An "eighties shoulder" is of course the polite euphemism for the sartorial elephant in the room - that thing that makes us all cringe when we think about it. Shoulder pads.
Eeew. Even typing it gave me a wee moment of panic just there. All of us of a certain age remember those linebacker-inspired 80s styles that were so famously paraded around by every television presenter and Dynasty cast member of the time.
When I'm curating my vintage shop, I spend a fair amount of time gazing upon shoulder pads - enough time to have apparently brokered a peace treaty between us. While there once was a time where I simply would never consider a garment that had shoulder pads in it, now I'm in the "maybe these aren't actually that bad" camp. Sure, say what you will; that tolerating any level of shoulder pad is the gateway to bigger, harder forms of shoulder pads, that zero tolerance can be the only policy, blah blah blah...it's fine I can quit any time I want!
The thing I've come to realize is that many of these vintage garments are actually cut to accommodate the shoulder pads. If they're especially big shoulder pads, removing them entirely can alter the look of the garment, sometimes for the better, often not.
Consider for a moment this vintage 80s Liz Claiborne dress. This is a dress that was definitely cut with the shoulder pads in mind, and I'm wearing it as it was sold off the rack in the 80s, with the original shoulder pads intact. These shoulder pads work great in a 1986 sort of way. The strong shoulder makes your waist look smaller, keeps the shoulder seams of the dress where they're supposed to be, and gives the top a nice blousy effect without the neckline plunging too low. Are they larger than I would want in 2021? Yes, ideally I would downsize them to something that just provides a hint of structure without all the bulk, retaining the overall shape the designer had in mind, but generally, I like what they do to the drape of the dress.
Equally I think with these 80s pieces, bringing your own personal sense of styling into play is the other essential ingredient; a strong sense of personal style sort of coaxes a strong vintage 80s piece back into the modern realm, lest you end up looking like an extra who wandered off the set of some 80s flashback film, in search of the craft services table no doubt.
So... the question at hand: does an 80s shoulder work in 2021?
Yes. Mostly. I reserve the right to make modifications to some of the more spectacularly scaled-up specimens, but (and I can't believe I'm writing this), even shoulder pads have their place in the Great Divine Cosmic Sartorial Design Scheme.