The '80s were a colorful time, to say the least. But among the neon polyester and crunchy, kinky bouffants, there was one trend that held a more serious message than “girls just wanna have fun.” Velcroed into all those chartreuse, Tommy Hilfiger sweaters and jaunty, prep blazers were shoulder pads—a bold artistic statement. But these straight–edged shoulder enhancers are making a comeback, and there is a bigger reason than just wanting a sharp, tailored look against the flowery, subtleness of spring.
This year’s spring New York Fashion Week brought patriotic stripes, ethereal (and scandy) tulle, and what Harper’s Bazaar is calling a “strong shoulder.” What exactly is a “strong shoulder?” Well, it goes beyond a simple rouche, or even a shoulder caked in rhinestones, or last season’s cold–shoulder. This year, jackets are being tailored to the nine, creating sharp, crisp lines in an almost tuxedo–like fashion. Everyone loves to look defined and accentuated, but the focus of today is the shoulder, with blazers cutting across from the neck at almost 90–degree angles, even going so far as to raise your shoulders an inch or so. Yves Saint Laurent has been trailblazing the runway with nods to '80s fashion, but there is a greater push towards this simple trend than the simple endless cycle of fashion. Sure peplums, graphic designs, and oversized–sweaters will always be moving in and out of vogue. But when it comes to shoulder pads, or the “strong shoulder,” I say in response to them being passé: Time’s Up.
To fully understand why shoulder pad–esque style is back with a passion, we have to go back to how the trend rose to popularity back when things were pretty in pink and there was a club for breakfast. Back in the 1980s, women were joining the workforce, and they were proud about it. A rise in estrogen in the office subsequently meant a rise in female office wear that evoked the power and leadership these women took on. They needed clothes to match this new role. No longer would women be relegated to secretary positions in flouncy, pastel skirts. Women adapted men’s fashion, making it their own. What did they borrow from men’s suits? Shoulder pads. The office wasn’t just for men anymore, and fashion was taking note. The added tailoring around shoulders made women feel powerful, reimagining femininity in a way that was strong and assertive. The working woman was everywhere, and everyone was taking note. Just look at iron–lady Margaret Thatcher taking over Great Britain in her padded shoulder suits.
But what does Working Girl have to do with today’s Madam Secretary world? Everything. Fall of 2017 ended with a bombardment of #MeToos, an act of solidarity that is continuing to grow across a community of women and beyond. Finally, women have a platform and the confidence to come out with the truth about sexual assault or harassment and their personal traumas. As hundreds of women come forward in the post–Weinstein world, the Time’s Up movement has penetrated our culture these past few months. One of eye–catching way to show support is through fashion. The very place where women have been overtly objectified has now turned into a stage for social awareness. We see celebrities turning in red–carpet–ready silvers, golds, and reds for somber black in a show of support for the victims. As women everywhere are gaining confidence and newfound tenacity, designers have once again caught up to the endeavors of women. Thus, the shoulder pad was reborn—just as a “strong shoulder.”
This time, the confidence in women exemplified in shoulder pads will not go out of style (though the Frankenstein shoulders themselves may go out of style soon). If it makes you feel like Margaret Thatcher or Miranda Priestly or Viola Davis, then by all means wear it. Time is up and this manifestation of confidence is back in style.