It’s interesting to note that in most eras of particular feminist uprising jacket shoulders grow at a concurrent rate. In the early 30s when women of WWII were called into workplaces more than ever before, the female suit was primarily birthed. Marcel Rochas is heralded as the founder of the original power shoulder, his suiting becoming workplace trend for women of the time, followed closely by Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Then of course, Yves Saint Laurent perpetuated what was once deemed as masculine dressing with his iconic tuxedo manipulation for women in 1966, and its subsequent ‘Le Smoking’ fame via Helmut Newton’s classic photograph.
But it wasn’t until the 80s, as women’s liberation reached a heightened new peak, that shoulders really began to power up. In fact, giant shoulder pads in jackets, blouses and shirts from labels like Claude Montana formed the arguable quintessential silhouette of the decade. Fashion was driven by pop culture through TV shows like Dynasty and films like Working Girl and Baby Boom, all with costumed shoulders as wide as the screen they appeared on. All too often, the then-progressive narratives revolved around Girl-wants-to-make-it-in-male-dominated-company or Look!-girls-are-smart-too-and-can-work-like-boys!, so power suiting formed part and parcel of illustrating the discourse. The famous and infamous adopted the look with abandon too. Princess Diana, Linda Evangelista and even Margaret Thatcher all flew the flag for accentuated epaulettes.
The psychology of the fact that, as women fought for equal rights, the armour of choice nearly always tilted towards archetypal male attire is powerful, yet in itself ironic. And now, in the era of #MeToo, shoulders are once again at an all-time oversize. We’ve come far enough that a jacket and trousers is no longer seen as ‘borrowing from the boys’ however dipping back into the power shoulder is still a statement for both fashion and society. Following his shoulder-happy autumn winter show for Saint Laurent in February, Anthony Vaccarello said “Everything starts with the shoulder. I don’t want to talk about oversized, because everyone is doing oversized. It’s a straight silhouette…I want to give more power to women, and I think they need the shoulder.” His collection included sharp-cut blazers that he said took him six months to perfect. This same season too, Isabel Marant, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Balmain and Bottega Veneta also spoke feminist volumes through literal volume, while Gaga continues to champion broad shapes as has a suddenly-uber-chic Celine Dion.
But in this modern era, in order to stamp power in male-dominated arenas do women still need to dress like the antithesis? After all, it’s an equality and credit long overdue and unquestionably deserved. Would the seriousness of such a statement, however, be strewn should a female helm a board meeting in a simple dress? Of course not. Beyond trend and beauty, fashion is a representation of character and when one assumes the cliché of an all-powerful head honcho, gender distinction is far less conspicuous in a suity look. The question is, why does that still matter?
Or, perhaps it’s just a simple fact that strong shoulders are a great look, one that shouldn’t be limited to male-suiting stigma. Either way, they’re tres chic once again. Wear them this season how you wish (with denim shorts! with polkadot stockings! with a prairie dress!) and remember, despite connotations, it’s never been shoulders that have made women powerful, they just look cool.
Empower your own via our edit below.
Dries Van Noten wool blazer, $1765, from Net-a-porter, SHOP NOW
Zara check blazer, $139, SHOP NOW
Isabel Marant ‘Chay’ leather blouse, $2371, from net-a-porter SHOP NOW
Balmain wool blend mini dress, $4790, from net-a-porter, SHOP NOW
Camilla & Marc ‘Faith’ blazer, $550, SHOP NOW