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‘I took up so much room’: Zoe Williams’ week of wearing shoulder pads

by Ace Damon
'I took up so much room': Zoe Williams' week of wearing shoulder pads

The shoulder pads in the 1980s were synonymous with adulthood. That is how we envision our future self; standing in an apartment with big windows and a martini, maybe with a job (lawyer?), wearing shoulder pads. Oh, and a big television. The shoulder pad, if you cross it with the rest of the image, was more than feminine: it was professionalism, modernity, hedonism and power. At the 2020 restart, some – from Balenciaga – are more nostalgic than others – from Balmain. A giant ditch in the spring green is pure 1983, while a sequin cap is a little more robotic and dystopian. But for anyone of a certain age, it's what you would use if a magic trick made you switch bodies with your mom on Freaky Friday, even if your real mom never used them because she wasn't a Sloane, and neither she would wear giant earrings.

The 1980s had no shoulder pads. In the 1930s, they existed only to make your waistline look smaller. This, being much less extreme than wearing a corset or removing a rib, was a very tame look, which took a surprising turn in the 1940s, when the shoulders merged with military chic and everyone's silhouette became gigantic and a little scary, in honor of tailoring. for the tanks everyone was rolling over each other.

Shoulder pads in 1938. Photo: John Rawlings / Conde Nast via Getty Images

This historical deviation is relevant, by the way, for my week in jambs. In a jacket, a T-shirt, a structured shirt, anyway, the most attractive thing about me was how gigantic I was. It's like beards (watch the hipsters, I'm sure of it): they were invented for men with a weak chin, so when a man with a strong chin grows up, he looks like Desperate Dan. People whose shoulders are already substantial seem to be in costume. I broke up with someone once, because he said I had a powerful back, in one of those annoying moments of relationship when the straw that breaks your (powerful) back is a perfectly fair observation. One incarnation I tried was a vintage brown Pietro Luna jacket, in which I looked like a henchman. "I like your powerful blazer," someone said in the office and, in fact, I was wearing powerful clothes, if by that you mean I could have smuggled an Uzi onto a subway train. And when it comes to public transport: it took up a lot of space, it felt like I was trying to keep everyone out of my body's buffer zone, in case they had nits. I didn't like being that person.

I always seemed 30% to 100% too formal for any occasion. Monday night, I went to a vegan restaurant with a dozen disappointments left. It's good to wear shoulder pads and eat vegan food now, of course, because it's fashionable, and so is veganism. In the 1980s, you would not combine the two more than you would drive a 4×4 into a march against nuclear war. And the left did not notice, because people in politics have no idea. (I already attended a Labor Party conference and someone asked me where my dress was from, and I said, "Vionnet". She gave me a look, an unmistakable way in which someone could do this: "Did you steal V&A? ”) But the rest of the restaurant realized because of all the normal things that they couldn't do, like walking past me to go to the bathroom.

Zoe Williams wearing shoulder pads in a pub in Kings Cross. £ 265 T-shirt from Attico, from brownsfashion.com. Makeup and hair: Alexis Day using Tropic and Evo. Photographer's assistant: Beth Davies. Style: Bemi Shaw

Zoe Williams wearing shoulder pads in a pub in Kings Cross.
T-shirt£ 265 from Attico from brownsfashion.com.
Makeup and hair: Alexis Day using Tropic and Evo. Photographer's assistant: Beth Davies. Style: Bemi Shaw Photography: Suki Dhanda / The Observer

Behind a table, with a shirt so structured that you could balance a plate of hot food on each shoulder, I came closer to dressing properly. Maybe it made me sit up a little straighter, or maybe it's just intimidating to be shaped like a box or a computer, instead of a hill or a pile of clothes. Dress for the job you want, they say; but what job would that be? One where you made 20 decisions an hour, had a staccato delivery and never went to Pret, because you're a machine and the machines don't need crayfish. I'm guessing here.

Having broad shoulders is, of course, a metaphor for taking responsibility. Can you convey this characteristic visually? In that case, it is a very easy way to be promoted to a high pressure job where no one talks to you. No, wait, someone spoke to me. He said that I looked like a supporting singer in a Talking Heads video. I liked it better than what my lord said, who looked like a hot Sue Ellen and said, "How can there be a hot Sue Ellen when Sue Ellen was already hot?" and then, after intense interrogation, found that he prefixed "hot" to any resemblance for fear of my obsessive offenses.

Balenciaga broad shoulders for SS20

Balenciaga broad shoulders for SS20.

Photograph: Estrop / Getty Images

The most devastating observation came, predictably and also repeatedly, from assorted children, all of them mine. "Why are you wearing this?" And later, "No, seriously, why are you wearing this?" And on Friday, "Why are you still wearing this?" It's not even a question, actually, because it doesn't expect or hear the answer, and it conveys much more – that deep underlying disconcert that parents would devote so much power and pure inventiveness to embarrass the family. "Why are you like that?" was the subtext.

The final iteration I tried was a padded shirt on the shoulders, a garment that combines an assertive structure with a cheerful structure and makes no sense from any angle, especially in the teeth of a bargain in arenas that don't die. Should I look like I can relax? Can you relax with your shoulders out? However, perhaps because it was built to confuse, that was the thing that the outside world accepted most easily: oh, I see your game, lady. You are doing this on purpose. You are not trying to repeat a decade lost on your own or pushing your not-so-subtle business strategy down my throat. You're just a fashion expert.

. (tagsToTranslate) Fashion (t) Life and style

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