoors activities - Kris Akabusi for one loved them very much as he was able to lunge and run to his heart’s content without the fear of chaffing. Likewise, it was perfect for couch potatoes who had one too many Arctic rolls - because that's the beauty of elastic.