The Evolution Of Fashion Shoulder Pads

By | January 18, 2022

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Grace Jones rocked one of most iconic uses of 80s shoulder pads. crfashionbook

Perhaps more than any decade the 1980s defined strange fads, headlined by the Koosh ball, Cabbage Patch Kids, and of course, shoulder pads. While the origins of the scapular raising fashion statements began in the 1930s, they really rose to prominence during the era of excess. Shoulder pads represented equality and a women’s desire to move beyond the confines of “homemaker.”

Women entering male-dominated workplaces looked to fit in amongst their male counterparts, who sported suits the size of circus tents. At a time when a woman's desire to work still received criticism, “power suits” helped them fit in. Somehow that understandable desire for acceptance at work also made its way into Hollywood. Daytime soaps and sitcoms stars unveiled their linebacker-sized shoulders and the fad was on. This is the evolution of shoulder pads.

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Early 20th century shoulder pads were a bit different. witness2fashion


Ironically, the increasing size of shoulders in women’s clothing simply followed that of their male counterparts. In an attempt to look more manly and powerful, shoulder pads were sewn into coats and jackets starting in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the self-awareness of how ridiculous a scrawny man with shoulders around their ears still lay many years away. That growing suit jacket would eventually lead to something of an arms race for puffed-up shoulders.

Designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Marcel Rochas took that literal growing trend in men’s fashion across gender lines. In the same way men wanted to look more manly, designers attempted to change, hide, or emphasize other parts of the female form.

By borrowing from the surrealist art movement, designers toyed with women’s silhouettes, emphasizing new parts of a women’s body by enlarging others. Joan Crawford in “Letty Lynton” gave shoulder pads a splash on the silver screen. However, the look really went mainstream thanks to World War II.