Turning a Cold Shoulder to Knockoffs
Someday, academia will finally take fashion seriously. This will result in a great deal of valuable social and cultural history, along with dissertation titles like, "On Her Shoulders: Silhouette and the Re-Construction of Western Women's Economic and Political Power."
Until then, we must be content with well-researched newspaper articles like the one by Rachel Dodes and Teri Agins in this weekend's WSJ, which notes the return of the "strong" shoulder to women's fashion after nearly 20 years on the "out" list.
Although it's possible to overread the social significance of any individual fashion statement, the return of the exaggerated shoulder seems appropriate at a moment when for the first time there have been serious woman presidential candidates in both France and the U.S., Germany has a woman chancellor, a woman leads the U.S. House of Representatives, etc. At the same time, the rights of women around the world are under close scrutiny and dress is at the heart of global cultural warfare.
As Dodes and Agins point out, wide shoulders have been fashionable in the late 1890s and early 1900s (first-wave feminism and suffrage), the 1940s (women working while men were at war), and the 1980s (women entering the workplace en masse, this time to stay). (The sartorial echoes of this exercise of economic and political muscle are, of course, quite different from dressing to express sexual liberation through raised hemlines, low waistlines, and still lower necklines.)
Lest this year's broadening of the female shape to more masculine proportions raise the spectre of assertive "power dressing" from two decades ago, however, the designers and retailers interviewed for the article hastened to explain away any direct connection. Not only are the new shoulders actually "less severe and aggressive than in the past" and more "modern," they also are justified as an exercise in fine tailoring, a natural counterpoint to emphasizing the waist, and, Counterfeit Chic's favorite, a deterrent to design pirates:
One potential side benefit: The shoulders' complicated constructions make them harder for fast-fashion chains to copy.
And yes, they do make the hips look smaller.