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Nov 23, 2011

Big Shoulders, Big Heart

Readers, is there any question that big shoulders ruled in the early Nineteen-Forties?  It wasn't just a Joan Crawford thing, but she was definitely ahead of the trend.  Apparently her shoulders were already so broad that MGM costume designer Adrian decided he would exaggerate them further rather than try to disguise them.   After wire hangers, aren't big shoulders what Joan is best remembered for? 

"Now where did I put that cabbage...?"

The broad WWII-era shoulder might also have symbolized women's filling traditionally male roles in society, while so many men were at war.  They were also a handy place to temporarily rest a teacup, powder compact, or telephone book.

My 1944 Butterick coat has plenty of room for big shoulder pads and I went for broke, adding two large pads in each shoulder.  As you can see from the envelope art, the line of shoulder is essentially at a right angle to the head.

I'd used shoulder pads before, of course, but strictly human size.

My Daytona Trim pads were triple-layer molded batting, so each shoulder has six layers, which I then covered with muslin to keep them secure.  They're like big ravioli, though they're wider on the shoulder end.

I stitched them into the shoulder along the armscye, and tacked them in place near the neck.  Voila!

These are statement shoulders, and I think the statement is Get out of this house before I kill you, Veda! (Anybody know what I'm talking about?)

Anyway, snood or no snood, blonde or brunette, these shoulders are here to stay.  You'll have to wrestle me to the ground to take them away from me.



I also made my lining.  I still have to hem the bottom and tack it to those side vents.

In closing, friends, do you generally insert shoulder pads in your clothes?

Do you go for big, bigger, or Joan Crawford-with-a-gun size?  They do give one a sense of confidence, and I suspect they make your ankles look thinner too.

Have a great day, everybody, and safe holiday travels!


  1. The shoulders are perfect!

    Re: it Mildred Pierce?

  2. Alligators have the right idea, they eat their young.

  3. The shoulder pads really lift the coat to another dimension!

    Enjoy you slimmer ankles!

  4. Fortunately, mine are already Ginger-Rogers slim!

  5. Funny stuff, Peter.

  6. Ooof! Personally, not a fan of shoulder-pads (broad-shouldered already), but I have come to accept that some (thin) padding is necessary in a jacket shoulder.

    That being said, this coat is obviously demanding them. It looks so much better---more striking, more itself---with the shoulder pads in. Good job, Peter. Cathy is going to rock this outfit! :)

  7. Looking good sir. I think Joan Crawford is also famous for her eyebrows!

  8. I think I'm going to love that coat. Shoulder pads amuse me, I am also broad shouldered and spent high school (Eighties) taking pads out of my blouses and sweaters because my shoulders were already big enough!

  9. This is going to be classic, Peter...classic. I put shoulder pads in my jackets and coats also - basically because a) I'm short and need a bit of 'presence', b)I have sloping shoulders and need a bit of architecture at the top as contrast, c) I have big hips and sharper shoulders tend to make my hips and waist look a bit smaller. I LOVE shoulder pads.

  10. I also spent the '80s reducing the size or removing shoulder pads-- my shoulders are pretty square to begin with.

    The coat looks great.

  11. Before I started sewing, I was very anti-shoulder pad. I lived through enough of the 80s to have been traumatized by them, but not enough to have been at an age where simple removal was allowed.

    Of course, now that I sew and have made more than a few coats, I have come to appreciate and respect the necessity that are shoulder pads. I will use them in structured/tailored garments, but I try to avoid them otherwise. Despite my narrow rounded shoulders.

    Your coat looks so much more epic and finished with the shoulder pads though, I must say. It really adds the necessary drama.

  12. "like big ravioli" - ROFLMAO. ha ha ha, that's awesome.

    I have always shied away from shoulder pads, but recently, my thinking has shifted a bit. I'm narrow through the shoulders but have *sigh* ample hips, so styles that draw attention to the shoulders/sleeves/neckline actually work well on me and help balance my figure.

    I think the shoulder pads on your coat rock. It really is looking great!

    I love your observation about shoulder pads and women entering the workforce in traditionally male roles, since that pattern repeated itself in the 80's when women were trying to smash the glass ceiling and get ahead in other traditionally male fields.

  13. I love Mildred Pierce, such melodrama set against beautiful Southern Cal in its golden age.
    In my limited knowledge of garment construction, shoulder pads are critical for coats and jackets. Drama aside, just comparing your before and after photos shows that the pads were necessary to support the shape. I love the satin lining! The whole thing is coming together beautifully.

  14. SeamsterEast@aol.comNovember 23, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Raised shoulders on the arm side -- as opposed to broad shoulders flat across -- is a "gee shucks" mannerism used by both women and men to signal they are "safe" in the presence of another. It is very much a "courting" gesture with good effect. (Try it sometime on the complete stranger/cashier ringing up your purchases on way out of the store.)

    Fashions change, but puffy sleaves at the shoulder seam are common on young women's blouses. Young men will often use epaulettes -- the shoulder loop kind, not the feather duster kind -- for the same effect, even though epaulettes have a strong military history.

  15. Peter, I can't wait to see Cathy in the coat.

    However, I think someone should tell her about one unbreakable rule of fashion: NEVER try to channel Edith Head while wearing a bare midriff ;)

  16. Wow, those shoulder pads just totally take that coat directly to its era of origin!
    I'm fairly short and mostly shoulder pads look silly on me, even though my shoulders are narrow. I'm also a survivor of an eighties teenagerhood so they tend to make me shudder. However, I was trying on an old 1940s dress in a vintage shop and the owner made me slip in some little rounded shoulder pads which totally gave the dress its intended shape. I feel like it's more of a style of clothing thing rather than necessary to make up for any perceived shortcomings in personal body shape. Although, my husband bought an old suit once that had one shoulder padded considerably more than the other, clearly tailored for a gentleman with uneven shoulders, which we found fascinating.

  17. I never would have expected that you could have made me into an instant shoulder pad convert. The 80's shoulders with my tiny little head made me a shoulder-pad-a-phobe. maybe it's time to get a snood an re-think the whole thing.

    And Happy thanksgiving to you, too.

  18. I love shoulder pads! Some coats and jackets just need them to be what they're intended to be.

    I had a Bill Blass wool trench coat in the very late 1980s that had shoulder pads that made me look like a linebacker, although I was just 5'6" at the time. I'm shorter now, thanks to gravity, but I'd still use them in any coat I'd make for myself.

  19. I already have the square shoulders, so have never needed shoulder pads. However, I do think some coats require them and I think the square, forties style pads are clearly de rigeur for this coat!

    The snood is a bit much with the coat, though....I like Michael's amused expression in the background, as if he's saying, "Are you wearing that together, dear?"

  20. I think you nailed the 1940's look. The coat is fabulous. The shoulders are perfect. at first I thought the double-pads would be too much but I was wrong!

    I really like the coat with the blonde hair in the snood.

    As a survivor of 1980's shoulder pads, I've had my fill for most clothing. For 1940s vintage, however, they are necessary.


  21. Love your over the top shoulder pads. The coat looks wonderful with that support. I'm admitting that I love shoulder pads since I have black diamond ski slope shoulders. If I could fit them into nightgowns I would:-) Happy Thanksgiving!

  22. i love the padded shoulder look.

    I am very petite and always try tricks to give an illusion of broad shoulders!

    Adithis Amma Sews

  23. Like many of my broad shouldered sisters, I have removed most of the shoulder pads that came with my clothes. Except coats, coats need shoulder pads more than other clothes IMHO. That coat of yours needs them and the ones you put in are perfection. Nice work.

  24. Ditto on the need for the oversized pads in the pink 1944 coat. I love it. I'd never wear it, I have done the 40's already. I'm into the 30's now. Divine slink.


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