The Bare Shoulders Look

When did it start? What did it develop into and why might you want to try it in 2021? (Here's a super quickie history for people who are interested… but not that much)

The off-the-shoulder look began around the 1840s and was somewhat of a status symbol. Dresses with bare shoulders were quite constrictive (remember, there was no lycra back then so picture your arms being pretty much stuck with limited range.) Sip a cup of tea? Sure. Embroider a pillow? No problem. Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care? Ummm not so much.


Taupe coloured dress with wide off shoulder neckline has a V shaped waistline, full crinolined skirt and long sleeves. Mannequin wears a black and taupe striped scarf draped over her arms.

1840s dress with a wide bare shouldered neckline


Toward the end of the 19th century, sleeves started to get bigger and higher (think Anne of Green Gables leg-o-mutton sleeves,) forcing the necklines up and in. This suited early suffragettes just fine since as wild as this look might seem now, it was much more comfortable and easy to get stuff done in and so the “New Woman” look was born. The raised shoulder became the look of the modern working woman.

The bare shoulderS look came back with a vengeance in the early 50s with soft, wide shoulders and wide skirts to emphasize a tiny girdled waist. Brigitte Bardot popularized a sexier bare shouldered look that same decade and while this look is often referred to as the “Bardot,” you may think of Sandy from Grease when you see this style. These off-the-shoulder stunners were often worn with pencil skirts or tight pedal pushers to really up the sex appeal.


Early Brigitte Bardot wearing her iconic off-the-shoulder look

Early Brigitte Bardot Image from


The late 60s brought flowy, cotton and linen peasant styles into fashion. The 70s largely moved away from the off shoulder look, but they crept back in towards the end of the decade. By the 70s, Lycra was being used extensively in producing workout clothes; which made it much easier to make a variety of stretchy outfits that stayed put regardless of straps. The 80s were the heyday of the off-the-shoulder look with everything from baggy tees slouched off the shoulder to full-skirted off-the-shoulder prom dresses. I remember having a favourite black and white striped off the shoulder bodysuit in the 90s that I loved, but by then, the 80s love affair with bare shoulders and exposed clavicles had waned a little so we didn’t see quite as much of them.


1970s YSL Rive Gauche bare shouldered look

1970s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche dress. Image from


Off-the-shoulder looks have never really gone completely “out” of style and it’s a look that I continue to love. I’m someone who gets very hot in a long-sleeved top with a higher neckline. That’s why I wear a lot of tanks with sweaters. One thing I love about “Bardot” tops is that I don’t feel suffocated. I feel cooler but still covered, so it's perfect for me when my internal thermostat is all over the place. It’s also a look that flatters a lot of people, regardless of age. Who doesn’t have nice shoulders? Add a scarf or a vest if you’d prefer a bit more coverage and a warm neck. Whichever way you choose to wear your Bardot look, it'll be as striking as you are. Who wants to blend in anyway?


Ava wears black Grace Kelly bodysuit, Black leatherette Kissin' pants and matching Faye jacket

Ava Aman wears black Grace Kelly bodysuit with long length black leatherette Kissin' pants and Faye jacket. Photo by Michael Scott taken at the Science and Tech Museum; Ottawa



Black Grace Kelly bodysuit, plaid Kissin' Pants with a wide black belt and black bamboo Helluva vest

Here, I'm wearing the same black bodysuit with plaid Kissin' pants and a bamboo fleece Helluva vest on top.



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