The Spark Is Gone: What Comes After The Off-The-Shoulder Shirt?
05.17.16

Off-the-shoulder tops are not a new invention. All you have to do is search images of movie stars from the 50s for evidence. Think: Lucille Ball, Brigitte Bardot, Natalie Wood and Grace Kelly — the original collarbone queens! These women collectively proved that a parenthetical swoop of fabric from shoulder to shoulder could magically make your décolletage look like the best thing since sliced Wonder Bread.

So it’s no shock that the trend resurfaced circa 2014, slowly at first, trickling into the zeitgeist thanks to niche brands who delivered fresh takes on a vintage silhouette. And the effect was just as intoxicating –because what woman doesn’t love her collarbones? They’re sexy in that slightly-unexpected-but-not-totally-overt-but-immediately-evident kind of way. Like the Mona Lisa. Or Seth Cohen.

I saved up last year to buy Johanna Ortiz’s off-the-shoulder ‘Tulum’ top, which was sold out for months. When I finally bought it, I put it on, looked in the mirror and got that electric feeling in my spine that comes from finding an article of clothing that is not only fashion-forward and exciting to wear but also check-me-out flattering because, hello, collarbones! It was the sartorial equivalent of how I imagine huffing a canister of whipped cream must feel. I proceeded to wear it at least once a week for the entire summer, in rotation with the three other off-the-shoulder tops I subsequently added to my collection.

But then something sinister happened. The off-the-shoulder trend went from trickle to torrential. They were everywhere. On Instagram. On every page of every magazine. On mannequins at Hollister. On my best friend. On my best friend’s mom. Wearing one no longer felt like a secret handshake between me and my personal style; it felt like peeing in a communal bathroom at Coachella.

It doesn’t take a medical professional to diagnose this a classic case of Peanut Butter Syndrome: the disease triggered by overexposure to specific items of clothing.

Social media has destroyed the possibility of a trend remaining fresh for more than a few months. We’ve dealt with this new reality time and time again (RIP wedge sneakers, ear cuffs, culottes, et. al), but this time it feels particularly soul-crushing. Because what the heck am I supposed to put on the upper half of my body this summer? How am I going to get my daily hit of spine tingles? Will my collarbones ever laugh again?

I’ve proceeded to scavenge the interwebs for 2016’s iteration of “the spark,” and let me tell you, it’s been a treacherous mission. Off-the-shoulder tops have beckoned to me at every turn, flirting like an old boyfriend who knows exactly what to say to lure me in (“Your Instagram captions are so funny”) but ultimately can’t cook my scrambled eggs the right way in the morning. So I persevered and looked away, toward greener pastures and better eggs.

Here’s how I’m navigating my path to off-the-shoulder abstinence (just promise not to show my best friend’s mom. She follows me on Instagram, so she’ll catch on eventually):

Phase 1: The One-Shoulder Compromise.

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Johanna Ortiz top, Elizabeth & James shorts, Rachel Comey shoes, Gentle Monster sunglasses, Oscar de la Renta earrings, Arme De L’Amour cuff

Look, while cold turkey is a delicious sandwich topping, it is not the approach I like to take when trying to quit something. So instead of fully committing to a life of fabric-laden shoulders, I decided to ease myself in gently: one shoulder covered, one shoulder mooning the world like a toddler at bath-time.

Phase 2: Sad Collarbones? Tell Them It’s Their Birthday.

Zara shirt, Miu Miu sunglasses

Sweet, sweet, collarbones, thank you so much for holding up my neck all these years. I know the loss of your recent freedom is devastating, but think of it this way: You’ve got a whole new lease on life! An opportunity for reinvention! A re-birthday! And you know what that means? Presents!!! We’ll skip gift-wrap because I’ve heard it’s not very breathable, but I’ll tie you up in pretty bows and let you blow out all the candles.

Phase 3: No More Training Wheels

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Rosie Assoulin top, Alice Treehouse jeans, Brother Vellies shoes, SheBee earrings

Welcome to Phase 3, cadets. No more coddling. Shoulders are fully covered. Collarbones are nowhere in sight. And while we’re at it, let’s say bye bye to my biceps. And my forearms? Sayonara. And my wrists! Am I going too far? I don’t care. I’m giddy. Take note: Bell-sleeves are definitely a viable antidote to off-the-shoulder addiction. I think I’m finally ready to take on summer.

As for the pile of off-the-shoulder tops in my closet? I’ll hang on to them for now. That’s the thing about Peanut Butter Syndrome — it never lasts long. Peanut butter is just too freaking delicious, and so are my collarbones.

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; styled by Harling Ross and Elizabeth Tamkin.

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