Shoulder pads add presence, confidence, and create the illusion of better posture. Why did they ever go away?
For me, confidence and shoulder pads are inextricably linked. I came to understand the power of a jacket with shoulder pads aged 17, when I was desperate to impress.
I was in a stew. I’d won a magazine competition to travel to Paris and meet my design hero Karl Lagerfeld. I was ridiculously excited to be invited but utterly flummoxed by one simple question: what to wear?
My teenage clothing options (denim, denim and more ripped denim) wouldn’t do. I wanted to look grown-up. For me, that meant tailoring. I gathered my savings and went shopping. I might have been a schoolgirl, but I recognized the power of a sharp shoulder as soon as I looked at myself in the changing room mirror. Like instant armor, the structure delivered a poise and posture that was not my natural lot.
Years later and the shoulder is back. After seasons of slouchy everything, from pandemic-appropriate athleisure wear to soft knits and wafty dresses, the style device that efficiently delivers power and glamor has returned. It’s like saying hello to an old friend.
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Of course, there are various degrees of shoulder pads about this winter – some more exaggerated than others. This winter the fashion world went mad for Anthony Vaccarello’s strong vision of how women might want to look. At Saint Laurent his overcoats and trouser suits were cut broad through the shoulders and slim through the hips, looking powerfully chic and altogether French.
At Versace, the enormous shoulders on a pink satin coat somehow managed to look mightily modern when mixed with a corset top and pinstripe skirt. At Dolce & Gabbana, a caricature of an hourglass silhouette stood out in orange. The huge shoulders and tiny waist paved the way for diluted variations on the theme.
Which brings us to how all that translates to real life. Look in the shops and you’ll see a variety of jacket styles built around varying degrees of pronounced shoulders. The Harris blazer, $699 from New Zealand brand Harris Tapper has an hourglass shape with strong shoulders, which make any waist seem smaller.
The Double Cloth blazer, $349 from Country Road, is a short slim style with sharp little shoulders. It’s neat and tidy and makes a great counterpoint to wide pants or baggy jeans. And Glassons’ oversized button front blazer, $90, illustrates the still-popular, borrowed-from-the-boys style; a loose body shape falling from softened, oversized shoulders.
But it’s not just jackets that benefit from today’s shoulder pads. Gigi Hadid recently pitched up at a party wearing a sheer slinky lime-green dress by the brand Self-Portrait with the kind of visible shoulder pads not seen since the days of Dynasty.
Why show off shoulder pads? Perhaps it’s the result of a new kind of body honesty. Look at Gigi. She’s not pretending. The pads simply lift her shoulder line and, like a superior coat hanger, bring some structure and emphasis to her natural shape. It’s an interesting approach.
“Shoulder pads are all about emphasizing femininity and adding a bit of wow,” says Kirsty White, the New Zealand manager of Carla Zampatti. The Australian label that specializes in powerful femininity combined with a healthy dose of Italian drama, is a proponent of shoulder pads, visible or not. “They elevate the shoulder, making proportions look incredible.”
Zampatti’s floaty georgette Divine Design shirt, $678 is a case in point. This slightly translucent top with its sculptural gold button that glints like a jewel, is lightly built up on the shoulders. Tucked into anything waisted and the va-va-voom effect is instantaneous.
Don’t underestimate the secret superpower of shoulder pads. As White points out, “They always add presence.”