Shoulder it up

...an 80s keeper

by Becky Cope
Shoulder pads, peaked shoulders, boned shoulders. Do these phrases instil you with panic? Fear? Horror? Do they inspire 1980s flashbacks of Amazonian models, power women and excess? Well stop right there! Despite preconceived horrifying visions of big, bad hair with matching big, bad shoulders, the new shoulders are flattering and chic, and ultimately a modern rework on one of fashion’s boldest statement shapes. Get ready for the great shoulder invasion.

It all started a few seasons ago with a man called Christophe Decarnin, who decided that at Balmain, shoulders were going to be the thing. He put excessive shoulders into everything, and created the wide, peaked shoulders now synonymous with his line, shoulders that gave off the impression of soaring flight and intense sexual power. Balmain’s sequined party dresses oozed eighties glamour, sass and showmanship, providing both sexy statement pieces whilst at the same time demonstrating Decarnin’s craftsmanship talent.

The military jacket he created perfectly embodies the ethos behind the powerful but sensual shoulder, displaying the ultimate symbol of might and strength subverted to a feminine staple. You would be hard pressed to not play ‘spot-the-Balmain-jacket’ at the last season’s catwalk shows’ front rows. Even Michael Jackson was sporting the iconic piece! The shoulders on these jackets aren’t about military dictatorship à la Mussolini or Castro, but highlighting a towering shape to contrast with a delicate female body, and that’s why they have been so successful.

But where did all this shoulder action come from? After all, shoulder pads haven’t been spied for decades apart from in family photo albums of our childhoods. The eighties, as usual at the moment, are of course to blame. With the doom and gloom atmosphere of economic downturn, recession, unemployment and generally no money, designers are continually turning back to the bygone era of excessive wealth to attack our mental states with and inject a bit of positivism. How do they do this? By reminding us of brighter times, evoking glamourous lifestyles and a nostalgic look at what can only inevitably be ahead of us when the recession passes. It all began with the power dresses of Balmain (of course) and the bedazzled trend that picked up on the high street soon after, and has extended to the love of leotards, androgyny, MC Hammer pants, jelly shoes, acid wash- and now the big shoulder.

It is no surprise that the eighties are hot again. In the fashion world, lost decades always resurface in an endlessly reworking cycle – its like recycling on a massive sartorial scale, and is solidified in our current obsession with all things vintage. The current generation of designers were largely studying or cultivating their fashion tastes in the eighties, so it comes as no great shock that they want to reimagine that more inspirational and exciting time in their designs at the moment, transferring that optimism to today. Iconic designers of the period like Jean Paul Gautier can be seen referenced everywhere in the latest collections of Balmain, Louis Vuitton and Roksanda Ilincic, with their shoulder sculpting action and power dressing touches.

So who’s bearing the shoulders of the moment? As already stated, Louis Vuitton’s latest collection sported rounded, bubble shoulders on statement dresses, reminiscent of both power dressing business icons and forties housewives. The delicacy of the rounded shapes balanced out the powerful imbalance of towering top half and teeny tucked in waists, creating a beautiful, flattering and feminine figure. Roksanda Ilincic went the other direction completely, with her triangular shaped bodies framed by horizontal superhero shoulders.

With her vibrant and girly colour palate of pinks and turquoise, her pieces remain distinctly feminine with her fabrics too softening the look. Whether or not these will translate to the high street is difficult to forecast; but perhaps after all, that is why she chose to create them, in order to avoid the endless repetition of her designs as seen with Balmain on the high street.

Well what’s next then? In our seemingly-non-stop regurgitating of long lost fashion pieces of the eighties, we can only pray the perm isn’t next. Or anything Madonna wore during her Lucky Star period.