How shoulder pads have a made a comeback

How shoulder pads have a made a comeback

Fashion staple and icon of the Eighties, the shoulder pad is back in fashion


So just how big are your shoulder pads? That’s the question we used to ask back in the Eighties when everyone from Dynasty’s Joan Collins to Maggie Thatcher made us believe that the bigger the shoulder pad, the better. In the decades that followed we looked back and wondered what were we thinking! Now the shoulder pad question is back on the lips of young fashionistas as it returns to the fashion catwalks for Spring/Summer 2017. Here we take a look back at the history of the style, and discover it goes much further back than the Eighties…


Joan Crawford started it

For all that shoulder pads became iconic of the Eighties, their story actually started long before then.  Shoulder pads were initially invented for footballers in 1877, but they first came to prominence in clothes in the Thirties thanks to the designer Elsa Schiaparelli. One dedicated follower of fashion who picked up on the trend and made it her own was belle of the silver screen, Joan Crawford, who wore fantastic shoulder-outfits in the film Mildred Pierce.


A few years later, war rolled around and shoulder pads became more than just a fashion statement.  Women were coming out of the kitchen and going into previously male-dominated jobs to help king and country and suddenly their clothes needed to reflect their changing status. The masculine, solid silhouette of a shoulder pad was just the ticket. And what’s more, wide shoulders did amazing things to make your waist look teeny tiny. It was only after the war, when the soft, ultra- feminine style of Dior’s New Look took over that shoulder pads were given the cold shoulder in favour of slinky, floatier fashions.  


Did you know? In the Thirties and Forties, shoulder pads were sewn between the outer layer of the garment’s fabric and the lining and were often stuffed with wool, cotton or even sawdust.


Dress for success

After many decades gathering dust at the back of countless wardrobes, shoulder pads finally came back into vogue in 1979. The reason? The election of Margaret Thatcher for whom power-dressing shoulder pads were a key part of her fashion armoury to make her be taken seriously in a man’s world. Bianca Jagger’s collection of dapper white tuxedos with statement shoulders and nipped-in waists also showed big shoulders could be rebellious and racy enough for rock stars too. The fashions of Dynasty and Dallas then followed suit (quite literally) and the look was truly made hallowed by Mel Griffith’s shoulder show-stopper in the 1988 film Working Girl.


The power shoulder made a brief reappearance at the end of the Noughties thanks to Lady Gaga and Victoria Beckham but it now looks like the fashion could be back to stay as the boxy figure look once again becomes anything but square.

  • Words by Katharine Wootton
  • For more nostalgia, see Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.