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Here is a new piece from the Donna Karan New York fashion line. It is a knit top with what are called “cold shoulders.” The name describes the skin exposed by cutouts between the tops of the sleeves and the body of the shirt.
This look is now very popular, as you can see from a few of the many cold-shouldered offerings in this year’s Nordstrom Sale catalog, which previews fall and winter trends.
Other fashion retailers are trying catch the cold-shoulder wave by attaching the term to somewhat different looks, including the ones below.
The distinction to be made here is that these are not so new. Single-shoulder and off-shoulder women’s clothes have been around forever.
For my purposes, cold shoulders are knit shirts and dresses with two cut-out shoulders.
And Donna Karan started the whole thing 25 years ago.
Donna Karan and Cold-Shoulder History
Karan broke out as the designer of the moment in the late 1980s with an
urbane New York aesthetic — low-key, cool and sophisticated — that offered a stylish look to career women who were sick of boxy suits and who also wanted clean-lined evening clothes without silly frills and furbelows. Karan has remained true to that view ever since. As a fashion figure, she remains a big influencer.
Here, from 1992, is possibly the first cold-shoulder look, a Karan number worn by super model Christy Turlington.
HIllary Clinton wore a similar Karan dress for a White House gala in the early 1990s.
Then the cold-shoulder thing seemed to disappear.
Twenty years later, Karan took it up again, as seen in this photo promoting her fall winter 2013-2014 collection. (The picture is from a series shot by Mikael Jansson. It features a model visiting a hunky sculptor’s studio at night. Very Karan, that.)
Also in 2013, Karan released this gown.
This time around, the cold shoulder look captured the public imagination and provoked imitations.
Here, for instance, is Lena Dunham wearing a cold-shoulder dress at a 2015 event to kick off the fourth season of her popular HBO television show, “Girls.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this dress was not designed by Donna Karan. (My guess is that some stylist told Dunham that vertical stripes would look good on her and that Dunham perhaps took the advice too much to heart.)
So cold shoulders are popular now. One retailer ventured a reason why that may be so:
“The shoulder is the only part of a woman’s body that doesn’t age.”
That may be true, but I’m not buying it in this case. I’ve been seeing more and more cold shoulders lately, particularly in the three airports I visited (twice) on a recent weekend. The women wearing those shirts and dresses were mostly young and won’t be worrying about aging body parts for at least 20 years.
At the moment, cold shoulders are new and a little different but not in a wacky way. They’re a way to update a wardrobe of plain-vanilla shirts, sweaters and basic dresses.
My personal advice: Go ahead, and invest in this trend. Choose something knit and in a normal color, and wear it often for the next year or so.
Then we’ll be on to something else.
Next: Cold Shoulder Etymology