Would You Wear: Off-Shoulder?

All of these within-my-lifetime style revivals are throwing me for a loop. I remember flipping through the pages of delia*s and Alloy catalogues, looking at the different ways to start expressing yourself by showing skin – 80% of which I was 100% uncomfortable with. I was a chubby kid and thus, I reached for baggy pants and vintage t-shirts. It’s kind of similar to what I wear now except trade the JNCOs for jeggings and add some real strong brows.

20 years later, these styles are back around for their first trip down Newly Vintage Lane, rendering them at least a little bit cool forever. Is it weird to see 17 year olds becoming “style icons” in clothes I wore completely un-ironically when I was their age? Yes. Yes yes a thousand times yes. My barista last week was wearing a plaid shirt around her waist with cut-offs and combat boots and it was all I could do to keep from just staring. And hey – I can’t lie, she looked super good and I thought “Whoa, I wanna wear that.” before realizing… I totally had. Already. 15 years ago.

Speaking of shorts + the best combat boots, the 90s frequently encouraged styles that would give you weird tan lines, and the topic of today’s discussion is a key player. Off-shoulder tops and dresses have their moments in every decade, but in the 90s, they were a leader of the pack when it came to iconic trends.

don't tell mom the babysitter's dead

Off-shoulder tops and dresses can give off a very “this is just haaanging off me” expression that conjures up the spaghetti-strappery and waifishness of 90s supermodels. They’re either painted-on, skin-tight… or blousey and peasant-like, which you can see on Ms. Sue Ellen Crandall of Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. (If you haven’t seen it, do.)

Kelly Kapowski favored the blousey on top, not there on the bottom version, the off-shoulder crop top. That is pretty much as far from my comfort zone as this look gets.

Winona Edward Scissorhands

I’ve seen off-shoulder styles be really adorable and ethereal… but also really tacky and scarecrow-like. It’s meant to look like it’s supposed to be hanging off you, if it looks like there was a terrible accident leaving your clothing literally hanging by strings – you’re doing it wrong. Or more accurately, the clothes are doing it wrong on you. (PSA: it’s never your fault. Never. Ever.)

Here’s how it’s being redone, with many a modern twist:

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Source: @happilygrey
Source: @happilygrey

Compared to the very in-your-face style of the 90s, the newer off-shoulder garments are a lot more feminized and gentle, casting an illusion of modesty over your jezebel-like bare skin. Even Rachel McAdams’ hybrid off-shoulder-cut-out dress looks ladylike somehow. Fashion is magic.

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If I’m being honest, I can’t say that I dislike the 90s look – even today. I could see many of my girlfriends reviving the Kelly Kapowski look with ease & grace (I’m looking at you, Brooklyn aka Seattle Peach.) Every piece of clothing sold these days has to look like it was made specifically for a summer music festival, though, so a lot of the off-shoulder offerings are… that.

Jen's Pirate Booty Off Shoulder Top, $44
Jen’s Pirate Booty Off Shoulder Top, $44

Other styles, though, have surprised me with how easily I could see them fitting into my wardrobe. Whether it’s a great color, good execution, or a unique shape – I could see myself prioritizing a strapless bra in order to wear these, or at least finding some way to get around the whole “need a bra” issue. (Maybe a cute bralette?)

There’s a little bit of something for everyone in this revival of off-shoulder fashion – but some of you, I know, can’t stand this style & would love to see it burn.

I dig your passion. I really do.

Others may have no response to it because they were born in 2001 and haven’t ever had to deal with off-shoulder shirts being a tacky thing that your mom wore while you were growing up. It’s a struggle to accept them back into your life, I totally get it.

Would you wear off-shoulder tops & dresses?

Lindsay Ginn

Livin' in your basement, eatin' your canned foods.

  • Addie

    This post brings back so many good memories of my 90s teendom and the people I wanted to emulate at the time… 🙂
    I never really could pull off the crop top, that was just too much skin for my mom and myself to be comfortable with…. but I am eagerly awaiting for when the shoulder cut out top will come back…. if ever….