Bonnie Bing

‘Power suits,’ shoulder pads defined the ’80s

As I wind down my career as a fashion writer, my editor suggested that I take a look back. It’s been fun — and, in some cases, funny.

The photos I had saved from fashion shoots brought back lots of memories.

When I started covering fashion in the ’80s, women were wearing “power suits.” You remember: the jackets with the giant shoulder pads. I know, I know. Some of you weren’t even born yet or you were too little to care what the fashion trends were. But trust me, designers had us convinced that if our shoulders looked like a halfback’s, our hips and waists would look small regardless of what size we wore. Of course, this very popular concept spilled over into the dress and sportswear categories. In cold weather, coats with padded shoulders had to fit over the big shoulders in the jacket. Therefore, women looked like linebackers, who are usually larger than halfbacks.

Before long, everything from eveningwear to T-shirts had shoulder pads. Serious shoulder pads.

My first trip to New York Fashion Week in 1981 proved the silhouette was popular pretty much across the board, and when I went to the L.A. market a few months later, the shoulders were bigger than ever. The term “architectural” was used constantly.

Alexis Carrington on the television series “Dynasty” showed us just how tiny a waist could look if you pumped up the shoulders. Co-star Linda Evans has large shoulders to start with, but not nearly big enough without padding them to the max.

I bought the same suit by Victor Costa that Joan Collins as Alexis wore on one of the shows. My friend Nancy and I still refer to it as the “Alexis suit.” We both wish it still fit.

Jumpsuits were a personal favorite in the ’80s. Some were casual, some were for evening. But a jumpsuit with, yes, shoulder pads, and super-wide belt was a hot look, but not for work.

Women who were climbing the corporate ladder wore suits, skirts with long jackets — both single- and double-breasted. Appropriate professional attire was a serious subject, and many companies had a dress code without a single mention of “casual Friday.”

After more than three decades, I’ve written about trends that hit big, went away, then came back a few seasons later.

Thankfully, the exaggerated shoulders that some designers were especially known for, such as American Norma Kamali and French designer Thierry Mugler, is a trend that has never made its way back to the runway.

And that’s a good thing.

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