PARIS — There’s a shoulder obsession happening on the runways here.
As the fall 2019 collections unfold, more than a few designers have focused on beefing up the silhouette of jackets and coats, dresses and blouses. The clothes aren’t oversize, although they tend to look that way if you’re accustomed to staring at garments that hew closely to the actual shape of the body. These are linebacker shoulders. “Working Girl” shoulder pads. Straight from the 1980s without being toned down, these are shoulders that play tricks with your proportions and make a woman’s hips look like they are the size of a 12-year-old boy’s.
These big shoulders have been lurking around for a while. At first, they didn’t look all that big because everything in fashion was big. The sleeves hung down the knuckles. The trousers were twice the size they needed to be. It was all part of the comfort-first, athleisure, jolt-the-eye fashion movement. But things are shifting. Shoulders are bigger and everything else is smaller.
The shoulders at Saint Laurent are massive. Designer Anthony Vaccarello showed the house’s fall 2019 collection earlier this week inside a tent constructed directly in front of the Eiffel Tower. The tower began to twinkle just as the show began and the evening was clear, and it was all beautiful and magical. And then the doors closed, enveloping the room in darkness and the first model walked out into a spotlight looking like some strange extraterrestrial version of Betty Catroux, one of the house’s longtime muses — with her long sideswept hair and androgynous features — from way back when the brand’s namesake was young and irreverent.
The model was perched atop high platform shoes with spike heels. She was wearing slim, slightly cropped trousers and a long overcoat with massive, massive shoulders. How could she fit through a doorway with those shoulders? How annoying would she be on a crowded subway banging into people? This tall, thin, young woman looked big and fierce with her linebacker shoulders. She could carry the weight of the world on those shoulders, and these days, the world is groaning under a long list of burdens.
At Saint Laurent, the shoulders were so big that you almost didn’t notice that some of the women weren’t wearing pants. They were wearing fancy bloomers. You were also briefly distracted from the fact that a lot of the clothes on the runway looked familiar — as if you possibly saw them last season or the season before that. Surely you saw something quite similar.
At the end of the show, the models paraded out under black lights and their shoes and clothes took on an iridescent glow as though the entire runway had just turned into a rave. It was a fun exercise but looked a little gimmicky. Maybe ladies who’d spend a couple thousand dollars on a Saint Laurent dress are into day-glo trickery.
But back to the giant shoulders.
In the 1980s, women barreled into the workplace with their clothing-as-armor. The shoulder pads were meant to give them the kind of sharp, defined silhouette that men had with their fancy suits and power ties. The wide shoulders carried into the evening with the flashy cocktail dresses and pouffy party frocks and the enormous, teased-out hair. People were taking up space and showing off wealth. And the big shoulders went quite nicely with all that excess.
This time around, the shoulders don’t seem to be celebrating overabundance. They are a power stance. Women are ready to tackle the world. To take it down. Or shore it up. Women have a lot to deal with. So get out of their way.
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