Shoulder Pads In Time
Shoulder pads are a type of fabric-covered padding used in men’s and women’s clothing to give the wearer the illusion of having broader and less sloping shoulders. In men’s styles, shoulder pads are often used in suits, jackets and overcoats, usually sewn at the top of the shoulder and fastened between the lining and the outer fabric layer. In women’s clothing, their inclusion depends on the fashions of the day. Their use is particularly associated with clothing of the early 1940s and the 1980s. Although from a non-fashion point of view they are generally for people with narrow or sloping shoulders, there are also quite a few cases in which shoulder pads will be necessary for a suit or blazer in order to compensate for certain fabrics’ natural properties, most notably suede blazers, due to the weight of the material.
Shoulder pads originally became popular for women in the 1930s when
fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli included them in her designs of 1931, and the following
year Joan Crawford wore them in the film “Letty Lynton”. In the beginning, they were shaped
as a semicircle or small triangle, and were stuffed with wool, cotton or sawdust. They were
positioned at the top of the sleeve, to extend the shoulder line. A good example of this
is their use in “leg o’ mutton” sleeves, or the smaller puffed sleeves which were revived at
this time, and based on styles from the 1890s.
After World War II began in 1939, women’s fashions became increasingly militarised.
Jackets and coats in particular were influenced by masculine styles and shoulder pads became bulkier and were
positioned at the top of the shoulder to create a solid look. Dresses too were made with shoulder pads;
soon the style was universal, found in all garments excepting lingerie but tapering off later in the
decade after the war was over and women yearned for a softer, more feminine look.
During the late 1940s to about 1951, some dresses featured a soft, smaller shoulder pad with
so little padding as to be barely noticeable. Its function seems to have been to slightly shape the shoulder line.
During the 1950s and 1960s small padded shoulder pads appeared only
in women’s jackets and coats—not in dresses, knitwear or blouses as
they had previously during the heyday of the early 1940s.
Shoulder pads made their next appearance in women’s clothing in the early 1970s,
through the influence of British fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki and her label Biba.
Biba produced designs influenced by the styles of the 1930s and 1940s, and so a soft version
of the shoulder pad was revived. Ossie Clark was another London designer using shoulder
pads at the time. These styles did not, however, reach mainstream acceptance, and
so the popularity was relatively short lived.
During the early 1980s there was a resurgence of interest in the ladies’ evening wear styles of the
early 1940s: peplums, batwing sleeves and other design elements of the times were re-interpreted for a new market.
The shoulder pad helped define the silhouette and was reintroduced in cut foam versions, especially
in well-cut suits reminiscent of the WWII era. Before too long, these masculinized shapes were adopted by women
seeking success in the corporate world and became an icon of women’s attempts to smash the
glass ceiling, a mission that was added by their notable appearance in the TV series Dynasty.
As the decade wore on, shoulder pads became the defining fashion statement of the era, known
as power dressing and bestowing the perception of status and position onto those who wore them. They became
both larger and more ubiquitous—every garment from the brassiere upwards would come with its own
set of shoulder pads. To prevent excessive shoulder padding, velcro was sewn onto the pads so that
the wearer could choose how many sets to wear. By the end of the era, some shoulder pads
were the size of dinner plates. It was inevitable that as the cycle of fashion
turned, they would lose favour in the early 1990s.
The shoulder pad fashion carried over from the late 1980s with some popularity in the
early 1990s, but tastes were changing. Some designers continued to produce ranges featuring
shoulder pads into the mid-1990s, as shoulder pads were prominent in women’s formal
suits, and matching top-bottom attire, highly exampled in The Nanny. but the marketplace had
spoken—the styles now looked out of date and were shunned by the young and fashion-conscious.
Appearances were reduced to smaller, subtler versions augmenting the
shoulder lines of jackets and coats.
In the late 2000s, a resurgence of shoulder pads appeared on many runways, fashion
designer collections and became mainstream among many people who were interested in
fashion. By the 2009-2010 seasons shoulder pads had made there way in
the mainstream market again. In 2010 many retailers
like Wal-Mart had shoulder pads on at
least half of all womens tops
“Fashion is a tool… to compete in life outside the home. People like you better, without knowing why, because people always react well to a person they like the looks of.” ~Mary Quant