Uses of Shoulder Pads for Women’s Wear

Last Updated on 15/12/2020

Use of Shoulder Pads in Women’s Wear

Rakshaan Rishaad Rabbani
Bachelor of Fashion Technology
National Institute of Fashion Technology
Bhubaneswar, India



Fashion has never remained the same, it changes with course of time. These changes are about by various factors such as society, politics, glamour world or even boredom. Ever style has a lifespan, some die out son after getting a quick positive response and popularity whereas some styles never go out of fashion but undergo slight modification as per the taste and demand of the public.

Every style has fashion cycle, which varies in length. With this context, styles are categorized under fad and classic. The styles which come under fads, are short lived, they gain popularity within a very short period of time and get discarded very soon. Whereas classics refer to the styles which are long lasting and have a longer fashion cycle and a smoother curve.

Fashion cycle refers to a bell shaped curve which consists of five stages as follows:

1. Introduction phase: New designs or styles are introduced to the public either by designers or adopted from the streets. This can be a change in previous designs or an exploration.

2. Rise in popularity: When these styles and designs are worn by celebrities and models or any famous public figure, attracts the common public to purchase them. Hence gaining popularity.

3. Peak of popularity: At this stage, the style gains maximum momentum. This means increase in demands and productions at different price levels.

4. Decline in popularity: This refers to the phase when people might wear the designs but will not further purchase it. These designs are sold at discount prices in stores.

5. Rejection: In this phase the mass already discards the style and adopts a new style and begins a new cycle.

This curve depicts the cycle of acceptance of the style or design introduced
Fig: This curve depicts the cycle of acceptance of the style or design introduced


Shoulder pads refer to the pads made of foam or other fabric which are added to the shoulders of a garment to impart a structured look. The size of shoulder pads may vary as per the desired look. Shoulder pads were found only in men’s wear before 1930s but after the World War II, it made its entry in women’s wear and became a major part in “power dressing”.

Shoulder pads in women's wear
Fig: Shoulder pads in women’s wear

The introduction of shoulder pads, brought a change in the ideal silhouette of a woman, from a feminine hourglass silhouette to a masculine wedge silhouette. This not only brought a change in the world of fashion but broke all the norms of the society which prevented women to do the job of a man.


Elsa Schiaparelli was the first designer to introduce shoulder pads in her designs. They soon made their appearance in movies and gained popularity. Joan Crawford wore them in the film “Letty Lynton”, the following year.

Joan Crawford
Fig: Joan Crawford

During World War II, shoulder pads were not limited to the fashion or glamour world only, they had become need for the women to adopt them. Men went to war and women had to take up their jobs. It was time to show the world that women are no less than men regarding any work. Now shoulder pads were not limited to jackets, coats or work suits only, they had appeared in every women’s wear.

Evening gown open midriff ring 40s war era satin padded shoulders
Fig: Lauren Bacall, 1944 black evening gown open midriff ring 40s war era satin padded shoulders

By the late 1940s, the size of the shoulder pads were highly diminished. They were barely noticeable. By the 1950s, shoulder pads appeared only in jackets and coats. By the early 1960s, shoulder pads had disappeared.

Shoulder pads made their come back in women’s clothing in the early 1970s, in Barbara Hulanicki designs under her label Biba. However, these design did not gain much popularity and remained limited to the studios. Her designs had a very short life span and lost their charm very soon.

Margret Thatcher
Fig: Margret Thatcher

During the early 1980s,ladies were seen wearing 1940s styles. The shoulder pads were reintroduced in all the women garments including evening gowns. British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was internationally noted for their adoption of power dressing. She stuck to one particular style, power suit skirt with broad shoulders.

diana with shoulder pads
Fig: Princess Diana with shoulder pads

Princess Diana was known for wearing wide-shouldered gowns. As per fashion history, the 80s fashion look was a tailored look. Women hardly stepped out without a jacket.

Shoulder pads were promoted on various platforms to reach out to the public. One such attempt was made by Dynasty, which was a television fantasy soap series. The entire cast was seen wearing shoulder padded garments in the show.

The shoulder pad fashion of 1980s continued till early 1990. The style soon became outdated. Smaller versions appeared only in shoulder lines of jackets and coats.

In the beginning of the 21st Century, shoulder pads appeared on many runways and fashion designer collections..

In 2010 many retailers like Wal-Mart had shoulder pads on at least half of all women’s tops and blouses.

Rihanna, Victoria Beckham and Lady Gaga
Fig: Rihanna, Victoria Beckham and Lady Gaga have also been spotted wearing shoulder padded garments.

During 2010s, shoulder pads were not only worn in jackets but in tunics and tops also. The young crowd follows the styles adopted by the celebrities. Rihanna and Lady Gaga being fashion icons, had a great influence on acceptance of 1980s’ style jackets.

Till early 21st century, shoulder pads were limited to runways only but in 2010 and after that, they not only made their way to mainstream market but were also accepted by the mass.

Rihanna went for oversized shoulder pads as she brought her Last Girl On Earth tour to North America, performing in Vancouver
Fig: Rihanna went for oversized shoulder pads as she brought her Last Girl On Earth tour to North America, performing in Vancouver


Earlier in 20th century, women added shoulder pads in their garments to give a sense of masculinity and strength. As time passed by, women became more fashion conscious. Now shoulder pads were not limited to uniforms and formal suits only, they were seen in evening gowns and casual wears too. During 1980s, shoulder pads gained the maximum popularity. Women appropriated men’s styles of dress in an attempt to access the social and economic capital that lay on the other side of the glass ceiling. The career women practiced power dressing, wearing tailored skirt suits with huge shoulder pads, approximating the style and silhouette of the professional male executive. Whether it be in the runways, daily soaps or politics, they made their appearance everywhere.


Fashion always follows the same cyclic pattern. However, there is no measurable time table for any fashion cycle, as some take short time to peak in popularity and some take longer period of time. Some decline slowly and some very fast. Some styles will sell in a single season, and take some several seasons to clear the shelves. Some fashion fades quickly others never disappear. When the styles are introduced in the stores, most new styles are introduced in the high level. They are usually high fashion created by well-known designers, and are made of high quality material. As the styles increase in popularity during the rise stage, they will be seen worn by celebrities on TV or magazines they attract the attention of the general public.

When the style reaches the peak that means that fashion is at the height of popularity and it may be in such demand that more manufactures copy it or produce adaptations of it at many price levels, but also it means that the fashion leaders, and people who seek unique looks are tired of it by now. After so many designs copies are mass produced, people get tired of that style and begin to look for something new.


  1. A study on trend mechanism of contemporary fashion by Maria McKinney
  2. Life cycle of fashion trend, BBC news

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