As a teenager in the 1980s, I treasured my neon pink skinny tie from Esprit. I wore it with my Day-Glo Jellies pumps and certainly imagined I was bringing NYC street cred to my rural junior high school. I had no idea that neon was retro even then: an homage to the psychedelic 1960s—the era of black light posters and lava lamps, A-line jumpers from Courreges that were just one shade shy of safety orange and pop art master Andy Warhol's signature use of neon paint in his now museum-quality prints.
In the post-punk '80s, neon was new wave's way of distinguishing itself. By adding a shock of neon, the basic black uniform became a bold futuristic statement—cyberpunk. The neon trend filtered down to the malls, where suburban kids saw it as edgy bubblegum (actually, you could say Bubblicious gum, Pop Rocks and Nerds were neon candies, right?). And there was nothing like a neon tube dress or bathing suit to show off your Hawaiian Tropic or sunbed tan to its best advantage, a look still popular in many parts of Florida.
But the '80s trend started in NYC, with Stephen Sprouse making neon Vogue-ready separates for fashionistas who never tanned. Sprouse's neon masterpieces included a camouflage print coat of acid pink, chartreuse and safety orange for fashion icon Debbie Harry (see the cover of her 1986 album, Rockbird), who also favored the occasional neon wig to offset her classic black Ray-Ban shades.
Pictured: Dress Belt by Michael Kors in neon pink ($225 at NeimanMarcus.com), See by Chloe's Knitted Tank Dress in neon orange wool-blend ($198 at TheOutnet.com) and New Simple Patent Pumps by Christian Louboutin in neon yellow ($491.55 at MyTheresa.com)