Give 'em the cold shoulder

In the greedy Eighties they were a symbol of power. So, do we really want shoulder pads in the caring Nineties? asks James Sherwood
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1992, there was a nationwide renting of cloth and gnashing of teeth. It wasn't a demonstration of the nation's collective grief, but the sound of women unpicking their power suits and ripping out the shoulder pads.

For almost a decade, shoulder pads dominated the fashionable-suit silhouette. Worn with the ubiquitous micro-mini, the shoulder-padded jacket was the epitome of power dressing. When the Iron Lady melted, women heaved a sigh of relief and ran down to the nearest Nicole Farhi store.

It may seem laughable now to think that shoulders like a rugby fullback could ever have been considered sexy - let alone a power statement. Just the memory of Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl should be enough to deter even the most foolhardy designer from trying to revive them. But in Paris this season, a gasp ran through the audience at Karl Lagerfeld's own-label show where the shoulder pad was not only back but bigger than ever.

Before we write off shoulder pads as Lagerfeld having an off-season, it's worth remembering that he doesn't have off-seasons. But just because shoulders are big in his latest collection doesn't mean Eighties dressing is back. "Power dressing was a complete misnomer," says Marcelle D'Argy Smith, who was the editor of Cosmopolitan during the shoulder-pad decade. "Women will always want to look smart and professional. Labels like Emporio Armani always have tailored shoulders."

Shoulder pads were first revived in the Eighties by US designer Norma Kamali. Fashion journalist and founding editor of British Elle, Sally Brampton recalls: "The first power suits were pretty naff: boxy suits with skirts to the knee and pussycat-bow blouses. It wasn't until 1988 that the real power-bitch look hit the catwalk."

As a social indicator, we knew that the power suit had reached the masses when Sharon from EastEnders started wearing versions of them behind the bar at the Queen Vic. But this cringe-worthy memory is clearly lost on Lagerfeld. And he's not alone. "As far as I'm concerned," says D'Argy Smith, "they never went away."

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