I bring this up because we were recently on a decadent vacation and somewhere between a tamarind smoothie and a full body massage, I picked up the latest issue of Vogue and flipped to a fashion spread entitled “Risky Business.” And what did I find within those ten glossy pages? Shoulder pads. Lots and lots of shoulder pads.
The caption under one photo, a power chick dressed in a bold blue big-shouldered coat with the collar flipped up and with a take-no-prisoners look in her eye, reads:
In the eighties, padded shoulders were meant to make women look more mannish (read: powerful) in the boardroom. Today we wear a broad shoulder because we’re comfortable (read: powerful) enough to dress creatively in the office, too.
I am old enough, and enough of an unrepentant fashionista, to remember the last time we bought into the broad-shouldered look. (I also have a number of blazers to prove it. My favorite: a bright yellow shawl-collared number that I wore with a prim white shirt buttoned up to my neck — paired with a black leather mini-skirt. What was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn’t.)
Back then, when we women were trying mightily to find our niche in the workplace, many of us became men in skirts. The idea was to blend in, to refrain from calling attention to our feminine side, to be one of the boys. And part of that fitting in was our clothes: Big shoulders, prissy buttoned up shirts, and silly little bow ties. All of which became the uniform of the woman on the way up, a symbol of where we stood in the world of work.
And yet, we found, that wasn’t right either. If what it took to be taken seriously was to be more like a man, well — couldn’t men do that better? No matter how we camouflaged our femininity?
But what if we could tap into our authentic, feminine selves and do what we do best: Studies show, for example, that women negotiate in a win-win manner, we’re interactive leaders, we’re sensitive to subliminal cues; we’re multithinkers, multitaskers, and are more comfortable with ambiguity. Not to say one gender is better than the other. Just different. Which brings up one of my favorite bon mots from Man Men, seasons past. The context may have been different, but you gotta love the line: “Don’t be a man, be a woman. It’s a powerful business when done correctly.”
Which leads us back to Vogue and all those shoulder pads. To be sure, the shoulders are structured and broader than a wooden clothes hanger. But manly? Not even close.
And so I got to thinking — if indeed thinking is even possible after a full body massage — about what all this “risky business” might mean. What I think these chic chicks, with their wild ass hair and red slashes of video vixen lips, are telling us is this: whether we plan to copy the look or not, we’ve arrived.
Or at the very least, we’re shouldering our way forward.