Totally 80s: Denise Huxtable/The Cosby Show

Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)


List item #32 from 53 Things Only 80s Girls Can Understand

The unrivaled style icon that was Denise Huxtable.

Don’t ask me how, but it works. (Though if you did ask me, I’d say it’s the shape that make the outfit work.)

I’m not afraid to say it. I was, and still am an unabashed fan of The Cosby Show. I watched the show religiously from its first, now-classic episodes when the Huxtables were in their odd little apartment/house until the appearance of young Olivia near the turn of the decade. Once high school was in full swing, I kept up with the show irregularly and mostly through summer re-runs. Though the show ended in 1992, I caught at various points during its afterlife in syndication and had a particularly nostalgic run with the Cosbys when the show was picked up by Nick At Night some ten or twelve years ago.  I’ve read and heard all the bad things people have had to say about the show over the years, and I just don’t give a damn about any of it. I love The Cosby Show. Period.

Totally classy!
She made animal print look totally classy! That’s not an easy thing to do, mind you.

One of the things that consistently fascinated about the show was the idea of having older siblings and how that affected a family’s dynamic. While I related closely to the relationship between the youngest Rudy and the next oldest Vanessa, because they were similar in age to that of me and my sister, the older kids of the Huxtable clan were more like cool, nonchalant upperclassman. The kids that would maybe hang out with me if I was in the right place at the right time, or probably just ignore me like everyone else. And I will say that in all that coolness, the fashion sense of Denise Huxtable was not lost on me. In fact, seeing what Denise would show up in next was one of the highlights of the show. And if there was one element of myself that I saw in Denise, it was that it took time for her to develop her own unique style.

Even when she wasn't dressed up, she was still dressed up.
Even when she wasn’t dressed up, she was still dressed up.

Early 80s Denise was pretty typical of what you saw not only on other TV shows but also in real life, in the malls and at school. Girls with big hair and bigger sweaters. Baggy mixed with tight. Colors mixed with neutrals. Floral mixed with everything. As the show went on, her style became more ostentatious and outrageous (though still very much in keeping with the times). Her clothing soon became something of a running but subdued joke on the show — no teenager anywhere, ever, is safe from the occasional ribbing (good-natured or otherwise) for his or her parents. That evolution in style defined my life as well. I started high school looking like everyone else and ended it as one of the few kids wearing bell bottoms and platform shoes. I can’t say that I was directly influenced by Denise’s style per se, but her “no fear” attitude when it came to clothing was certainly something I picked up on, if subliminally.

Oh, and big jackets. How could I forget about the BIG JACKETS?!
Oh, and big jackets. How could I forget about the BIG JACKETS?!

There are few 80s sitcoms that I’d sit through today. Family Ties, probably. Who’s the Boss, maybe. But give me a full day with nothing to do but watch The Cosby Show, and I’m in heaven. The show remains one of the most heartfelt and funniest sitcoms ever made, and people today continue to try to capture (unsuccessfully) that which made it special. Part of that was how it depicted the growth and upheavals experienced by a family over several years. Though one could probably apply loose stereotypes to the characters, none of them fit a standard mold. The smart children made dumb mistakes. The scholarly parents sometimes had no clues. And the family as a whole was both typical and atypical. The Huxtables lived a routine and jumbled life just like many families.

As her most "normal?"
As her most “normal?” Also, big print shirts? I had a few…dozen.

While I’d probably argue that it was the next to youngest child Vanessa who experienced the most striking transformation during the show’s run, Denise wasn’t far behind in that regard. Though she was never strictly defined by her daring and ever-changing style, it definitely told her story in a way that was beyond words. The Cosby Show never beat you over the head with “Look at what Denise is wearing this week…isn’t it CRA-ZEEE?!” any more than it did with “Look at the trouble Theo/Rudy/Vanessa got into this week…isn’t it CRA-ZEEE?!” (Though the fact that these nice kids did get into trouble regularly was always enjoyable to watch.) That keen eye for subtlety in visual storytelling was definitely something that set The Cosby Show apart of other sitcoms of the time.




  1. Growing up in the rural South, Denise Huxtable gave me some really eye-opening feelings as a kid. She’s just such a beautiful lady! And not white. Mind was blown in my ignorant, racist youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, score one for the Cosbys. 🙂 I can’t quite relate to your experience, however, I do recall a time as a kid watching the show with my Mom and asking her why everyone on the show was different “colors.” (So cringe-worthy. But to me, my family all looked the same shade of beige.) She didn’t really answer my question but instead lightly chastised my use of words. Yet in the end she explained that their skins tones didn’t matter because they were family. Score another one for Cosbys right there.


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