Fashion is on your shoulders

Whoever said a woman's legs are the last to go hasn't taken a good, hard look at the shoulders lately.

Broad and toned. Delicate and feminine. Tanned or freckled. At age 18 or 60, the shoulders are the sweetly seductive spot that has gotten far less attention over the years, but they hold up a whole lot longer.

And, they're being shown off and appreciated like never before.

"Women want to show their shoulders and their collarbone," said New York fashion designer Lela Rose, whose collections include a number of one-shoulder dresses. "I have never seen a bad pair of shoulders."

Fashion designers have rediscovered the beauty of the shoulder, crafting exaggerated or embellished shoulders and creating dresses and tops that show off one bare shoulder or two. The shoulder trend knows no age limit or budget: Show as little or as much as you want. For a playful daytime look, there's the one-shoulder T-shirt. Or go more seductive and chic with looks for cocktails or holiday parties.

Spring and fall 2009 runways were packed with asymmetrical dresses, from Valentino to Matthew Williamson. Carolina Herrera did hers in yellow with cascading ruffles. Temperley London offered a dress with a big bow wrapped on one shoulder like the topper on a present. And Diane von Furstenberg had a series of cocktail dresses for fall with just one simple sleeve.

The shoulder is "a spot that everyone can play in," said Arlene Goldstein, Belk's vice president of trend merchandising and fashion direction.

Ashley Vermillion Harris, who owns Vermillion boutique in Raleigh, N.C., says it's more than just a trend to her. The one-shoulder look is classic and timeless, she says. She always orders a few dresses for each season. "I think of it as one of the staples," she said. "It's very becoming on most everyone."

On Nordstrom's Web site, there's a section devoted to one-shoulder dresses. Designers from Maggy London to Alexander Wang are in on the trend, with dresses priced from $62 to $598. Olian even has a one-shoulder maternity dress.

While the one-shoulder look is stealing much of the show for fall, especially for holiday parties, it's just the beginning of the shoulder explosion.

Padded shoulders have returned, in a sleeker, slimmer version than many remember, on tops, jackets and dresses. Beading, ruffles, grommets and bows also are more common at the shoulders of dresses and tops. Flirty split sleeves are giving just a peek of the shoulder. And there's always the faithful standby, the strapless dress.

"It can be that aggressive rocker-chic look, or it can be feminine and delicate," Goldstein said.

Bruce Greenberg, co-owner of Coplon's, said one of the appeals of the embellished or one-shoulder look is that women can get in on the trend without investing in a completely new outfit. Pair a one-shoulder top with jeans or leggings (as many women already have), add earrings, and it's the perfect look for date night.

"It's something you can get without being too complicated," he said.

The shoulder's triumphant return is all part of a larger fashion trend that has all things '80s looking new again, from leggings to neon. Today's shoulder pads aren't as thick. They have just enough padding to give definition at the shoulder without being overwhelming or making most women look too masculine.

Goldstein said some women are welcoming the shoulder pad trend. They like a little more definition at the shoulder, because the extra padding often can make the waist look smaller, she said.

"What's nice is that you can choose to play as much or as little as you want," Goldstein said. "It's a beautiful part of the woman's body. ... The idea of the shoulder emphasis is not going away."

- Samantha Thompson Smith, McClatchy Newspapers