Remember the Eighties, when female pop stars were nothing without a poodle-puffed hairdo flicked insouciantly over one exposed shoulder, perhaps with a Lycra leotard strap showing for good measure? While we remain ever vigilant so that such coiffure never returns to fashionable favour, the exposed shoulder is back.
There’s something inherently sexy about the fashions of spring/summer. When the mercury begins to rise, even the most strait-laced and sophisticated are prone to baring a bit of flesh. And while the catwalks saw the flashing of long legs aplenty and necklines lower than confidence in Greece’s financial future, on almost universal display there were shoulders. These, naturally, were attached to smooth necks of swan-like proportions – and though most of us aren’t built quite so beautifully, the shoulder is still a relatively uncomplicated area for women to reveal, even those who feel less than body-confident.
The most obvious and easily accessible way to show your shoulders is in a Bardot-style smock-top, perfectly aligned with this season’s Seventies bohemia revival and available in soft denim, cheesecloth and lace. One reason this style is so appealing is that it often comes with sleeves – so that those who don’t want to bare their upper arms can still be part of the big reveal. But beware: donning such a blouson has an emotive effect, and you may find yourself reaching for cut-off denim shorts, gladiator sandals and a floppy-brimmed hat to complete the French fantasy. Just bear in mind that while you might feel right at home on the Cote d’Azur, it’s not a look that translates seamlessly to home turf.
Bare with flair
If you usually favour a more body-conscious silhouette, but don’t want to go strapless, fear not – cross-your-heart and off-the-shoulder straps abound. Retailers have taken to the more formal fabrics of summer social occasions when trying out this trend. But, while guests should cover their shoulders at more traditional or religious events, it’s easy to sling a shawl around them in order to appear proper, if only briefly.
Anyway, however you choose to bare a shoulder this season, it’s important that you choose the right style of bra. So, don’t even think about opting for those clear plastic straps that come with some numbers: they are not invisible and can dig into the flesh, creating an unattractive tourniquet effect. But the InvisiBra is an option if your favoured dress is backless, too: the cups, available in sizes A to D are adhesive, sticking to your skin, and are joined together at the front to create support. And whatever style you choose, getting the right fit is important, as repeatedly needing to hoist yours up will ruin the impact of any outfit. If you are worried about not being supported enough in a strapless bra, though, you can still wear the trend: choose a dress or top with cut-outs, and you can simply wear your normal underwear or cross the straps of a multi-way bra over your back.
To complete the trend, you need the tone. So, once you’ve found your favoured frock, don’t let “chicken skin” or rough spots on your arms hold you back. The condition is known as keratosis pilaris and, though it is little understood for something so common it is easy to treat. If you’ve been attempting to scrub away your bumps, stop now – it can aggravate the condition. Instead, use gentle chemical exfoliants containing acids such as AHAs, BHAs, lactic or salycilic acids or urea; these usually come as topical moisturising creams to be applied to clean skin. It’s also important that you’re washing with something gentle that doesn’t dry out or irritate the skin.
Working on the muscles in your arms to create a long, lean effect can also help boost confidence when they’re on show. And although many women avoid strengthening exercises in this area for fear of becoming too “bulky”, it is actually near-impossible. “This myth has managed to stand the test of time,” says Carl Martin, personal training manager at Equinox health clubs. “But due to the make-up and genetics of women, building muscle and getting big is extremely difficult.” He recommends a focus on the deltoid, tricep and bicep muscles – which respond better to higher repetition of exercises – three times a week.
Pip Black, a former England hockey player and co-founder of the very fashionable Frame fitness group, agrees: “Anything where you hold your own body is great for toning arm muscles – yoga especially – and doing a dynamic class is great. But if you’re in a last-minute panic, you can try press-ups, shoulder presses and tricep dips. You want to pump the muscle and get the blood flowing to it.”
For a really quick fix, try faking it instead, with a highlighting cream such as Charlotte Tilbury’s Supermodel Body, which marries the make-up artist’s contouring knowledge with ingredients such as caffeine and menthol to help reduce any puffiness.