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SS18 trend: Ready for the shoulder charge?

Sandra Halliday
11 October 2017

A few seasons ago it seemed that designers were obsessed with pushing American footballer shoulders as they all rushed to hop aboard the Vetements/Balenciaga style train. But then it all went a bit quiet.

Did they get sick of trying to drag a reluctant fashion consumer back to the 80s? Not really. For SS18 the statement shoulder is back, but at least this time nobody’s expecting fashion shoppers to shell out thousands to look like they’ve forgotten to take the coat hanger out of their jacket. That ultra-awkward cut has been consigned to fashion’s history bin where it belongs.

Not that some of these shoulder looks are exactly subtle. Tom Ford kicked off Fashion Month with a bold thumbs-up for the power shoulder and and by the time we reached Milan, Alessandro Michele was offering up silhouettes that might struggle to make it through a narrow doorway.

What does it all mean? Or, more to the point, does it actually mean anything? Just because designers say something is so doesn’t make it happen (just ask Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler in the late 70s). 

But it probably does mean something. Chances are we’re due a general drift back towards bigger shoulders at some point soon. The underlying fashion cycle may be shockingly slow these days but a change is long overdue. Designer labels gave us plenty of options for SS18.

For tailoring there’s a strong feel for the sharply padded shoulder but the new pantsuits avoid being turned into 80s power suits by a wider, more relaxed cut that’s really quite wearable. If you want to go to extremes, you can tap into even wider shoulders, although thankfully, designers cut these jackets with a shoulder slope that keeps them just the right side of practical.

Elsewhere, they’re using sleeve detail to emphasise a distinct shoulderline with OTT leg of mutton sleeves (think Little House on the Prairie) or more discreet puffs and gathers to underline that, when it comes to sleeves, shoulders are the new cuffs.

The new season’s blouse trend gets in on the act too with yoke and collar detail that extends out across the shoulder to add width to the silhouette, while a number of labels also use exaggerated cap sleeve effects on gilets and fluid tops to at least nod to the new width. Then there’s the strategic use of frills or feathers to add volume at the shoulders.

An alternative for shoulder fans is the one-shoulder effect that seems to have taken over on the runway from cold shoulder looks. While in its most extreme form it throws the silhouette off balance and makes it impossible to find a coat or jacket to go over a top or dress, this too can be more wearable. Some clever draping or a strikingly simple cut on a one-shoulder dress give us a shoulder focus works perfectly for high summer occasion and vacation wear.

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