We all have a lot of weight on our shoulders right now so you know what would help? Extra padding. Luckily those big shoulders that were the height of fashion in the 1980s are making a comeback for a myriad of reasons, one of which is they look great on a Zoom call. They just give you that Alexis Carrington-oomph. And let’s face it, no one messed with her.
Though the famous TV character portrayed by Joan Collins may have made those shoulder pads a household staple, they made their debut on women way back in the 1930s. The look was orchestrated by Elsa Schiaparelli in an attempt to make women’s waists look smaller (and if it meant not using a corset, women were probably all for it.)
Back then it was all about making a woman look more feminine and not more powerful. But when women back to work in the 1940s shoulder pads helped them take up a bit more space to compete with their male colleagues (who were, let’s be honest, mostly their bosses back then.)
The look was really honed in the 1980s when the shoulders truly gave a linebacker appearance to women as they stepped into the boardroom (think Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl.)
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was also known for nailing the power dressing look, complete with shoulder pads. Sophie Shaw wrote on the history of shoulder pads for CR Fashion Book, “As the first female Prime Minister, Thatcher assumed a traditionally male role, and thus used her dress to conform to accepted values. Much like the women of the late ’30s, Thatcher’s shoulder-padded suits offered a way for her to visually assimilate with the men she worked with and distance her femininity from her public office. More women followed suit as they began making strides into the upper echelons of corporate companies, and needed a way to simultaneously fit in and assert their power.”
In the 80s it was all about big hair and big shoulders. And now they are back on the runways of Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, or at least the shoulders are. Fashion icon Kate Middleton recently sported the look when she filmed a video in the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall.
Part of it is because bigger shoulders do evoke power, but in this scary day and age, they also offer protection. “It’s not about dressing like a man,” Meredith Markworth Pollack, the costume designer of the CW’s reboot of Dynasty told Town and Country. “It’s for women to feel their own strength and their own power.”
And similar to the big dresses that were so in fashion this summer and puffy sleeves, big shoulders give off of a strong socially distanced-vibe. They provide more personal space which is coveted more than ever now.