Fashion FASHION

Shell Suits

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.


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Do You Remember Shell Suits?

Do You Remember Shell Suits?

  • Anonymous user
    on
    If you were a sixth former in the early '90s, and if you went to a sixth form or to a college where you could wear what you liked, a shellsuit jacket with jeans (or maybe with a dress or skirt for the girls) was almost like a kind of unofficial uniform for sixth formers.
  • Anonymous user
    on
    I've had several of them over the years, though I've always tended to wear the jackets more than the bottoms. The last few days when I've been out for a walk I've worn my plain turquoise Puma shellsuit jacket and almost matching green puma bottoms, and I've also taken my dark blue, purple and yellow Hi-tec jacket with me to wear on top when it gets cooler in the evening as I'm on my way home. Yes, one shellsuit jacket on top of another one! Some shellsuit jackets, like PUMA ones, had cotton on the inside of the sleeves, and some, like Hi-tec and Rucanor ones, had nylon on the inside of the sleeves. Cotton didn't feel so hot to wear in really warm weather or indoors, but nylon would slip off your sleeves more easily when you took it off.
  • SpiralCoolStuff
    on
    Oh maaan, i used to have 2, a pink one and a blue one. Back then they were cool, but now its like....did i really wear those??? o_O
  • SpiralCoolStuff
    on
    I used to have 2, i think. One was pink and the other was blue....if i remember rightly mine kinda fell apart after a while...
  • sandie76
    on
    I went on and on about wanting a shell suit and eventually got one. It wasn't a well known brand name one so I was a bit embarrased by that, but it was black with yellow and green stripes over the front, arms and at the bottom of the trousers. Thought the jacket was quite smart, but rarely wore it as a two-piece. This was around 1989 I owned one. Don't think I've got any photos to cringe at.
  • Anonymous user
    on
    Has any one got a shell suit that i can buy for a fancy dress party next week PLEASE
  • Anonymous user
    on
    omg, I'm only 15 and never saw people wearing these, however, I saw one in a thrift store, photographed it and referred to it as a "starfish suit", which I coined myself. Very close to the actual "shell suit" I would say. Haha!
  • Anonymous user
    on
    There used to be a joke at the time: Q. How do you know the Bride at a Scouser wedding? A. Shes the one in the white shell suit.
  • Anonymous user
    on
    i had 1 when i was 12 ish, stood to close to a bonfire and melted it to my footy socks didnt realise til i went to take it off
  • Anonymous user
    on
    I still own my Campri shell suit, it as navy blue bottoms and a navy blue top with a white stripe across the back and a green panel to the sleeves. I still wear it around the house. They are really comfy to wear and feel nice and silky to wear. BRING EM BACK but with sensible designs tho'. I also own 16 Adidas and Puma shell suit tops, all very 90's, when people see them they ask where did I get them from, as they want some of the Adidas designs.