Shoulder pads (fashion)

Shoulder pads are a type of fabric covered padding used in mens and womens 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.


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" [Amy De La Haye 1988, Fashion Source Book, London, Quarto Publishing, 69, ISBN 0-356-15928-0] . In the beginning, they were shaped as a semi-circle 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 feature a smaller, soft shoulder pad that has so little padding it is barely there: its function seems to be to slightly shape the shoulder line.

1950s and 1960s

During the '50s and '60s 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 defined the silhouette and were 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 TV series Dynasty [Amy De La Haye 1988, Fashion Source Book, London, Quarto Publishing, 170, ISBN 0-356-15928-0] .

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 populous -- 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 80s with some popularity in the early 1990s but tastes were changing. Some designers continued to produce ranges featuring shoulder pads into the mid 90s 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 2007, shoulder pads reappeared in many fashion shows and along with other elements of 1980s ladies' wear, are believed to be making a comeback. It remains to be seen if they will meet or outdo the heights they reached during the late 1980s.


ee also

*1930-1945 in fashion
*1980s fashion

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