The shoulder pad will be familiar to everyone who grew up in the 1980s. They were bold, daring, and most importantly, large.
They were, however, more than a fashion statement. Women were storming into the office, bursting the glass ceiling while donning armor-like attire.
Blazers for women were suddenly required to have the same precise, defined form as those worn by men for years. With everyone from Joan Collins to Margaret Thatcher demonstrating the world what a smart suit and a broad shoulder could do, power dressing became the biggest fashion of the day.
However, no trend lasts indefinitely. People preferred a gentler appearance by the 1990s. Big shoulders had become unfashionable. Women desired feminine, unstructured silhouettes, which meant no shoulder pads.
They’re back now, though. They may have a different appearance this time, but their essence remains the same. Here’s what you need to know if you want to add some 21st-century power dressing to your closet.
Types of Shoulder Pads
If you’re thinking about adding some shoulder pads to your jackets, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all shoulder pads are created equal. They aren’t.
If you’re not planning on wearing the jacket to a Dynasty themed fancy dress party, stay away from it. Others are more subtle, offering shape to your shoulder line but not too much mass.
The following are the most common shoulder pads:
The dolman has a squarish appearance and is slightly thicker than other variants. It has a molded fiberfill foam interior that is coated with fabric for extra comfort. Petite frames may be overpowered by its weight, therefore it’s best suited to medium to larger figures. It features a straight edge that spans the length of the sleeve, making it excellent for people who want extra covering.
Raglan shoulder pads have a softer, more rounded shape than dolman shoulder pads and cover a lesser area. It’s perfect for petite women who want a little more lift in their shoulders without going overboard. It’s most commonly found on unlined jackets.
Set-in Sleeves: Set-in sleeves have a seam that rings the arm at the shoulder. It has the same professional style as the shoulder pad but a more natural finish, giving it a fitted look.
Shoulder pads typically range in thickness from 1/4 inch (.3 cm) to 1 inch (2.5 cm).
You’ll discover shoulder pads classified by thickness and length while shopping for them. The pad’s height is determined by its thickness. If you don’t mind a pronounced shoulder line, a 1-inch thick pad would suffice. A 1/4-inch pad should serve if you want a more natural look or just want to smooth out your shoulder line.
Add Shoulder Pads to Blazer
Shoulder pads are a great method to give your shoulders some form and rigidity. They can be used to raise any upper-body clothing, although they’re most typically seen on coats and blazers.
You’re probably more used to tearing out shoulder pads than putting them back in if you remember the suited and booted style of the 1980s with horror. But now is the time to reconsider your position.
Shoulder pads today are significantly more subtle than those of the past. They’re perfect for leveling out sloping shoulders or adding structure to an unlined blazer.
When it comes to adding shoulder pads to a blazer, you have two options: buy ready-made shoulder pads or make your own.
Attach a Shoulder Pad
Attaching a shoulder pad is simple enough, but before you get started, think about whether you want a permanent or detachable shoulder pad.
If you plan on adding shoulder pads to many jackets, a removable pair is a good option because you can use the same set of shoulder pads on multiple outfits without having to buy a separate pair for each.
Here’s how to add replaceable shoulder pads if you want to.
Hook and loop tape, 1 inch wide
Your choice of shoulder pad
Needle and thread for sewing
- Cut 2 x 3-inch strips of hook and loop tape lengthwise, then cut each strip in half.
- Step 2 – If the shoulder pad does not have a seam, fold it in half and mark the middle with a piece of chalk.
- Step 3: Align the hook tape (the stiff, rough side) with the middle of the shoulder pad and hand sew it in place with a double thread.
- Step 4: Place the soft side of the loop tape on top of the shoulder seam allowance. To attach the loop tape to the edge of the shoulder seam allowance, hand sew a single row of stitches. This area can be sewn using a straight stitch on the sewing machine if you like.
- Step 5 – Push the garment’s body out of the way and thread a second line of stitches as near to the shoulder seam as feasible. Take care not to thread through the clothing and only stitch on the seam allowance.
- Step 6: Finish by attaching the shoulder pad.
Sewing Shoulder Pads into a Jacket
We’ve seen how to use hook and loop to connect removable shoulder pads to a garment, but what if you want something a little more permanent?
Fortunately, sewing in a pair of permanent shoulder pads is just as simple as sewing in a set of removable shoulder pads.
Begin by determining which shoulder pads will best complement your desired look. A dolman shoulder pad could be a fantastic match for a lined, formal jacket that can take a shoulder line with plenty of oomph.
A raglan shoulder pad may be best if the jacket is unlined or if you just want to smooth out your shoulder line.
After you’ve chosen on your shoulder pads, gather your supplies and proceed to the following step for instructions.
How to Sew Shoulder Pads Into a Jacket
You’ll need a thread, a sewing needle, pins, a set of shoulder pads, and, of course, your jacket to connect shoulder pads to a jacket. Start with the following procedure once you’ve gathered your supplies.
Step 1: Fold your shoulder pads in half to identify the straight and curved edges’ center points. With chalk, malk the points.
Step 2: Align the shoulder pads’ straight edge with the fabric’s edge in the armhole. Pin the pads around the armhole after stretching them slightly to fit.
Step 3: Put the jacket on and make sure the pads are where you want them to be. Stitch the pad in place with a firm but not overly tight stitch.
Step 4: Pin the shoulder seam to the designated center on the curved edge. To finish, catch stitch the pad to the shoulder seam allowance.
Adding Shoulder Pads to Jacket Tips
It’s just as easy to put shoulder pads on a jacket as it is to take them off – and if you were alive in the 1990s, you won’t need to be told twice! However, it never hurts to have a few tricks in your sleeve to make things go more smoothly.
- Always use a pad that is the right size and form to fit inside the clothing. Before you choose a pair, consider the form you want to achieve: do you want a bold, defined look or a more modest, natural style?
- Although hand sewing is preferred, you can use a sewing machine if you like. If you do, stick to a straight stitch.
- If you’re having trouble getting the location right, look at an existing garment with shoulder pads to see how they’ve been joined.
- Stitches should be secure but not overly tight: if the stitch is too tight, the pads will not move in line with your body.
- Tucking the thread in while sewing will cause the shoulder pads to dimple and show through the jacket.
- Use a shoulder pad in a neutral hue for the most understated effect.
When Did Shoulder Pads Become Fashionable?
Shoulder pads may have started out as a protective layer for football shirts, but they quickly gained popularity. They found a place in women’s fashion in the 1930s thanks to one lady in particular: Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian fashion designer who, for a little period, was Coco Chanel’s greatest adversary.
The surrealist movement affected Schiaparelli considerably, and she was known for her ability to combine illusionistic aspects into her own works. She enjoyed manipulating shapes, subverting societal norms, and creating something unique in the process. She did this by integrating shoulder pads into her structured jackets, for example.
The aesthetic has made its way down from Haute Couture into ordinary fashion by the 1940s. The practical, military-inspired fashions of the war years were powerful, shapely, and highlighted with strong shoulder lines, making them ideal for a new generation of working women.
The harder-edged designs of the 1940s took a back seat as the postwar era welcomed a softer, more feminine look. Shoulder pads were out, while Dior’s New Look was in.
Shoulder pads were regarded outmoded and unpleasant for the next three decades. The look of the day was fluid, flowing, and overwhelmingly feminine. Then the 1980s rolled along, bringing the huge shoulder back with a vengeance.
When Did Shoulder Pads Go Out Of Style?
The women’s movement began in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that women began to fully make their impact in the workplace.
Women needed to compete with men, and armor-plated clothing was required to do so. They required shoulder protectors in particular. Shoulder pads were key to the concept of ‘Power Dressing,’ with the larger the shoulders, the better for a woman with ambition.
Every high-flying woman’s closet contained at least a few sharp-shouldered suits, each with shoulder pads the size of a small nation propping up the shoulders. One of the forerunners of the look was Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime leader. Her skirt suits and padded jackets became almost as well-known as her politics, allowing her to blend in among the guys she worked with while eschewing any notion of traditional femininity.
The tendency grew even stronger when soap operas like Dynasty and Dallas introduced us to Joan Collins’ and Linda Evans’ razor-sharp clothes and razor-sharp tongues.
But then it was finished. The style that had defined the 1980s was dead by the turn of the decade. The suit and tie ensemble had served its purpose. To be regarded seriously in the boardroom, women no longer had to dress like men.
But shoulder pads’ relegation to fashion history was about more than how women wanted to adorn their bodies; it was also about how they wanted their bodies to look. The advent of the waif coincided with the death of the shoulder pad. Whereas Amazonian ladies had formerly commanded the catwalk, everyone was suddenly admiring Kate Moss’s bird-like profile… a style that was the polar opposite of power suits and huge shoulders.
Are Shoulder Pads in Style Again?
You’re in luck if you get a rush of nostalgia every time you see a photo of Joan Collins in full-on Dynasty mode. Shoulder pads have returned.
They’re not exactly how we remember them from the first time around – some of the extremes have been ditched in favor of a little softer aesthetic – but they still do a fantastic job of emphasizing the shoulder, slimming the waist, and making you feel more put together than you would otherwise.
The trick to pulling off the look is to balance off the prominent shoulder line with a smaller torso overall. Match a shoulder-enhancing blouse or jacket with slimline fitted slacks for a sophisticated style that’s just a smidgeon of 1989.