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

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.


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


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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  • Wait! For outfit two, where is the necklace/chocker from?! Also, those Rachel Comey shoes from outfit one are so simple and stylish! I’ve always heard a lot about the brand, but never actually tried any.

    • Aydan

      DO IT on Rachel shoes. I have mult. pairs of the four inch clogs and always wear them around the office and LOVE them. Everything is comfortable, stylish, and long lasting!!

      • Awesome! I will see if there is a store that sells them near me! I kind of prefer trying on shoes before purchasing. But I guess if all else fails I can return them.

        • Harling Ross

          They were VERY comfortable and easy to walk in if that helps!

          • Awesome! I will add them to the (growing) list of things I need to buy lol

          • MildredWood

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    • Yvonne Dunlevie

      Denisse — Rachel Comey rules in every way. Can be $$$ but if you’re focused in your purchases (like the white denim swing dress I bought last summer!!!) every penny is worth it.

      • Ugh, I can hear my next paycheck crying already! But since I am a believer in investing in pieces that will last, I guess it’s just going to have to happen!

  • I vote for Britney Spears c. 2001 tube tops as the next spark.

    • Harling Ross

      I’m not even kidding when I say I considered those.

    • I was thinking not too long ago that tube tops are probably going to make a reappearance some time soon.

      • Harling Ross

        Carrie B says yes.

        • Amelia Diamond

          Guys I DO NOT hate tube tops!!!!! Can we start a thing??? (I do hate the pulling up of tube tops though)

    • Natty

      omg TUBE TOPS

  • Those Alice Treehouse jeans are awesome.

  • Allie Fasanella

    harling just makes me happy

    • Harling Ross


    • Haley Nahman


  • Not to mention I can’t move my arms while I’m in the shirt. Forced to stand with my arms by my side 🙁

  • Natty

    that rosie top is so amazing but holy price tag

    • Harling Ross

      Very true– which is why I’m tempted by this alternative:

      • Haley Nahman

        I really want that why is pixie market so good sometimes harling tell me

  • Cinamaron

    I’m short and thus have tiny shoulders so I’ve never really been able to do off the shoulder tops as they just end up slowly falling off throughout the day. The only neckline I can really wear to show off my collarbones is boatneck! V and U neck shirts tend to go super low on me and expose more cleavage than I like so I just wear Painter shirts from JCrew instead. Having a short torso is annoying :/

    • Harling Ross

      Boatneck is a V V chic alternative.

    • Yvonne Dunlevie

      Painter shirts for J. Crew are the gift that keep on giving

      • Cinamaron

        For real, they are probably the one item of clothing I have consistently repurchased over the past 5~ years. The most recent couple I got have been nice and long too so double plus ++

  • Yvonne Dunlevie

    Harling Rick Ross!!!!! What fashion foresight you have! Give me crochet, now!

    • Harling Ross

      Thanks, Esther!

  • I hope this isn’t totally true, I’m still not over off the shoulder! haha I love these suggestions though! Perfect picks!!

  • Mary Yasmine Arrouche

    OMG I love the Brother Vellies slides so much!!
    I think the next trend to come should be denim? I hear it’s making a comeback:

  • Nicolás Durán

    Omg. You have no idea how mucho I love this. This is real fashion. I would like that you give me the opportunity. Check me out. Thanks.

    Instagram: @nicolasduranv
    Twitter: @nicolasduranv
    Snapchat: nicolasduranv16

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  • Pia Sophie

    harling, the way you write makes me wanna be your friend so bad.

    • Harling Ross

      Pia! We can be internet friends. The best kind of friends, according to most 12-year-olds these days.

      • Pia Sophie

        most 12-year-olds these days are (surprise!) mistaken, though. pen pals are the best kind of friends when you’re 12 or any age.

  • Marie

    Hi, I just orderes the Alice Treehouse pants-does someone know if it comes large?I ordered 10UK but usually i’m 12UK,what do you think?

  • Victoria

    Ah yes, as soon as regular priced stores start having off the shoulder tops…they’re “over”. *sigh* gonna wear them anyway!

  • Stella

    I don’t think it’s totally over, but just like everything else. no need to overdo.

  • Stella

    don’t agree that the trend is totally passed, just not overdo it, like everything else.

  • This post cracked me up! Your writing style is so witty and intelligent! I just adore it. And I couldn’t agree more! Personally I’m ALL about the one-shoulder silhouette right now – feels much more fresh. But, I can totally relate to the fact that NOTHING is more flattering than a fab off-the-shoulder-anything so as much as I’ll try to give other summer cuts a try, it’s going to be a painful separation (and I don’t think I can go cold-turkey, just yet that is.) Thanks for the fun post! I just subscribed!

    hugs, Christina

    Christina l Fashion & Frills

  • “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.”
    Why is that so accurate. 🙂