Originally invented as a protective layer for American football players in the late 19th century, shoulder pads did not make their way into women’s fashion until the 1930s. We look at how this small detail in garments became a symbol change in the world of women’s fashion.
Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the firsts to use shoulder pads in her garments
Together with her fashion rival, Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli was one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two world wars. Schiaparelli was known for experimenting with women’s silhouettes, textiles and often used shoulder pads in her structured jackets, providing an early glimpse into what wartime chic fashion would look like decades later.
Shoulder pads debut on the silver screen in the 1930s
It was Adrian Adolph Greenburg, who brought shoulder pads to the silver screen in his designs. The strong-shoulder look was now accessible to a wider audience in films like Letty Lynton and Mildred’s Place. Adrian’s relationship with Joan Crawford started as early as 1932 when her character in Letty Lynton rocked a gown with fluffy, ruffled shoulders. This would become Crawford’s signature style throughout her career. The change of style in this era symbolized the changing of gender roles in society as more women entered the workforce because of the war.
1940s sees the shoulder pad become a fashion staple for working women
As more and more women joined the professional world, they needed looks that fit in to the male-dominated workplace. This meant that more military and utilitarian inspired looks entered the fashion world in the 1940's. This gave way for the shoulder pad to become a staple in women’s fashion.
1950's shoulder pads become a thing of the past
Post-war fashion saw many women go back to more feminine style of dressing, which meant shoulder pads were no longer the popular go-to style for women. The shoulder pad would make a comeback two decades later when 80's fashion embraced the broad shoulder once again.
The shoulder pad defines 80's fashion
In the 1980s, the shoulder pad became the defining fashion symbol of the decade seen in Hollywood films, soaps, politics and other areas of society. The first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher wore shoulder-padded suits as a way for her to visually assimilate with the men she worked with and distance her femininity from her public office. In popular soaps like Dynasty and Dallas, the shoulder pad was an important status symbol of power for women and this influence spilled onto other areas of entertainment. 80s icons like Madonna and Grace Jones are proof that the exaggerated shoulder pad was the quintessential look of the 1980s.
Shoulder-pads are having a moment in present day fashion
The beauty of modern-day fashion is the ability to look at the past with a fresh new lens and this is what many fashion designers have done with the shoulder pad in present day fashion. In 2018 we saw the return of neon, lamé, and animal prints, ruling the Fall/Winter 2018 runways for Tom Ford, Miu Miu, Balmain, Saint Laurent, Gareth Pugh, and so many more. Fast-forward to 2020 and we see the shoulder pad incorporated into casual wear and athleisure. Just look at the shoulder-padded vest available at Kwaai Boutique.
Kwaai Boutique offers a range of fashion items and accessories for stylish and bold femmes. Check out our Spring/Summer range by clicking here.