Dressed to Impress: Footwear and Consumerism in the 1980s is the latest large-scale exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum that takes a historical retrospective look back at what people were wearing on their feet back in the days of big hair and big shoulders. It opens on November 1, 2023 and runs until March 16, 2025.

The Museum will transform the gallery space into a 1980s-inspired shopping mall, taking visitors back in time to experience the full effect of the decade.The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication to be released in spring 2024.

Exhibition highlights:

  • The first exhibition curated by Nishi Bassi, Curator and Exhibitions Project Manager, at the Bata Shoe Museum
  • Features 80 pairs of shoes organized into six themes: Dressed for Success; Work Hard, Play Hard; Let’s Get Physical; Mainstream Rebels; Pump it Up; and Designer Highlights
  • The exhibition explores some of the biggest trends and brands of the decade, and how advertising encouraged consumption
  • The exhibition is set up as an 80s shopping mall complete with a mini movie theatre and food court 
  • The exhibition will feature some of the 1980’s most influential shoes including Nike Air Jordan Is, John Fluevog Winklepickers, Susan Bennis and Warren Edwards plus much more 

The global fashion market was valued at 1.53 trillion U.S. dollars in 2022. To understand today’s consumer habits, the Bata Shoe Museum is examining consumerism and self-expression by surveying a decade famous for its excess, the 1980s. 

The 1980s was a fascinating decade, where personal style was closely linked to the pursuit of success,” says Nishi Bassi, Curator and Exhibitions Manager at Bata Shoe Museum. “This exhibition explores some of the biggest trends and brands of the decade, and how advertising encouraged consumption. Visitors are invited to come to the exhibition to experience joyful nostalgia but also to think critically about how this decade continues to influence our consumer habits of today.”

Culturally, the 1980s were defined by conservative politics, globalization, and technological innovation. Self-improvement and the pursuit of individual success were strongly encouraged, and fashion was promoted as a way to both achieve and flaunt a successful career, a desirable body, and an enviable lifestyle. Shopping malls and mail-order catalogues, as well as advertisements in film, television, and music videos, encouraged materialism and fed a generation of consumers who were dressing to impress.

Not To Miss 

  •  NIKE AIR JORDAN Is: By the end of the 1980s, Nike was one of the most successful producers of athletic footwear. Much of its success can be attributed their new focus on basketball shoes and the signing of rookie Michael Jordan to the brand in 1984.
  • JOHN FLUEVOG WINKLEPICKERS: Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog released this pair of winklepickers, a type of footwear popular with Goth consumers, in the 1980s. Goth style was on the rise as musicians like Siouxsie Sioux, and the Cure helped set the sound and style for the genre. 
  • SUSAN BENNIS/WARREN EDWARDS ‘POWER’ PUMPS: New York-based designers Susan Bennis and Warren Edwards created this pair of show-stopping pumps. Their limited-edition styles were beloved by glamourous celebrities such as Cher and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis throughout the 1980s. The comic-book-like font of the ‘Pop’ and ‘Power’ is reminiscent of pop art, which had a revival in the early part of the decade.
  •  GUCCI LOAFERS: The Gucci horsebit loafer has remained a classic item of menswear since its invention in the 1950s. It was associated with an elite, wealthy consumer, as signified by the fine craftsmanship and equestrian-referencing metal snaffles across the vamps. These leather slip-ons were a popular choice among executives in the 1980s. By the early 2010s, they had earned the nickname “deal sleds” and were worn by ambitious bankers hoping to “close a deal.”
  • REEBOK FREESTYLE HI: Aerobics was one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise in the 1980s, especially among women. Sneakers with soft leather uppers were popular for this activity, and brands sought to capitalize on this trend. Reebok was the most successful, with the debut of their Freestyle in 1982. The original model was a high-top with two Velcro straps and glove leather uppers that were designed for flexibility. They were first released in white, but a slew of bright colours quickly followed. The Freestyle became one of Reebok’s best sellers, turning them into one of the most profitable producers of athletic footwear in this decade.

Exhibition Related Programming 

Throughout the exhibition run, the Bata Shoe Museum will host a variety of events suitable for all ages. Starting in 2024, the museum will launch an 80s classic film series along with more 80s-inspired workshops, talks, and panel discussions. To attend the free exhibition program, please register online at batashoemuseum.ca/events. 2023 highlights include: 

  • November 4th and 5th – Free Community Weekend including 1980s-inspired drop-in activities for the whole family such as Hands-on History, Totally 80s Shoebox Bingo, 80s Dance Workshop, and crafts for all ages. 
  • November 14th – The first of a monthly 80s theme trivia series kicks off. 
  • November 30th –  Vinyl Record Paint Night suitable for all skill levels.  

Dressed to Impress: Footwear and Consumerism in the 1980s opens November 1, 2023 and runs until March 16, 2025.

Bata Shoe Museum, 327 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The BSM offers free general admission every Sunday, and Indigenous visitors are always welcome for free. 

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With a growing international collection of nearly 15,000 shoes and related artifacts, the Bata Shoe Museum showcases 4,500 years of footwear history in four distinctive rotating galleries. Through the creation of its innovative exhibitions, the BSM strives to enlighten and entertain visitors of all ages. For every shoe, there’s a story.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.