One of our members recently asked a question regarding the rounded shoulder silhouette making its way onto the runways this season, which bubbled up my love of fashion history. So I thought I’d give a little lesson both culturally and pattern-wise into the history of the rounded shoulder.

The Cultural History of the Rounded Shoulder

In the 1930′s/1940′s the world was at war and women were expected to take up the jobs back home that the men were taken out of in order to go fight for their country. Everybody remembers Rosie the Riveter, right? Women’s ‘role’ in the fight for our freedom was that we make sure business runs smoothly while our hubbies and daddies were away.

Because of that role, our clothing became more structured and masculinized. We started to wear pants. We donned strong shouldered jackets and men’s accessories like bow ties (pictured to the left). We were playing the role we needed to play with no nonsense. Colors were muted. Frills were gone. Fashion was a ‘feminine’ form of ‘masculine’ (think unisex tees).

But when the war ended and the men came home, they wanted their jobs back and the women, well, back where they were pre-war: in the kitchen, taking care of babies, being gorgeous. The structured, masculine lines started to round out. Accessories became girly again (throw out those bow ties and replace them with pearls! MUCH more appropriate).

Shoulder pads and square shoulders were replaced with soft, rounded shoulders. These are the same rounded shoulders you are seeing on the runways today:

Though I love the aesthetic of the rounded-shoulder, I can’t help but wonder if the re-emergence of the rounded shoulder as well as more feminine colors (pastels, brights) and patterns (floral) is a response to the celebration of women as the bread winners and the general ennui around male roles in today’s western world.

The Pattern Difference in the Rounded Shoulder

Achieving that soft rounded shoulder look requires a different pattern altogether. If you notice in the following image, the seam of this 1950′s jacket runs down the arm, rather than around the shoulder to create the roundness:

More squared shoulders are created by attaching the sleeve at the turn of the shoulder (as you can see in the 1940′s pattern image above), while the rounded shoulders are either created through the above technique or dropping the seam where the boddice meets the sleeve to beyond the shoulder line, or, in some versions, the sleeve will start at the neck. The point is to avoid creating a hard line at the edge of the shoulder.

Meanwhile, I usually put some links to pieces available in the market (reasonably priced to luxury priced), but I’m having a tough time finding where the runway has hit the retail, so if anyone has seen this trend emerge in the wild, please help Mary Katlyn out with her search!

BONUS: great post from a pattern maker, Zoe at Colleterie, on the history of the ‘Kimono Sleeve’, another name (or maybe the official name?) of the rounded shoulder.



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