x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Party jacket required: shoulder pads essential

Everyone has at least one sartorial detail they feel sets the tone. For our writer, it's shoulder pads.

The pop singer Lady Gaga sports shoulder pads that hopefully will allow her to evade the fly swatter.
The pop singer Lady Gaga sports shoulder pads that hopefully will allow her to evade the fly swatter.

Every profession has its dress code. Fashion people - and, I'm told, architects - wear mostly black. But rather than the one-track wardrobe one might expect of women who work in the industry, they in fact have a rather less predictable approach to dressing. One half consists of classics verging on "granny" favourites. The other is seasonal, one-off crazy pieces bought at tear-jerking prices, which date instantly but are nonetheless crucial, if just for a fleeting moment.

By the time the latter come around again, they can look ridiculous. Take shoulder pads. I turned up to my first ever fashion show in Milan wearing a Krizia black jacket with gigantic shoulders - not just big, but huge and round like an American football player. I wore it with a black Armani skirt and black suede Gucci loafers. Tick, tick, tick as far as labels went - and remember, labels meant everything in the 1980s (and yes, I have been in fashion that long). Besides, you couldn't find high-street copies.

Whenever I wore that Krizia jacket I got goose bumps if I caught my reflection in a shop window (I also got goose bumps that winter because the shoulder pads were so big I couldn't fit a coat over it). Back then no one cared about body size. It was the size of shoulder pads that mattered and this jacket had the biggest I had ever seen. Over the years, I toyed with the idea of putting it under the knife to give it the clothing equivalent of a facelift but, of course, without pads the jacket was pointless. So I waited (and waited), telling myself that one day shoulder pads would return.

And return they did, but in a shape rendering all former examples obsolete. Shoulder pads of the 21st century don't go out: they shoot up like rockets. "How silly!" I snarled as I watched Lady Gaga cavorting in her sci-fi versions. "You'd never catch me in that," I hissed when Victoria Beckham wore a leather Balmain jacket that looked as though she had not removed the coat-hanger. And I was doing so well until I was invited to an annual fashion party renowned for its "who's who" guest list. Finally, a chance to catch up with fashion buddies. Impress them, too.

The day of the party arrived and I prepared my outfit for the evening as anyone with almost 20 years' experience of such events would: having emptied the entire contents of my wardrobe on to my bed I sobbed like a teenager. ("Waaaah, I've got nothing to wear.") Should I go crazy or classic? These days I don't like feeling either over- or under-dressed. I reckoned an Armani LBD teamed with surreally high, Topshop lacy ankle boots and fake diamonds the size of gobstoppers would be just the ticket.

But as the minutes ticked by I panicked. Visions of everyone else wearing leggings and outrageous hot pants made me race to my favourite boutique - which happened to be having a sale - where I bought a jacket. Not just any old jacket. A black gabardine skinny Edwardian style with giant shoulder pads curved up like bananas encrusted with Swarovski crystal, lace, curly ruffled taffeta, sequins, jet beads, tassels and filigree embroidery. It's a mouthful to write so just imagine what it looks like (the label inside reads "Coppernob" in case you are interested).

In a moment of madness I even allowed the saleswoman to shoehorn me into a pair of that other 1980s relic, leggings, which appeared to be the jacket's logical partner. As I walked into the party reciting my "who's going to be looking at you anyhow?" mantra, two things happened. Firstly, I rubbed shoulders - literally, without meaning to - with my former publisher, who then had to stop and chat. (Result.)

Then, spying my friend, the designer Jenny Packham, I pulled off a manoeuvre with one shoulder pad, which edged out a journalist whom I know she loathes. When she attempted to butt in I swung around fending her off, politely but firmly, with the other shoulder (touché). I spent the night working that jacket like a stag would its horns. Glancing about the packed room, I saw I was not alone. Surprisingly, it didn't remotely stand out, despite its supersized shoulders. Far better, it fitted in. And it was black.

As far as fashion party dress codes go, this jacket at that precise moment nailed it. I was even able to leave slightly earlier than usual, having worked the entire room, dipping in and ducking out of conversations and all the time doing the hokey cokey, swinging those shoulder tassels - but in a catwalk way, natch. The bad news for 2010 is that shoulder pads are history. How sad that I may never get to wear it again.