It’s Time To Talk About Big Shoulders
Balenciaga SS17 Menswear collection, June 2016, Paris. Photograph courtesy of Balenciaga
Don’t give the latest silhouette to walk off the runway a wide berth – here’s how to work the look into your wardrobe and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the style setters.
At MR PORTER, we consider it our solemn duty to keep you abreast of all developments in the world of men’s style, wherever they occur. And so we turn our attention to that unlikeliest of crucibles for new trends, the NFL, and last week’s AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where New England Patriots quarterback Mr Tom Brady caused quite the Twitterstorm during his team’s 36-17 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The online furore had nothing at all to do with his performance on the field, which was as stellar as usual. Instead, it was all about what he chose to wear while sitting on the bench: a padded coat so voluminous, so impossibly broad of shoulder, that one Twitter user was moved to describe him as “looking like three kids in a big coat trying to sneak into an R-rated movie”.
What prompted him to dress in such an outlandish manner? The simplest explanation, of course, was that the Patriots were just going to extreme lengths to keep their star quarterback warm in the downtime between offensive plays. And, as we know from the philosophical principle of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. But what if, in this case, it isn’t? What if there’s more to this coat than meets the eye? Was Mr Brady, a renowned follower of fashion and the husband of one of the most famous women in the industry, Ms Gisele Bündchen, in fact using his time on the sidelines to channel one of this season’s most daring trends?
Probably not, if we’re being honest. Nonetheless, Mr Brady’s cartoonishly proportioned coat serves to neatly introduce a new trend that we’re expecting to see a lot more of in the coming months, and that’s the return of the sharp, heavily structured shoulder. Yes, that’s right: 1980s power dressing is back. But why? What does it all mean? And how do you pull it off? Seeing as we’re in the mood for philosophy, let’s try and get to the bottom of it by applying the Socratic method, otherwise known as the good old-fashioned Q&A format. Ready? Ready.
Right, then: what’s it all about?
Big, boxy silhouettes with sharply exaggerated shoulders. Picture Mr David Byrne’s grey suit in Stop Making Sense, and you’re not far off.
Wait, haven’t we seen this all before?
Well, no: nothing in the history of mankind is ever repeated. But yes, there have been plenty of examples of sharp-shouldered silhouettes in the past, if that’s what you mean. It was the predominant shape in womenswear in the 1940s, before being supplanted by Mr Christian Dior’s softly structured “New Look” in the 1950s. And it returned with a vengeance in the 1980s, which is the decade that most of us associate it with now.
So, does this mean we’re heading towards a new age of hyper-masculine power dressing?
Hardly. The 1980s may have been all about power, money, sex and success, but the public mood is very different now. We live in uncertain times. The ground beneath us is shifting; the very idea of masculinity feels ever more indistinct. None of us are quite sure what it actually means to be a man in 2017. And the sharp-shouldered looks that we’ve seen on the runway – some of which border on the cartoonish – seem to reflect this feeling of uncertainty. This is no swaggering übermensch, no Master of the Universe; this is the silhouette of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But hey, let’s not overthink it. They’re just clothes, after all.
Speaking of the runway, which brands in particular do we have to thank for the return of the power shoulder?
Balenciaga is the name to drop when talking about this particular trend. Under the creative direction of Mr Demna Gvasalia, the Parisian fashion house has been pushing this one hard over the past couple of seasons. It’s no surprise to hear that Mr Gvasalia’s other brand, Vetements, has also been experimenting with the sharp shoulder. But then, Vetements experiments with everything. Keen-eyed observers will have spotted the trend at Lanvin, too.
OK, so it’s made an appearance at a few of the more outlandish fashion shows on the circuit. So what?
Look, we can tell that you’re not 100 per cent convinced by this. Yes, it’s true that runway fashion can seem a little sensational, even a little fantastical at times. But let’s not forget how quickly things that seem strange to us can begin to appear normal, even mundane. Think of the way that science fiction turns in science fact, or the way that political satire morphs into political reality. The same is true of emerging trends. And, remember that clothes seen on runways generally tend towards the extreme end of the spectrum. If the sharp shoulder really is here to stay, then we can expect it to emerge in a less dramatic, more easily wearable form as it filters down into the mainstream.
Speaking of wearable, what’s the best way to wear it? Asking for a friend…
Balenciaga’s SS collection is the place to start, if you’re feeling bold. The key pieces are the tailored overcoats, but the sharp shoulder also makes an appearance in casual garments like bomber jackets and denim shirts, where it’s combined with a cropped waist to further exaggerate the silhouette. More classically speaking, the well-structured shoulder is also a hallmark of traditional British tailoring, so look out for brands like Kingsman, Thom Sweeney or Alexander McQueen. See below for a few pieces that we’ve picked out.