Show Me Your Shoulder Pads

Picture this: It’s 9am on a Monday and you walk into the office, entering the board room right on time. Heads turn and chairs swivel as they take a better look at you. Those shoulder pads! So chic, so powerful. You take your seat at the end of the table, a bonafide Miranda Priestly.  In unison, the whole room thinks: “What a boss.”

Women made a statement in the 80s by power dressing; Still from Dynasty (1981)

The financial world was booming in the 1980s, and young yuppies were flocking to Wall Street in search of their dream job. Flaunting success with material items was perfectly acceptable and image was everything; anybody who was somebody owned laptops, cell phones and shiny cars (Encyclopedia of Fashion, 2019).

Power dressing has been around for decades (most notably we can look back to the structured look of Dior in the 1940s), but the golden years for this kind of statement look is undoubtedly the 1980s. Women knew what they wanted, and they dressed the part in order to achieve their goals.

Melanie Griffiths wearing a classy black power suit in Working Girl (1988); from Rex Features

Shoulder pads sewn into chic, tailored suits became part of the working uniform for career-driven women. It gave them authority and confidence in a male-dominated environment as they smashed through the glass ceiling and made their mark (Fashion Encyclopedia, 2019).

Harrison Ford alongside his two beautiful, power suit wearing co-stars, Melanie Griffiths and Sigourney Weaver from Working Girl; 20th Century Fox

Giorgio Armani was one of the first to popularize this silhouette in this decade. His focus was on more of a professional fit, with less emphasis on sexiness and female shape. It consisted of colour-coordinated ensembles with structured blazers and straight skirts. This tailored look enabled women to be taken more seriously (Komar, 2016).  Other designers that emulated this style included Karl Lagerfeld and Valentino.

The classic power suit by Giorgio Armani would quickly become a staple in every woman’s wardrobe; S/S 1980, modelled by Gia Carangi; photo by Aldo Fallai

1986 RTW F/W by Chanel; a tweed version of a power suit

Women contrasted this more masculine vibe with feminine elements such as light blouses, patterned scarves, and sparkly brooches. They would typically roll their sleeves up or push them to their elbows for a softer effect (Komar, 2016). Power suits came in every colour and pattern and were very versatile; they could be worn to work and also for an evening soiree.

Meryl Streep in a shiny gold sharkskin taffeta power suit; Photo by Ron Galella

Iman wearing a white, ethereal-looking ensemble featuring big shoulder pads; Photo by Jim Smeal

We can’t forget to mention Joan Collin’s role in Dynasty, as this was a major influence for power dressing. Her appliqued, ornate shoulder pads in the popular television show inspired ladies everywhere to don this style for their everyday looks (Fashion Encyclopedia, 2019).

A classic Joan Collins look from the television show Dynasty

Courtney Cox on the red carpet wearing pinstriped blazer with shoulder pads

This iconic silhouette has continued to empower women over the years, and even today designers are challenging what a power suit can truly be.

But I think we can all agree that no one did this trend like the 80s!

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